Thursday, September 15, 2011

How Good Is The Half-Full Glass?

In spite of the fact that Mamata Banerjee's about face had diluted the significance of Manmohan Singh's visit, dissection of the 30-hour Dhaka trip is likely continue for a long time. It is only but natural. And that is primarily because the expectations created by the interlocutors on our side which were put out through the media were not matched by the outcome. And the disappointment has been made even more acute by an advisor to the Bangladesh PM accusing our media of blaming them for the failure. People in the top rung of the administration seem to forget that success has many claimants of paternity, nobody owns failure. 

And what was implied in the statements of the advisors, post Manmohan visit, quite clearly was that Bangladesh was left high and dry by India and they could do precious little about it. Well, the nature of their jobs is such that they must take the bad with the good. Would they have credited India only if everything had gone as we had expected and got everything that was promised? We do not want to look at the glass as half full, as one of the advisors has accused the media of doing, but what good is a half-full glass if that contains undrinkable water? 

Even the Indian Prime Minister has acknowledged, not in so many words though, that the Mamata spanner was not only unexpected, the lack of outcome regarding Teesta admits of no excuse on the part of India. I think we, as a nation, are used to disappointments, but when that occurs due to other countries taking us for granted, and failing to reciprocate our actions and goodwill, it is hard to swallow. However, disappointments aside, it is time to take a dispassionate look and see if really the glass is half-full in spite of us getting nothing of the Teesta! And, as for today, we shall look at a few aspects only of the bilateral issues. 

Teesta is a good point to start. I for one take Mamata's U-turn on Teesta with a pinch of salt. Serious observers of Bangladesh-India relations couldn't have but noticed the absence the water resource ministers in any preliminaries, though the foreign ministers and the home ministers had met in Dhaka before the visit of the Indian premier, enough indication of things to come. However, since we have no details of the aborted Teesta agreement we do not know how much we lost; thus it is futile to spend effort on it. All we can do is to ask the government to tell us what exactly we missed and what will be our lot should the Teesta treaty be signed, may be in three months as our finance minister has suggested. We are getting different figures and different calculations. And one gets confused when one hears both the terms, "equal" and "equitable" applied by the advisors and foreign minister in this case. Are they fungible? 

On sharing of the common river waters, it is for Bangladesh to worry, even more now that the chief minister of the Indian state of Bihar says that the Ganges Treaty has been a "gross injustice" to his state and has called for its review. 

Let us look at the land issues. Sheikh Hasina had expressed her deep appreciation of the government of Bangladesh for facilitating 24-hour unfettered access to Bangladesh nationals through the Tin Bigha Corridor. While this is certainly an improvement from the status of restricted access to the two enclaves, and would have a "significantly positive impact on the lives of the people of Angarpota-Dahagram," one wonders whether thanks are a bit premature. Is not the corridor to be leased in perpetuity to Bangladesh? Has the long pending promise been really fulfilled as stated by our PM in the Joint Statement? 

The two prime ministers may have expressed deep satisfaction at the conclusion of the Protocol to the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement, but how much that will pave the way for settlement of the long pending land boundary issues given that the demarcation, which was first agreed to be completed by no later than March 31, 2012, has now been tagged with the exchange of enclaves, which has been left open-ended. 

As for transit, the most topical issue, it would be remiss to tag it to the Teesta water sharing. These are two different issues and linking them would be a strategic folly on our part, and one would hope that that was not the intention of the government when it dropped the matter entirely after being shortchanged on Teesta. For Bangladesh there was no other alternative. But there is an arrangement of corridor of sorts, with the ODC going to Palatana power project in Tripura. However, Article 41 of the joint statement of the prime ministers which directed that necessary formalities for the use of Chittagong and Mongla seaports for movement of goods to and from India through water, rail and road be completed urgently, is seen by many as the next step towards granting corridor to India. 

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