Monday, September 12, 2011

Who Gained By Not Agreeing On Teesta?

Paschimbanga’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee became the focal point of discussion by not accompanying the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during his recent visit to Bangladesh. The proposed Teesta treaty also got a wider coverage in the media by not being signed during Dr. Singh’s visit. The much publicized transit protocols to be signed between Bangladesh and India were washed away by the failure of the Teesta treaty. These events took everyone by surprise, including the Indian prime minister, overshadowing whatever successes the visit achieved in other areas.

Mamata Banerjee’s decision was sudden and unexpected as the stage was set in Dhaka for inking both the Teesta treaty and the transit protocols. India finally had to back out from its earlier commitment to sign the treaty because of Mamata Banerjee’s objection.

It was a failure of Indian diplomacy. Bangladesh reacted calmly but appropriately by refusing to sign the transit protocols. Transit is our last trump card and we must play it wisely and only at the most appropriate moment.
What went wrong is not clear to many political analysts. How could Mamata Banerjee, being an important partner in the central coalition government, put her own prime minister into such an embarrassing situation? Certainly she messed up internal politics with international diplomacy. The two are not the same.

The people of Bangladesh were deeply disappointed. Mamata Banerjee’s objection is a sad contrast to the positive role played by Jyoti Basu, the former chief minister of Paschimbanga, in paving the way for the agreement on the sharing of the waters of the Ganges River in 1996.

Mamata Banerjee did not only object to the Teesta treaty, but also refused to come to Bangladesh while four other chief ministers of the neighbouring Indian states accompanied Dr. Singh.
Jyoti Basu would have been hurt badly, had he been alive today. Mamata Banerjee must have hurt many fellow Bengalis not only in her own state but all over the world. People reacted with anguish on both sides of the Indo-Bangladesh border.

True, she took the decision in the interest of the people of Paschimbanga. By doing so she ignored the greater interests of India and her closest neighbour Bangladesh. We are deprived of the due shares of the waters of the Teesta and the Feni rivers. Similarly, India is deprived of the transit facility through Bangladesh. Who gained ultimately? Perhaps none did.

Mamata Banerjee knows that the people of Bangladesh and Paschimbanga do not share only the waters of a few common rivers, they share a common language, a common culture and a common history. They share Rabibdranath Tagore and Nazrul Islam. They share the Bay of Bengal, the Sundarbans and the Royal Bengal Tigers. They relish the tastes of hilsa of Padma and the sweet yogurt.

I was in Kolkata during the last state election in Paschimbanga. I was amazed to see Mamata Banerjee’s popularity among the common people who fondly address her as Didi. Her informal dress, her simple life style, her manners and above all her feelings for the poor and the down-trodden men and women are indeed remarkable.

Does Mamata Banerjee know that she has numerous admirers in Bangladesh and one of them is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina? If she is Didi to her people in Paschimbanga, she is also Didi to us. The people of Bangladesh were eagerly waiting to accord a very warm welcome to Didi. She should have come to Bangladesh, even if she had reservations on the Teesta treaty, and accepted the hospitality of her brothers and sisters in Bangladesh.

Politics does not always dictate human relationships across international borders. The people of the adjoining states of India, including Paschimbanga, welcomed ten million refugees from Bangladesh during the war of liberation in 1971. They provided them with shelter and food during very difficult days.
I have seen Bengalis from Bangladesh and Paschimbanga mingling together socially and culturally in Europe, America and other countries forgetting about the political divide. Can we not then amicably share the waters of a few rivers? 

India and Bangladesh missed one opportunity to sign the agreements on Teesta, Feni and transit during the recent visit of Dr. Singh. There is still time to rectify the mistakes and go ahead with the deals for the benefit of both the countries.

It is good to know that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sent gifts, including jamdani sarees and hilsa fish, for Mamata Banerjee, even though she did not come to Dhaka. It was a good gesture on the part of Sheikh Hasina. It reflects the love and affection of the people of Bangladesh for Mamata Banerjee.

It is hoped that Didi will reciprocate appropriately and pave the way for inking the unsigned treaties in order to mend whatever damage was done to the Indo-Bangladesh relationship due to her objection to the Teesta treaty.