India’s general elections are the talk of the town in Bangladesh. At no other time in the past has an election across the border generated as much interest as the one whose results will not be in before May 16. Yes, back in 1977, Bangladesh’s people, then reeling under the country’s first military dictatorship led by General Ziaur Rahman, were more amazed than shocked at the defeat of the Congress by the Janata Party at India’s first post-Emergency election. Again, in May 2011, large numbers of Bangladeshis were unhappy at the defeat of the Left Front in the West Bengal assembly elections, which brought Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress to power.
This time round though, Bangladeshis’ interest in India’s general elections is defined by a core question: Will Narendra Modi actually end up being India’s prime minister? And that question is followed quickly by another: How will a Modi government handle issues with its neighbours, especially with Bangladesh? That second question has been making the rounds since Modi served warning that all Bangladeshis who had entered India illegally must be ready to pack their bags and leave. At the government level, there has been no official reaction to Modi’s remarks. For obvious reasons, successive governments in Bangladesh have repeatedly denied any infiltration of Bangladeshis into India. Therefore, responding to Modi’s statement might only complicate matters for Dhaka at the official level. Silence is of the essence.
As far as the general run of Bangladeshi citizens is concerned, there is the worry that under a Modi dispensation, with its not so subtle emphasis on a non-secular India about to emerge, such issues as land boundary demarcation and Teesta water-sharing can only reach a more complicated zone of contention. The intriguing bit here is that suddenly Mamata Banerjee, considered responsible for the scuttling of a possible Teesta deal during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in 2011, has turned somewhat into a figure of admiration, owing to her feisty ripostes to Modi. In the innermost recesses of their souls, very large numbers of Bangladeshis entertain the hope, however misplaced it might turn out to be, that the BJP and Modi will not win enough seats in the Lok Sabha to form the next government in India. The vigorous campaigning undertaken by Priyanka Gandhi in recent days has impressed Bangladeshi observers, to a point where memories of Indira Gandhi have come alive in