Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pullout of Mamata sets India At Danger

West Bengal's stunt-loving chief minister Mamata Banerjee is known for her own-styled political stunts. But, possibly the Indian nations as a whole has to finally pay the highest price of allowing a whimsical leader like Mamata to be in administration, when Bangladesh government, for very obvious reason has rejected the signing of transit MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with India, which would allow the Indian government in mobilizing commercial and military convoys to the North-Easter sevens-sister states – something New Delhi is fearing for years to be ultimately liberated from India. Dhaka did not sign the transit MOU just because, Dr. Manmohan Singh was compelled to back out from signing the much-awaited Teesta Water Sharing Treaty with Bangladesh, due to tremendous opposition from Mamata Banerjee. This has not only deprived India from getting the virtual corridor facilities from Bangladesh in the name of transit, which would surely help New Delhi in maintaining the integrity of the country, especially when it relates to seven sister states in the North-Eastern region.

Does this mean, Mamata Banerjee purposefully took this whimsical decision simply to show her upper hand to ruling Indian National Congress, or she too has different agenda at the back of her mind, of helping the separatist groups in the North-Eastern region to remain greatly detached from rest of India, thus finally waving the ways for them to ultimately become independent states?

Due to Mamata Banerjee's sudden pullout, possibly the issue of handing over of ULFA leader Anup Chetia and his accomplices like Laxmi Prashad and Babul Sharma was dropped from discussion agenda during Dr. Manmohan Singh's Dhaka trip. Understandably, this is no less important issue for India. Dr. Singh failed to raise this issue with Dhaka, as he was already aware of Bangladesh's dismay over the last-minute complications created centering the water sharing treaty.

CPI criticism:
Sitaram Yechury, leader of Communist Party of India, commenting on Mamata's decision of not accompanying the Indian Prime Minister to Bangladesh said, "Her sudden decision not to join the Prime Minister to go to Bangladesh one day before the visit has not only brought embarrassment to our country but also tarnished its image in the international arena."
The CPI leader anyway expressed indirect support to Mamata Banerjee on her stand on the Teesta water sharing issue.

Public reaction in Bangladesh:
Meanwhile, there is tremendous reaction in public about India's last-minute U-turn from signing the Teesta and Feni water sharing treaties. It has also become a strong weapon for political opponents of Sheikh Hasina now to use it in further agitating the people saying, Sheikh Hasina and her government was merely bluffing the Bangladeshi people with the hope of water sharing treaties to create ways for Manmohan Singh to arrive in Dhaka and get all the treaties, including transit, signed. Anti-Indian blocks in Bangladesh will also become increasing active following the suspension of signing of the water treaty. The decision of Indian government of not signing the water treaty by showing the lame excuse of Mamata Banerjee's opposition has not nakedly exposed to people of Bangladesh, a plain truth that, India by nature is a taker nation and it has all out hostile and hegemonic attitude towards the small neighbors, irrespective of the fact, if those small neighbors even have Delhi lapdogs in the administration.

Reaction of Bangladeshi officials:
Expressing dissatisfaction over India's sudden back-out from signing the Teesta Water Sharing treaty, an official close to Bangladeshi Prime Minister told Indian media "Of course, that was the most awaited agreement by our government. We anyway have major differences with India over the impact the Farakka barrage [in West Bengal, near the Bangladesh border] has had on southern Bangladesh. At least the Teesta agreement would have ensured that northern Bangladesh was spared the vagaries of nature."
He reportedly 'pooh-poohed' recent claims by Indian officials - that neither nation had been close to a final treaty on the matter - and said that a concrete deal had been drawn up by the two governments days before Dr Singh's visit.

