Has Mamata lived up to our expectations?
By all indications from Delhi and Kolkata, it is now clear that there will be no deal on Teesta during Prime Minister Modi's visit to Dhaka. A deal any time soon seems to be a distant mirage. When asked by an Indian Tribune correspondent about a Teesta deal, Modi remained silent. When asked by a Daily Prothom Alo correspondent if Mamata was visiting Dhaka, she said she okayed all the agreements about trade and transit by road railways and coastal shipping. She conspicuously remained silent on the Teesta deal. Her education minister was also reticent on the matter. Now Sushma Sawraj, the Indian Foreign Minister, has confirmed that no Teesta deal will be signed during the visit as they failed to bring Mamata on board.
Yet, during her February visit to Dhaka, the West Bengal chief minister showed unstinted support and sympathy for Bangladesh and genuine concern about a Teesta deal, as she assured Bangladesh about a resolution of the issue soon. She categorically, and without ambiguity, reiterated that Bangladesh could repose its trust on her. The apparent shift of her stance on the issue is unintelligible. It raises more questions than answers. Is it merely her domestic political compulsion? What happened to the study report on Teesta prepared by river expert Kalyan Rudra? Was then her visit with a star studded delegation a mere charm offensive to keep us spellbound only without meaning any substance? Whatever her intentions might be, this decision is uncharitable if not a downright betrayal.
A done deal on Teesta water sharing reportedly providing for equal water sharing by both West Bengal and Bangladesh was aborted at the eleventh hour by Mamata during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's September11 visit to Dhaka. Now the flow of the river during the lean period between mid March and mid May in Teesta down the Gajoldoba barrage in Jalpaiguri has been reduced to a trickle of 500 cusecs of water from the previous 10,000 cusecs, rendering districts of the Rangpur division into an arid and sterile wasteland with devastating consequences for ecology, agriculture, fishery and navigation. During the monsoon when the flood gates of the Gajoldoba barrage will open, there will be a deluge in the northern districts of Bangladesh. This is an annual ritual. To keep the issue on the backburner of the existing status quo on the pretext of 'technical glitch' is not a good neighbourly behaviour from a supposedly friendly neighbour.
Bangladesh has given - with no holds barred - everything India asked for but what have we received? The ratification of the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement by two giant politicians of the subcontinent, Prime minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was long over due. India dithered, prevaricated and dragged its feet for over forty years to ratify the agreement. Thanks to the initiatives of Prime Minister Hasina and Prime Minister Modi, a long festering sore in bilateral relations has now been healed and a grave injustice and wrong righted.
Prime Minister Modi will inaugurate the Dhaka-Shillong- Guwahati and Kolkata- Dhaka- Agartala bus service. The Dhaka-Agartala bus service and Dhaka-Kolkata train service is already in operation. A train line between Agartala and Akhaura is in the offing. Modi will sign an agreement on coastal shipping services to facilitate transport of Indian goods and passengers to avoid pressure on roads in Bangladesh. India is likely to provide another tranche of $ 2 billion dollars credit line in addition to the earlier $1 billion dollar credit line to foot the bill to develop the roads, railways, river ports and waterways infrastructure in Bangladesh precisely to facilitate the transit of Indian goods and passengers to its North Eastern states, saving money, time and distance by avoiding long route travel through Siliguri.
Bangladesh provided transit facilities through Ashuganj port for the transportation of heavy-duty equipment for Palatona Power Company in Tripura. Bangladesh agreed to transport ten thousand tons of food grains for Tripura through its territory. Bangladesh agreed to allow100026MW electricity generated from 429 dams in Northern states through Bangladesh to be allocated to West Bengal and other places in India. Bangladesh has also responded positively to Indian security concerns in its Eastern states and is also cooperating to stop cross border terrorism.
These are all Indian agendas and concerns of connectivity with its eastern states and not our priorities which are burgeoning trade imbalance with India and killing of innocent Bangladeshis by the BSF, besides water sharing of Teesta and other rivers.
Yet, Bangladesh cooperated with India in good faith in a spirit of promoting good neighbourly relations. We beseech Prime Minister Modi who is forthcoming to improve relations with neighbours, a distinct departure from his predecessor Congress governments, to intervene and try to bring Mamata on board to clinch a mutually satisfactory Teesta deal which is essentially a humanitarian issue now.
For India, the visit may be a crowning success. But for Bangladesh, the visit without a Teesta deal, will be a deep disappointment and a defeat of our diplomacy.
The writer is a contributor to The Daily Star and a former diplomat.