In 1962, India was humiliated by China when the Chinese advanced unimpeded into Indian territory. Ever since, a process of internal political deterioration was set in motion in that country.
When the Chinese advanced, there was a temporary resurgence of patriotic fervor in India. But the Indian rout in Bomdila was the loss of national confidence. Any dynamism which was nurtured by the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru in the early days of India, was decimated when she was unable to strike back against China. Since then the elite of India had settled to a less than confident nation state.
Nehru had in his day crafted a foreign policy for India taking the legacy of national self- doubt into account. His greatest fear was that once he was gone India would return to the age old "nightmare of Balkanisation and internal strife" which was typical of India before the Mogul and British rule.
Nehru therefore took up the theme of a neutralist foreign policy and saw it as the symbol of a resurgent national pride. The heterogeneous Indian people were therefore made to discover a collective identity in international dealings. By thrusting New Delhi onto the world stage as an independent entity seeking out its national interest, Nehru thought that the Marathas, the Bengalis, the Tamils and the Punjabis would perceive themselves now as just Indians.
In the initial days of non-alignment, India therefore played its role as a go-between in the company of the then superpowers. Indians thought that as a nation they had already arrived on the world stage. Nehru was pleased as it held back divisive stresses. Under his stewardship India strutted with colourful feathers in the world stage.
But when China clashed with India, the country was unprepared and with no self-recognition it faltered. So India decided to then stride the world stage as if nothing had happened.
Thus the border dispute between India and China remains unresolved till today. More worrying is the fact that India was not yet able to apply a top quality adhesive that could glue the varied peoples and cultures. Hence we see the various insurgencies and temporary volatilities.
Of late, rapid economic growth as well as strides in technology has made Indians proud. The success of the Indian diaspora has also given much boost to the psychology of the ordinary Indians. But India remains an entity where centrifugal tendencies often work at tangent with the policy of the union government in Delhi.
So this time, after almost forty years, when the government of India was trying to elevate her ties with Bangladesh, Prime Minister Manmohan suddenly came face to face with this primeval force.
There is a requirement in India that no international agreement can be signed by the central government without the explicit consent of the relevant state. It was therefore correct for the Indian prime minister to approach the government of Paschimbanga on the matter of sharing the water of the trans-border Teesta river with Bangladesh.
The Indian prime minister, in no uncertain terms, has said that he had consulted Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of Paschimbanga about sharing the waters of the Teesta. Not only was she consulted, but Prime Minister Manmohan had also sent his personal emissary, National Security Advisor Shiv Shanker Menon, to talk to her. The fair and equitable sharing of the waters of the Teesta was a substantive component that would have taken the bilateral relations between the two countries to a higher plane.
In spite of this, as events unfolded, it became clear that Mamata was in no mood to bow to the urgings of the central government in Delhi.
In an un-Bengali way, she refused to accompany her prime minister to Dhaka. She also added that her government in no way would be a party to the Teesta agreement. But this position of Mamata was conveyed to him so late that he opted not to sign the agreement. The prime minister felt more consultation was necessary.
In a curious way, Mamata allied herself briefly with forces that Prime Minister Nehru had tried to bury once and for all and had strived to deliver telling blows to such forces of obscurantism.
Mamata is a lady with history. She also has big political ambitions. She has been elected as chief minister of our neighbouring state of Pachimbanga at a sensitive time when India and Bangladesh relations are being changed for the better.
A self-confident Bangladesh with a democratic set up is trying to unleash new and dramatic forces together with India, which can bring prosperity to this corner of this world.
The four chief ministers from the remaining states neighbouring Bangladesh in north east India, who accompanied the Indian prime minister, must have been almost asphyxiated with the political antics of Mamata. Losing so much in terms of trade and transit to getting so little benefit from the waters of the Teesta seemed to be self-defeating.
Let India, which is fast becoming a regional power, assert her national will and bring her satraps to terms with her national objectives.
There is a wise saying: "Half of the failures in life come from pulling one's horse when he is leaping."
Prime Minister Manmohan, an academic turned accidental politician, will appreciate this and advise Mamata accordingly. Both India and Bangladesh seem to have spurred their horses who are now leaping over the hurdles in mid-air.
Teesta and the other bilateral agreements are between two states and are not between or among politicians.
So in essence there can be no mistakes, save one: The failure to learn from a mistake.