TMC-INC set up game:
Some of the political analysts are seeing the last moment objection of Trina Mul Congress [TMC] leader Mamata Banerjee to the water sharing treaty initiated by the central government led by Indian National Congress [INC], as a mere "set up game". They feel, the contents of the treaty were never suddenly communicated to the West Bengal's Chief Minister. The matter was well discussed within the Indian policymakers and Mamata Banerjee's TMC also has its own representation in the national government also.
"This is a game of New Delhi just to make an excuse in avoiding giving due share of water to Bangladesh", they opined.
Last minute change in trade issue too:
Seeking to placate Dhaka, upset over the last-minute scrapping of the Teesta water-sharing pact, Singh announced a major trade sop allowing duty-free access with immediate effect to 61 items from Bangladesh to Indian market and permitting 24-hour access to Bangladeshis through Tin Bigha corridor. Of the 61 items, 46 are textile products for which Bangladesh had sought access into the Indian market. Aware of Bangladesh's sensitivities over the failure to reach an interim agreement on Teesta, Singh said "our common rivers need not be sources of discord, but can become the harbingers of prosperity to both our countries".

Bangladeshi TV channel barred from reaching Indian viewers:
Dr. Manmohan Sing did not give any green signal to letting Bangladeshi private television channels enter the Indian cable television network, thus withdrawing the decade-old embargo on letting Bangladeshi channels reach the Indian viewers. There has been an agreement for exchange of programs between state-owned Bangladesh Television [BTV] and Durdarshan India.

Commenting on not letting Bangladeshi private television channels enter Indian cable network, a source inside Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka said, the matter of Bangladeshi private television channels "was never raised with the Indian counterpart by the Bangladeshi foreign ministry". It said, foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni has personal reservations about some of the private-owned Bangladeshi television channels, which are owned by BNP-Jamaat leaders or activists. On the other hand, the ruling party was "unwilling" in letting negative propaganda on private television channels reach Indian viewers. These were key-issues behind the final result of Dr. Singh not giving permission to private television channels in getting connected to Indian cable television network.

Following such decision, Bangladeshi private television channel owners are considering tough action thus finally convincing local cable operators in suspending broadcast of Indian channels in Bangladesh.

Transit treaty signed under cover:
Though Bangladesh government is claiming to have postponed the signing of the transit agreement, it has become clear from leaked information that such transit treaty has finally been signed under the garb of 'Agreement for facilitating road and rail transit between Bangladesh and Nepal'. This agreement will allow Bangladeshi to use Indian land in transporting goods between Chittagong and Mongla sea ports with Nepal, while the same agreement also gives right to India in using Bangladeshi land, water and airways in transporting goods to Chittagong and Mongla ports as well as Tamabil land port, which actually gives the similar benefit to India as it sought from Bangladesh. It is also indicated that Indian Prime Minister has convinced Bangladesh in signing the Transit in exchange of "reaching into an understanding on the Teesta water sharing issue".

This was confirmed when Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her speech at the official banquet said "Throughout our discussions today, we have reached understanding in areas as diverse as demarcation of land boundary, sharing of waters of Teesta and Feni, connectivity, power, electronic media, education and conservation of common heritage of the Sunderbans."

Commenting on such "silent understanding" between Dhaka and New Delhi on the Teesta water sharing treaty as well as transit vice-versa, Indian media said, "Neither wants to jeopardise the cosy relationship they are currently enjoying; bilateral ties have not been this warm since India helped Bangladesh [then East Pakistan] win its freedom from Pakistan [then West Pakistan] in 1971."

The 'historic' visit of the Indian Prime Minister took place just after 12 years. There had been tremendous expectations in public and media in both countries about the beginning of the 'golden era of cooperation' between Dhaka and New Delhi. It would turn true only if the rumor Indian government's finalizing the Teesta and Feni water sharing treaties turns true. On the other hand, if Dhaka finally fails to get the water share from Delhi in exchange of many treaties favorable to India including the transit treaty under the garb of 'Agreement for facilitating road and rail transit between Bangladesh and Nepal', Sheikh Hasina's government will fall into worst ever crisis in the coming months. Though political pundits believe that, Indian government won't put Sheikh Hasina into trouble by playing foul with her government, some pessimists even say, it is difficult for the small South Asian neighbors to reading the mindset of policymakers in New Delhi.

