Saturday, September 17, 2011

Trade-Off Between Bengal, North-east Not Viable

The agricultural economy of north Bengal cannot be undermined for the sake of a ‘transit’ treaty whose benefits are in the abstract given the woeful condition of infrastructure in the north-eastern region. It is time the diplomacy of Manmohan got real.

Bangladesh cannot be faulted for putting on hold the Feni River agreement and the much awaited transit treaty. The transit treaty not only held out huge revenue potential for Bangladesh but would have also yielded to north-eastern India its dream of access to a port. The importance of this link for the region’s economic turnaround cannot be overstated. But Singh threw that opportunity away by imagining that a pack of IFS officers would “manage” Mamata.

A problem between Delhi and Kolkata could leave Dhaka sneezing politically. Now the anti-Hasina BNP would take advantage of the failed treaty to whip up anti-India sentiments. An advantage for the Bangaldesh Nationalist Party (BNP), with its known links with radical Islam, is a clear headache for India.

The Awami League is known to be an old ally of India. Bangladesh’s birth was midwifed by India. The BNP is known to whip up old suspicions harboured by remnants of the pro-Pakistan section of Bangladesh society. When in the Opposition in Bangladesh’s never-ending revolving door politics, the BNP tends to follow Delhi-Dhaka diplomacy with a telescope and never loses an opportunity to cry ‘traitor’ in the direction of the Awami League government for perceived “sellout” to India.

In the 1990s, the Awami League appeared to pulled off a masterstroke by clinching the Ganga water agreement with India, whose diplomacy was then punctuated by the “Gujral doctrine”. The “Gujral doctrine” held that India, being the big brother of the region and immensely advantaged by natural and economic resources, should  not think twice before making “small” sacrifices to its neighbours, particularly Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, because through them India stands to gain greater long-term dividends. However, things don’t work like that in South Asia. For a time it did appear that Hasina, who was Prime Minister in the 1996-2001 period, was serious about helping India smash north-eastern insurgency by forcing the Assam,  Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur  militants to close down their shelters in the Chittagong region. But this cooperation was soon sabotaged by pro-BNP elements in the Bangladeshi military establishment. And there was nothing that either India or the Awami-controlled Bangladesh government could do about it.

So, disregarding the interests of millions of people in northern West Bengal in the hope of securing a greater reward in the form of a “transit agreement” is not workable. There is no guaranteeing that the several follow up agreements needed to make a transit agreement work, would automatically fall in place. Moreover, given the present state of north-eastern industry, trade and services, it would take many years, if not decades, for the transit agreement to bring in the expected dividends. The north-east’s biggest problem is not lack of access to a nearby port, but woeful infrastructure. The government of India is vainly expecting a foreign treaty to resolve a home-grown problem whereas it has no substantial plan to improve the state of the north-east’s deficits in power, roadways and communications. But by that time, the entire agricultural sector of northern West Bengal could go for a toss. So the tradeoff may not necessarily have been reasonable.

Shiv Shankar Menon may have great understanding of foreign affairs but he cannot be expected to appreciate the political compulsions of a Chief Minister. The Prime Minister’s claim that Mamata had been “fully briefed” before the final go-ahead was given to draft the treaty has to be taken with a pinch of salt because the West Bengal Chief Minister would never have given her consent at a juncture when she was consolidating her own position.

When it comes to the criticism, Mamata had to face from certain quarters for “spiking” the treaty to exercise her State’s legitimate rights over the waters of the Teesta river, one can’t but appreciate the fact that in international river water treaties the rights of lower riparian states are upheld by preserving the rights of upper riparian states. Hence it is the UPA Government led by Manmohan Singh that should take the blame rather than anyone else. One wonders how Singh went to taste the flavor of Hilsa but ended up with egg on his face.

Duty-Free Textile From Bangladesh To Hurt Indian Units : Indan Media

Days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced duty-free access to 46 textile items from Bangladesh, the apprehensions are being raised that the move will prove detrimental to the Indian textile industry’s growth plans.

As per a deal signed by India and Bangladesh, a total of 305 products, mostly textile items, can be imported into the country by paying zero per cent duty. The same 305 products can also be imported duty free from Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal.

