AS the dust over an attempted coup or conspiracy in Bangladesh settles down, it is confirmed that the Indian intelligence agencies warned army top brass at Dhaka about the conspiracy hatched against the Sheikh Hasina government. On this occasion, the Bangladesh army acted in time and nipped the defiance in the bud. In 1975 too when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman and his 15 family members were killed by the army, the Indian intelligence had cautioned an attack on Mujib. But then the top brass were themselves in the midst of coup and the army deliberately did not act. The result is known to all.

That the Bangladesh army is not interested in taking over the country was clear when it gave back power to the civil authority in 2008 and held free and fair elections which returned Sheikh Hasina with a three-fourths majority in parliament. When the army was backing the caretaker government and cleansing the stable, it found the top politicians of both Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League and Khalida Zia’s Nationalist Bangladesh Party involved in corruption. Many in the army were worried that the revival of political process would bring in its wake the same old graft. Yet the army preferred the civil rule and bowed to the prerogative of the people to have their representatives in power.

Things are not what the electorate expected and the administration has been found wanting in many ways respects. Corruption and nepotism are back with a vengeance. Yet it is the people who have to fight against such evils. The army cannot do the job because this is the difference between democracy and dictatorship. “Instigated by some non-resident Bangladeshis, a band of fanatic retired and serving officers led a failed attempt to thwart the democratic system by creating anarchy in the army, banking on others’ religious zeal,” said the army statement, adding that “such heinous attempts are being foiled.”

The army further said: “Some officers in active military service involved in a conspiracy to topple the system of democratic governance through the army.” A top army officer has been kept under investigation and another officer, Major Syed Mohamad Zia-ul Haq, is absconding. It is apparent that the coup was attempted by a few elements representing religious fanaticism and the disgruntled army officers. The fundamentalists are unhappy because they have been firmly suppressed by the Hasina government which is liberal and secular. Yet there are other forces which are inimical to India and they resort to all kind of methods to foul the atmosphere. That was also the case
When Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman was killed. He too did not show any quarter to the extremists and the forces that were unhappy over the creation of Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina has regretted that the Islamists have penetrated the army. It is ominous because this is what has happened in Pakistan as well.

My information is that the coup leaders this time were helped by forces operating from India. The rump of ULFA was there and so were the hostile Nagas. The Manipur insurgents were also part of the conspiracy. It is strange that while Bangladesh does not allow any anti-India forces to operate from its soil, as it used to happen in the past, India is lethargic and inactive.

For the larger picture, New Delhi must share the blame. It fails to have connectivity with Dhaka. Promises made in the fields of trade, power and business have remained unfulfilled. Sheikh Hasina has done so much unilaterally to foster good relations that there are many people in Bangladesh who are resentful. Yet bureaucrats at Delhi are not allowing the implementation of what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had signed with the Bangladesh Prime Minister in terms of trade, power and money. Bureaucrats are not anti-Bangladesh but they represent the red tape which retards progress of any plan or project. Much-needed over-bridges that New Delhi was supposed to build in Dhaka are not even on the drawing board.

I recall when Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan Delhi made a five-year plan which would dovetail Dhaka’s economic projects with those of India. It was an undertaking to develop the region on the whole. The Sheikh reminded New Delhi many a time but there was little follow-up. The only alibi that New Delhi had was the denial of facilities to India to reach its northeastern states through Bangladesh. Shiekh Hasina gave even this concession long ago.

The failed coup is not only a warning but also an opportunity for the government at New Delhi. It must take some bold steps quickly to let the disillusioned people in Bangladesh with Sheikh Hasina’s government and prove it to them that India remains friendly and will go to any limit to help Bangladesh in its needs and, at the same time, foster still closer relations with Dhaka. But yet no step towards such an understanding is forthcoming.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh transferred a few tracts of land in Assam to Bangladesh, its rightful owner. He should bring the constitutional amendment in the next session of parliament to make what is de facto as de jure. The BJP and some elements in Assam are opposed to the transfer. But they must realize that this is the territory which belongs to Bangladesh and has stayed wrongly with India for some 40 years. One recurring complaint of Dhaka is that border police is cruel to any Bangladeshis who even strays into India by mistake. Television channels have shown recently how the border police was beating a boy mercilessly because he had crossed the border by mistake.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee would be well advised to visit Bangladesh where she is popular and where the expectation is that she would make amends for her absence from the Prime Minister’s team that visited Dhaka a few weeks ago. Were Mamata to announce more water from the River Teesta, something she had promised, the entire Bangladesh population would dance to her tune. She should tear a leaf from the book of former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu who accommodated Bangladesh on Farakka barrage water.

Sheikh Hasina has undertaken a stupendous job of punishing those who not only opposed the birth of Bangladesh but also sided with the forces that were indulging in anti-national activities against the people during the war. Their atrocities were untold and many bright young men and women were killed in cold blood. Among the killers or the elements that had supported the attempted coup against her. When the army says in a written statement after that happening that “such heinous attempts are being foiled,” means that she has faced similar situations before. This is a point for concern.