If Bangladesh government has silently accorded transit facilities to India, it will become a worst challenge for the ruling Bangladesh Awami League to ultimate face, when people of the country will come to know about any such treaty. On the other hand, Indian government will not be able to freely make best use of such treaty, as it will surely be confronted by Bangladeshi people. Some of the Bangladeshi leaders, including former BNP minister M.K. Anwar has already called for waving "another war of independence" to confront any transit or corridor treaty signed secretly between Bangladesh and India. According to Bangladeshi law, such calls as seditious and would be treated as serious offense under the existing laws of the land.

Anti-Indian elements:
Prior to visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Bangladesh, some of the vehement opponents of India have become active in pressing anti-Indian agendas through seminars and symposiums. One of the worst anti-Indian elements is Jatiyo Gonotantrik Party [JAGPA], led by Shafiul Alam Prodhan. The party leaders opined in a gathering that, September 5, 2011 was the "last day of independence of Bangladesh", stating, the country would turn into "India's secondary state after the visit of Dr. Manmohan Singh".

The good sign:
Here only good sign is, as Dr. Manmohan Singh took last minute decision in increasing the number of Bangladeshi items from 46 to 61 in letting Dhaka enjoy duty free access in the neighboring land, it cannot be totally turned down that the Indian Prime Minister did not show similar sympathetic attitude towards Bangladesh in Teesta and Feni water sharing issues.

What is next:
With the current trend of warmest relations between Dhaka and Delhi, it is anticipated that, Sheikh Hasina may now push forward her year-old dream of forming a South Asian Forum with the goal of stopping "American influence in the region". The concept was disclosed by Sheikh Hasina, when she visited India, few years back, when she was the leader of opposition in Bangladesh.

Traditionally, Bangladesh Awami League believes in socialism and vehemently opposes free-market economy and capitalist policies. For this reason, socialist countries are rather 'natural allies' of Bangladesh Awami League while anti-socialists are 'strategic allies'. India though is not a socialist nation; it greatly aspires to stop American influence in the region in order to ultimately become the main player in regional and Asian politics. India traditionally maintains deeper ties with Russian Federation, Israel, Palestine and the Arab world. India has already become a key partner in most of the high-tech industries in United States and the West. Millions of Indian nationals are already employed in various IT projects in United States. On the other hand, Indian entrepreneurs are gradually becoming dominant player in US economy.

For example, America's hotel sector has already gone into grips of Indian entrepreneurs, as more than 63 percent of the US hotels are now owned or managed by Indians. The figure is growing steadily. It is anticipated that, by 2020, America's hotel industry will be under total control of Indians.

Indian entrepreneurs are also becoming important player in America's real estate business sector. Indian presence in America's stock market is increasing fast. India also is earning billions by exporting traditional and non-traditional items to the United States market. Due to closer relations between India and Israel in defense technology sector, Delhi will become the dominant power in Asia in supplying defense hardware of militaries in the continent. Because of price competitiveness of Indian goods, such defense hardware will also capture significant proportion of the Western market. On the other hand, because of New Delhi's finest diplomatic policy, which is mostly protecting Indian interest, India is signalled to further improve its relations with China, Iran, Pakistan and some of the Asian nations. Especially Sino-Indian relations will ultimately lead to creation of a very strong anti-American force in Asia, which will change the current uni-polar world order into multi-polar one.

Washington in particular may not welcome such emergence of Asian power or a multi-polar world order, with countries like India, China, and Iran etc becoming dominant players in global politics. The whole realities and issues put forward are complex enough. And America's position becomes even difficult, when its diplomats around the world will either become distrusted or will be greatly avoided by the global population following the ongoing discloser of US cables by Wikileaks. Most of the people, especially policymakers and politicians in every nation will onwards maintain highest reservation in openly discussing anything with American diplomats, fearing such discussions will ultimately be leaked by Wikileaks.

BY : Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.