Realising that its long-held “anti-India” stance was a mistake, the BNP appears to be making a turnaround in its policy towards the big neighbour, party insiders say.
Now on a visit to India, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia has clearly signalled that she wants to reverse the stance on relations with New Delhi. She has assured Indian leaders that her party would not allow Bangladesh territory to be used by terrorists and insurgents to target India.
Political analysts say that after benefiting from its anti-India polemics over the years, the BNP is shifting its strategy because of the changing socio-economic and political conditions at the national, regional and global level.
According to some top BNP leaders, the growing realisation that the party had to pay much for its anti-India strategy and that India is now a big factor in regional and international politics is the reason behind this shift.
Talking to The Daily Star on Wednesday, former foreign minister M Morshed Khan said the relations between the BNP and India could not grow to an expected level due to “politics of blame game”.
“And madam's visit certainly marks a change in her mindset regarding India.”
He also said that it would be foolish to bank on anti-India politics just to please the country's people, as they very well understand the importance of good relations with India.
“Those days of anti-India politics are gone and it would be a mistake if anyone still maintains that stance.”
Speaking to this correspondent, at least three BNP leaders said that two allies -- Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote -- some BNP policymakers and close aides to the chairperson had convinced Khaleda to take the anti-India position.
The party made various mistakes regarding relations with India, Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman, a BNP standing committee member, told The Daily Star at his Banani DOHS residence on Tuesday.
“The party had been pursuing wrong policies, especially from 2001, when it made a political alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote.”
The former army chief said, “The BNP's new stance on India reflects the changed mindset of the party chairperson as well as her realisation to this end.”
“The two Islamist parties [Jamaat and IOJ] had Islamised the BNP-led four-party alliance and with the support of a section of BNP policymakers, they convinced the chairperson to follow an anti-India stance to exploit popular sentiment against India.”
He said the party chief after long years had understood that the anti-India stance would not do her party any good.
“Many of us had earlier tried to make the party chief realise the matter but failed as our opposition in the party and in the alliance was more powerful and the party chief had no alternative but to listen to the powerful lobby.
“Although it was not on the agenda, some of the policymakers, including myself, at several meetings called upon the party chairperson to shed the anti-India stance,” Mahbubur recalled. He declined to go into details.
He said his relations with the party had certainly deteriorated over the 10-truck arms haul during the past BNP-Jamaat rule in 2004. India widely considered that the arms cache had been brought in for some Indian separatist organisations.
Besides, the BNP's ties with the world's largest democracy deteriorated further after the August 21 grenade attack on an Awami League rally in 2004.
“And there were BNP Senior Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman's various controversial activities when the party was in power in 2001-06,” he said.
“BNP policymakers now realise that the party has to be sincere to resolve all unresolved bilateral problems with India when it takes office.”
However, he added, “It's also true that the BNP had not seen a cordial attitude from India either till 2010.”
According to party insiders, the former army chief along with senior leaders Tariqul Islam, Moudud Ahmed, M Morshed Khan and Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury are among those who played a vital role to “repair” the party's relations with India.
Before Khaleda's New Delhi visit this week, M Morshed Khan toured India twice to do the groundwork to this end. Even Mosaddek Ali Falu, a close aide to Khaleda, had gone to India for the same purpose, BNP sources said.
Talking to this correspondent at his Mohakhali office on Wednesday, Morshed Khan admitted he had visited India for seven days from October 9. But, he said, it was a personal visit and it had nothing to do with the visit of Khaleda Zia.
Also, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee played a vital role in changing his country's stance on relations with the main opposition party of Bangladesh.
“We have got a clear signal of its changed mindset when Pranab Babu categorically mentioned that his country wanted to maintain good relations with all democratic parties of Bangladesh and the people of Bangladesh, not with any particular party,” said BNP standing committee member Moudud Ahmed.
He added this was for the first time any Indian prime minister had invited Khaleda Zia when she was in opposition.
“We have to accept that we have to have good relations with India to resolve all outstanding issues with the largest and powerful neighbour.”
Another BNP policymaker, seeking anonymity, said the party and its allies had used “indecent” language against India on several occasions, especially when the party was in opposition. This attitude breached Indian trust and confidence in the BNP.