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It takes three to Teesta

  • Published at 07:25 pm April 10th, 2017
  • Last updated at 07:52 pm April 10th, 2017
It takes three to Teesta

India has failed to quench Sheikh Hasina’s thirst for Teesta waters. The knives will be out for Bangladesh’s Prime Minister when she lands in Dhaka nursing a parched throat and a broken heart.

Her countrymen will bombard her with taunts, sneers, and jeers for not extracting anything worthwhile from “Big Brother” India whose every wish has been a command for her Awami League government since 2008.

It is now as clear as daylight that there is going to be no Teesta River water-sharing deal ever, although Bangladesh has been patiently waiting for it since 2011. Mamata Banerjee told Hasina in so many words on Saturday that she won’t permit it as there is not enough water to share.

Look at the Torsa River instead, Banerjee advised clearing the air -- and bursting the bubble.

Banerjee has, in fact, done a big service to Hasina by putting her out of her misery. In the bargain, she has also demonstrated that, although she is the chief minister of a state, she can apply the brakes on the prime minister of India and -- if need be -- pull the rug from under his feet.

The tension between them was palpable in Hasina’s presence; their body language said it all.      

I think India as a nation is guilty of stringing Hasina along for six years, leading her up the garden path, and finally throwing her to the wolves.

This is the harsh truth regardless of Narendra Modi’s consolatory declaration with Hasina by his side: “I firmly believe it is only my government and Sheikh Hasina’s government that can and will find an early solution to Teesta water-sharing.” After Banerjee put her foot down, Modi’s promise is meaningless.

Banerjee buried the Teesta Treaty, saying: “I have told the PM and Sheikh Hasina that the Teesta already has so little water that Bengal can’t afford to share it.” Period. “I have suggested exploring the possibility of sharing water from four or five rivers like Torsa in north Bengal.” Nothing can be more categorical than that.

Hasina has no other option now but to accept defeat. Her horizon has suddenly darkened. Now she has to fight her own political battles at home.

According to The Telegraph, the defeat came after “Hasina and her team made it clear (to the Indian side) that the other initiatives announced on Saturday might not be enough to shield her from domestic criticism, ahead of the national elections expected in late 2018, that she had given India more than she had got.”

According to The Daily Star: “Hasina had face-to-face talks with Mamata at the Hyderabad House but failed to persuade the West Bengal CM to give up her opposition to the Teesta deal.”

Quoting the Bangladesh foreign secretary, M Shahidul Haque, The Daily Star also revealed that “Dhaka had requested New Delhi for conclusion of an interim agreement on Teesta water-sharing,” but nothing happened. Or will ever happen.

The Dhaka Tribune, remarked pessimistically on Sunday that “Indo-Bangladesh relations are shrinking.

I think India as a nation is guilty of stringing Hasina along for six years, leading her up the garden path, and finally throwing her to the wolves

A large country tries to put many things on a small one by creating pressure, which the latter accepts despite its unwillingness in many cases.”

The frustration-cum-anger over the unexpected death of the Teesta deal is pretty evident.

I think Hasina came mentally prepared that the Teesta deal will not be signed. But she expected India to generate a lot of optimism and hype to create the impression of a breakthrough which didn’t happen. She was banking on a face-saver -- instead, she was dealt a blow by Banerjee’s straight talk.

Did Modi know in advance that Banerjee would play spoilsport after accepting his invitation to come to Delhi to greet and meet Hasina? I doubt it.

India’s history is replete with instances of small zamindars taking on big zamindars and kings challenging emperors. And Banerjee loves being the underdog who comes from behind to topple a powerful adversary.   

At a time when Modi and BJP are gunning for Banerjee -- there are reports that her nephew and heir-apparent, Abhisekh Banerjee, would soon be arrested like other Trinamool Congress MPs by a central agency in connection with scams -- there is no reason on earth to expect Banerjee to sing Modi’s tune.

Moreover, in the cut-throat world of politics, why should Banerjee sacrifice West Bengal’s interest to help Modi shine as a regional statesman?

A few weeks before flying to New Delhi, Hasina had reopened a closed chapter by deliberately revealing how India and America had backed Khaleda Zia in 2001 resulting in the Awami League’s defeat.

She singled out Amitabh Mathur, the RAW station head in Dhaka in those days, for cosying up to Zia and the BNP.

I think Hasina was essentially trying to send a message to New Delhi to watch its steps in order to avert mistakes which Zia could encash.

There is no denying that the aborted Teesta Treaty is a big bonus for the opposition in Bangladesh. How Hasina copes with such a big handicap will be worth watching. But if India’s loyal friend and strategic ally Hasina goes down fighting, the defeat will be as much hers as India’s.

S.N.M. Abdi is former deputy editor of Outlook and a well-known commentator and analyst. This article was first published in Daily O.