Ajit Lakra, president of Ludhiana Knitters Association said the duty waiver will work against the industry in India. “Centre has waived off 26% customs duty applicable on these products. All that the Bangladeshi industrialists would be paying is 10.3% counter veiling duty (CVD). The Indian garment industry is already paying 10.3% excise duty,” Lakra said, adding that labour is cheap in the neighbouring country and “we cannot compete with the prices, which will be offered by Bangladesh”. 

The Knitwear Club president Vinod Thaper and general secretary Narinder Miglani have already given a memorandum to state congress president Capt Amarinder to be handed over to the PM.

“Once the products (from neighbouring countries) start coming in the Indian market, many Indian units will shift focus from manufacturing to trading. This will lead to cut in the jobs houses and hence manufacturing will reduce. This will lead to job cuts. The Centre should have thought of the adverse impacts before signing the deal,” added Lakra. 

Bangladesh had been pressing for the last two years to get duty waiver on 61 products. Of the products, 47 were apparel items including pants, shirts, blouses, skirts, kids wear, cotton nightwear, jeans, swimwear and tracksuits.

Salim Osman, president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), had recently said that Bangladeshi apparel makers will do well in Indian market. 

Indian Leadership Lacks Vision

The fallouts of the Delhi blast and Teesta water sharing flop is ominous for the Singh government.

India has been caught on the wrong foot again. It has evoked anger over the bomb blast at Delhi High Court on the one hand and a bit of unhappiness on the accord between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina on the other. Both show the helplessness which has become the badge of the Union government. In the case of the terrorist attack, it is a failure of all those engaged in protecting the nation. At Dhaka, India could not deliver on the sharing of Teesta river water because West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was not willing to release a certain quantum of water after having given her word to New Delhi.

The fallout of the two is ominous for the broken and battered Singh government. The terrorists have again dared the government which has no clue about its perpetrators, although the responsibility has been owned by the Harkat-ul Ansar, a breakaway group of the HuJI (Harkat Ul Jihad Al Islami).

In fact, as soon as the blast took place, the government sources said unofficially that the needle of suspicion was directed towards the HuJI which operated from the soils of Pakistan and Bangladesh. There was little mention of the efforts that Bangladesh had made to curb terrorism, although Singh acknowledged the cooperation of Shaikh Hasina. In the terrific noise that the blast made, the hurrah over the demarcation of the border between India and Bangladesh was lost. New Delhi did not make any specific mention of the exchange of enclaves between the two countries, pending since the freedom of Bangladesh in December 1971.

People in Bangladesh are disappointed because they had put all their eggs in Teesta water basket. Yet the territorial exchange is not a mean achievement. As for Teesta waters, the older generation in Bangladesh would recall how long it took to bring around West Bengal to give more water from the Farrakha barrage. Being lower riparian, Bangladesh has every right to get water from the Teesta. The point at issue is: how much? At the time of Farrakha barrage accord, then chief minister Jyoti Basu headed West Bengal. The centre took time to bring him around. It could not go ahead without West Bengal's sanction because water is a state subject.

Therefore, Mamata, mercurial and cautious, would need a lot of persuasion and a lot of support from within West Bengal. According to Singh, she was on board till the last minute but then she changed her mind. A leader of substance became prey to rumours and self-created doubts. She fears that the communists are only waiting for an opportunity to pounce upon her after she had decimated them in the last assembly election.
True, West Bengal has the last word on giving Teesta water and that too in lean months. But the compromise figure worked out was fair and left most of Teesta water to the state. Emotional Bangladesh has made things more difficult because it has taken the issue to a feverish pitch where the lessening of water is considered India's betrayal of Bangladesh which was breathlessly waiting for signatures on the accord.

Finding faults

In democracies, public opinion matters. It is as much potent in Bangladesh as in India. It takes time and needs a lot of patience and courage to narrow down the differences. Agreements come to be evolved. The Teesta treaty will come through as the Farrakha barrage treaty did. But by damning India no purpose will be served. In contrast, India behaved maturely and there was no angry reaction on the stalling of transit treaty, which was a win-win situation for both.

Dhaka should be more circumspect while finding faults. The bomb blast has changed India's priorities. Its attention is focused on how to create a mechanism which could cope with terrorism which has taken roots in India. Inputs by Bangladesh would help. This was the psychological moment that Dhaka should have used to hand over the ULFA leader in detention.

