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PM’s India visit: The Teesta factor

  • Published at 05:35 pm March 31st, 2017
  • Last updated at 03:25 pm April 2nd, 2017
PM’s India visit: The Teesta factor
Both Bangladesh and India have high hopes about the critically important Delhi visit by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed to Delhi, scheduled to take place this April. Such optimism is easy to understand if one analyses the background to the coming bilateral talks. However, the onus of making this long awaited meet a diplomatic success, lies on India. There is a huge burden of expectations on both sides as they go forward to the meeting. The major hurdle is the proposed sharing of the Teesta waters in north Bengal. Bangladesh has been legitimately pressing for an increased share as a lower riparian country. While not opposing the demand in principle, Delhi has not found it possible to overrule West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s refusal to make more water available for Bangladesh. Her stand: This would lead to a critical shortage of water in the six northern districts of West Bengal. Therefore, despite her best intentions and much sympathy for Bangladesh, she cannot be a party to any deprivation of her own state. Her argument has been that because of hydropower projects in Sikkim, the flow of the river weakens as it reaches West Bengal. She had suggested meetings with the centre, Sikkim government, West Bengal and Bangladesh to discuss the matter. Some hydrologists believe that the main reason for the weaker flow of the river is not the Sikkim projects, which are mostly run of the river schemes, using the downward slope of the hills. This does not result in any physical loss of water.
Also Read- West Bengal amps up anti-Teesta treaty stance ahead of PM visit
On the other hand, the new barrage put up at Gazaldoba in West Bengal, from where water stored from the Teesta is used for irrigation in the north Bengal districts, could effectively reduce the quantum of flow. The West Bengal government had set up an expert committee headed by hydrologist Kalyan Rudra to study the matter, but his final report was never made public. What emerged from official talks held at various levels in the public domain was, while Dhaka pressed for a supply of at least 50,000 cusecs or so to safeguard its interests, Kolkata was uncertain if even 25,000 cusecs could be spared for the purpose. The resultant lack of information has naturally fuelled speculation in both countries as to the true reasons for Mamata Banerjee’s staunch refusal to yield on the issue, despite her personal cordial relations with the Bangladeshi prime minister. [caption id="attachment_55782" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee greeted by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on their visit to the country in 2015 Dhaka Tribune Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee greeted by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on their visit to the country in 2015 Dhaka Tribune[/caption] The continuing deadlock on the Teesta issue is a political millstone round the ruling Awami League’s neck. It gels effectively with Bangladesh opposition’s narrative against it, of being “India’s pet poodle.” What lies in Delhi’s favour is that it now enjoys a position of strength vis-à-vis Mamata and her Trinamool Congress party (TMC). Earlier, the ruling Congress (I) was dependant on Mamata’s political support. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh could not initiate any action even as Mamata cancelled her trip to Dhaka to sign what would have been a historical agreement, at the last moment. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the centre led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not labour under any political compulsions vis-à-vis the TMC. Relations between the BJP and the TMC could not be worse and the acrimony continues even at the level of personal relations between the Indian prime minister and the West Bengal chief minister. No wonder most Kolkata-based Bangladeshi citizens ask newsmen: “Will Mamata cooperate?” With only days to go for Hasina’s visit, there is still no definite answer.

Mamata continues to oppose water sharing

Mamata still refuses to show her hand. In a recent TV interview, she reiterated her opposition to the water sharing proposal, because of her West Bengal “deprivation” card. She complained that while chief ministers of other Indian states bordering Bangladesh had been kept in the loop about Hasina’s visit, she had not been contacted. In turn, this sets off further speculation in Delhi: If Mamata sticks to her stand, can Modi overrule her and finalise an agreement with Bangladesh? Constitutionally the answer is, yes he can. The question assumes importance as Modi personally is very keen to conclude an agreement with Bangladesh, India’s most friendly neighbour. However, how such a snub to Mamata would politically impact Bengal, where the BJP is just beginning to strike roots after decades of struggle and is now a target area for the BJP’s expansion, is still being pondered among Delhi policymakers. Could there be a large law and order problem, if the ruling TMC launches massive anti-centre agitation? No one knows. What is known on the other hand, is that busy fighting off massive corruption charges (the Rs15,000 crore Sarada Chit Fund scam and the scandalous Narada sting operation) against it and in debt to the tune of nearly Rs310,000 crore to the centre, the TMC is skating on very thin ice for its survival.
Also Read- Is Bangladesh collateral damage in the Mamata-Modi war?
Says Shantanu Sinha, BJP’s legal cell: “Her desperate anti-BJP campaign has not stopped our recent string of victories in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa or Manipur. For all her histrionics, she is worried over the BJP’s growing support in Bengal. She would do anything to get out of the deep hole her party is in. Look at the way she welcomed the Supreme Court verdict, which ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to extend the time for its probe into TMC corruption cases to one month from three days. One month is a long time in politics. No wonder all big TMC leaders have set up camp in Delhi, trying to meet top BJP leaders!” Sinha also is not sure as to whether Mamata is consciously or otherwise, pandering to Muslim extremist sentiments in West Bengal and Bangladesh by her obdurate stand on the issue.
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