Indian Decade

Bangladesh Falters?

$1 billion loan from India aside, Bangladesh’s main two parties are stifling overall progress.

Khaleda Zia, leader of Bangladeshi parliamentary opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has suggested that the acceptance of a $1 billion loan from India is ‘suicidal’ for Bangladesh. But in fact, her harsh condemnation of this loan is actually quite hypocritical. When in power, the BNP has routinely complained that India is a less-than-generous neighbor and has sought all manner of trade and other concessions from its powerful neighbor. However, now that Zia and her party are the opposition, she cannot eschew the temptation to whip up nationalist fervor against India on utterly specious grounds.

In reality, the loan that India has given Bangladesh involves unusually generous terms. It is repayable over a period of 20 years, includes a grace period of 5 years and has an annual interest rate of 1.75 percent. Given the global financial crunch it is most unlikely that Bangladesh, a desperately poor nation, could obtain such financing from either multilateral institutions or private banks on such easy terms.

Apart from this rank political grandstanding, Zia’s behavior also underscores a deeper political malaise that afflicts Bangladesh. The country, which obtained its independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a sanguinary civil war and subsequent Indian intervention, has failed to develop some elementary norms that sustain a democratic political order. Specifically, it lacks the principle of a loyal opposition. Consequently, when a political party loses office it resorts to shrill denunciations of the ruling party in parliament and if that fails to achieve its ends—to extra-parliamentary tactics.

Sadly, to varying degrees, both the country’s two major political parties, the ruling Awami League and the BNP are guilty of these unwholesome practices. As a consequence, the quality of the country's democracy is compromised, governance becomes difficult and economic and social progress suffers. The latest fracas is emblematic of the corrosive politics of the country.