No doubt, the main responsibility for security lies with New Delhi. Every time a blast takes place the government says that some heads will roll. I have not seen any so far. There does not seem to be any accountability of authorities or those who had the security system under them. Six major blasts remain unsolved. The police or intelligence agencies are nowhere near finding the people behind them. Something which baffles me is the attitude of political parties. The BJP enjoys seeing Congress-led government in trouble. This is the time when all ranks should be closed. Instead, every incident is politicised. And there is no consensus on any point.

The tragedy is that India has no leader with a vision. The challenge is to the polity. For political parties, things are either black or white. There is a grey area which they should widen. This requires a sense of accommodation and spirit of tolerance. I feel that the glue which unites the country is drying up.

BY :   Kuldip Nayar.

WHY SO MUCH TRUMPET BLAST? : Manmohan’s Visit: Outcome Negligible For Bangladesh

The national press created high expectation about the outcome of the summit between the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The Government agencies in Bangladesh, particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, helped in dissemination of news and views about the summit directly and indirectly. The tempo was building up during the last 9 months though the actual visit took place between September 6- 7 2011. The outcome of the summit has not come up to the high expectation because of the fact that the Teesta water treaty was not signed.

The Bangladesh side was projecting the summit in a way that the achievement to be had out of the summit would surpass all past achievements and would thus give the Government of Sheikh Hasina Wazed a great political boost. It now appears that there were lackings and various experts on the subject of foreign affairs or diplomacy are saying that the drill for the visit in the home front was inadequate. 

The raw hands
The Acting Secretary General of BNP has alleged that the preparation for the summit were mostly done by Advisers in the office of the Prime Ministers and these Advisers were raw hands because they did not have any background of diplomatic encounters with other countries.

Blames have been put on Mamata Banarjee, the Chief Minister of Paschim Bangla as due to her absence the water treaty could not be signed. Mamata Banarjee is a self made politician who has been in and out of power on various occasions. Her party, Trinamul Congress, is a faction of the Indian Congress. She is through-bred in politics and, therefore, fully aware of her primary responsibility to serve the cause of the people. There are some by-elections which will be held in Paschim Bangla. This is one of the important factors which must have been high on her mind at this juncture, and therefore she did not want to take a risk by participating in the Teesta water treaty which is essential for Paschim Bangla too. Her absence, therefore, was a calculated step which did upset both the Prime Ministers who had high hopes of concluding the Teesta agreement. However, the Indian Prime Minister before leaving Bangladesh on the conclusion his visit said that Teesta Water Treaty would be concluded in 3 months time. But who knows about the slips between the cup and the lips.
No press briefing by Hasina
The Prime Ministers of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina has not briefed the local press regarding the summit although she led the Bangladesh Team. Syed Ashraful Islam, General Secretary of the Awami League (AL) has, however, in a press conference claimed that though Teesta water agreement was not signed, the summit was a success and that Teesta was one of the items not the only item of agreement. He recounted the achievements of the summit which were favourable to Bangladesh. 

It is worthwhile to note that the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, a member of the Indian entourage, said in Delhi that due to the border agreement signed between Bangladesh and India, India has got 1240 acres of land, whereas, Bangladesh got only 357.5 acres of land. 

The Chief Minister of Tripura, Manik Sarker, and other members of the Indian entourage admitted in an interview with a leading English daily published from Dhaka that “Indian Prime Ministers’ recent visit to Dhaka may have had more misses than hits but the achievement should not be over shadowed by disappointment”. The statements made by the two Indian Chief Ministers were more pragmatic than what Syed Ashraful Islam, a junior in national politics, holding high party position and the portfolio as the Minister for LGRD and cooperatives, said in a press briefing, as stated above. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed came to learn that the Teesta water sharing treaty would not be signed on the 5th instant at night but there are press reports that Baby Moudud, reportedly a personal friend of the Prime Minister, was sent to Kolkata to plead with Mamata Banarjee to attend the summit. Baby Moudud is not a diplomat and, therefore, she was not suited to the job. 
Inept handling
Another gentleman by the name of Gauhar Rizvi also became very conspicuous in connection with the summit as he attended talk shows and also fed the press on some occasions. The Foreign Minister Dipu Moni also spoke to the press to explain the progress of the preparation for the summit and pre-summit talks which were attended by high Indian officials.

There has been inept handling of the preparation for the summit and the end result has angered many people in the country because apparently the Government has failed to obtain a solution to the Teesta water problem as Mamata Banarjee did not come in the entourage, as alleged; but the real story will not be available very soon unless we come to learn what actually happened. In this connection leaks from Wikileaks may provide some lead. Recently, heavy releases of Wikileaks about Bangladesh politics and diplomacy are appearing in our national dailies and are raising many curtains which are of interest.

At the end of the summit a 65-point joint statement was issued on September 7, 2011 and this joint statement serialised the accords. Knowledgeable circles say that these accords could have been signed in a usual manner at the level of Joint Secretaries without so much trumpet blast and Dr. Manmohan Singh could have been invited by the Prime Minister for a goodwill visit to Bangladesh.

BY :  Shahabuddin Ahmad. 

Bangladesh ‘To Become Solar Energy Nation In 10 Years’

Bangladesh has given a significant thrust to tapping of solar energy and is set to become a ‘solar energy nation’ within the next 10 years.

 A huge number of ‘green jobs’ will also be created,  a leading expert said in Dhaka yesterday.  

Former Grameen Shakti managing director Dipal Chandra Barua said, “We’re moving ahead to lay out a mission, Bangladesh Solar Mission’. We’ll analyse the global perspective, engage experts from home and abroad and take support internationally to make Bangladesh a solar energy nation,” Barua said.

Barua is now president of Bangladesh Solar and Renewable Energy Association and founder and chairman of Bright Green Energy Foundation.

He said his group wants to ensure solar energy in every corner of the country, and to engage unemployed boys and girls in the business expansion process, and also help the country get rid of the nagging power crisis by ensuring the use of solar energy up to 51%.

Dipal said they have formed a trade body, ‘Bangladesh Solar and Renewable Energy Association’, to help expand solar energy in the country.

“If the solar energy business grows, it’ll create jobs and help reduce the cost of having solar energy,” Dipal, also the president of the association, said.

Replying to a query, he said there are many developments in this green area. “The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is planning to provide funds for generating 500 megawatt of solar energy in Bangladesh. The government is in negotiations with ADB in this area.”

“It’s a big breakthrough. It’ll help increase the generation further. We’ve the God’s best gifted sunbeam,” he said.
Dipal said an international conference on solar energy development will be held in Dhaka on September 20 which will help Bangladesh work out its own plan to move forward.

Replying to another question, Dipal said the foundation, ‘Bright Green Energy Foundation’, will help expand and popularise solar energy.

He sought government support and united efforts to help ensure the expansion of solar energy system in the country.

Dipal further said solar energy is important as it is environment-friendly unlike nuclear power generation. “So, all should work together in this regard.”

Asked about credit facilities, he said flexible credit support is needed to make solar system popular in Bangladesh.

Sharing his plan on increased solar energy generation, Dipal said, “We’re taking various steps. We just want to spread solar energy across the country. We want the expansion of this business and more job creation.”
He also said they will train girls in each village to ensure proper maintenance of the solar energy system and to make the business viable.

Currently, some 60,000 people work in the solar energy sector across Bangladesh, he informed. Dipal, who has decades of experience in the field, believes a solar power system could be the best option to mitigate the worsening power problem. He said over 1mn solar home systems (SHSs) have been installed in the country. There is a plan to set up 7.5mn more solar panels across Bangladesh by 2015.

Referring to the environment, the expert said the free source of solar energy is an excellent solution.

BY :  Mizan Rahman.

Should Not India Pay Transit Fees?

Should India pay the transit fees? It is a big question now at a time when a hide and seek is further adding confusion as to whether or not the Awami League government has already given the facility to the neighbour to go to its north-eastern states from the mainland in the west.
Another question is, whether it is a transit facility which is used to go to a third country as against a corridor which India is trying to obtain by all intent, to carry its goods and passengers from one end to the other. 

Irrespective of this debate a growing confusion is widespread as to whether India should pay transit fees. President of India-Bangladesh chamber of commerce and Industry (IBCCI) Matlub Ahmed at a seminar in the city last week said India should pay the transit fees. 

Contrarily, the Prime Minister’s two advisers, Dr. Moshiur Rahman and 
Dr. Gowhar Rizvi, have always maintained that Bangladesh should not demand transit fees from its neighbours. Then the question arises, critics say, who will pay for the cost of infrastructure development in building new roads, railways, ports and dredging the waterways which are supportive to operate the system.
India should share
So Matlub Ahmed said India should agree to share the ‘cost saving’ from which it will benefit by making the transportation path shortcut. It is quite logical, he said adding it represents a win-win situation on both sides. 
But Gowhar Rizvi again insisted last week in the wake of IBCCI president’s 
remark that Bangladesh should not demand share from the Indian cost saving. His argument reads as such: if Bangladesh demands transit fees, India will not be interested to using transit at a large scale and only a system which is free from payment of fees can lure India to using it at full capacity.

This is an outlandish argument on the part of an adviser to the Prime Minister provoking critics to question as to whose interest the adviser is looking after holding a crucial post of the Bangladesh government. The apprehension may be exaggerated, but the question remains how he can justify it. 

And he is not alone. Another adviser, Dr Moshiur Rahman who is also working closely on the issue, even had earlier written to the NBR and the ministry of shipping and commerce asking them not to impose any transit fees. He was instrumental in scrapping an NBR circular last year which had levied transit fees of Taka 10,000 for a container loaded with transit bound cargo and Taka 1000 for per tonne loose merchandise. 
The circular led to a crisis as India refused to pay the fees while two cargo vessels  remained stranded over a week at entry point of Bangladesh waters coming from Kolkata port and moving towards Ashugonj river port.

Now India is willing to pay transit fees but its opposition is coming from no other positions but from top advisers of the government handling the transit issue. Dr Moshiur Rahman even went to the extent of saying that demanding transit fees will be tantamount to an ‘uncivilised’ act from an ‘uneducated’ nation.
When this sort of debate is on the rise, senior elected leaders should clearly speak out the government’s political position on the issue at a time when critics wonder whether the advisers are fighting through a situation marred by conflict of interest. 
Infrastructure cost
Speaking on the issue Dr Akbar Ali Khan recently said, if India does not pay for  the cost of infrastructure investment then where the money will come from to repay the loan that Delhi has given to Bangladesh to build necessary infrastructures. 

He said the construction of the Ahugonj river port alone will require Taka 300 crore  to be paid back over the next 20 years. It means Bangladesh will be required to pay Taka 15 crore per year on principal amount against the loan for the port.  Who will pay it, he wondered and then how the money for the payment of the  billion dollar loan could be mobilized. Should Bangladeshi tax payers take the load from which India will benefit, he wondered adding the repayment issue may create a critical situation in future. 

The Indian billion dollar loan is not the only major investment; Bangladesh may be required to put a total of at least seven billion dollars investment in the next few years to build the transit infrastructures including the Padma mega bridge. 

If India is not paying and sharing its cost saving, how will Bangladesh pay for it  for which the advisers are not having a direct answer? 

Chairman of the Bangladesh Tariff Commission Dr Mujibur Rahman recently  focused on the issue saying the cost recovery of the infrastructure development should not be directly linked to transit fees. 
He said there is no direct relation with it and hoped the government will be  able to master enhanced revenue in future as the economy will grow as a direct boost from transit. Here more service sectors will grow like hotels and restaurants, more clearing forwarding agencies will operate, more buses and trucks will ply to lead to greater revenue collection. Moreover, India is likely to pay charges against services at different levels in Bangladesh to contribute to revenue collection.

This is how the transit fees may be serviced from additional income to come  from expansion of domestic economic activities, he argued. But the question is, where the impediments lie to demand the fees, there is no answer from the establishment on this question at this moment. 

A question to finance minister on the billion dollar Indian loan at a seminar  in June this year as to why all supply should come from India against the loan was instantly turned down as ‘nonsense’. The nation is more confused now as contradictions are only growing related to transit infrastructure financing and such other cost recovery issues when India is already using Bangladesh facilities without formal transit accords.

BY :  Faruque Ahmed.

Why Bangladesh Should Matter To Us : Indian Media

Most Indians have lost very little sleep over the fact that the prime minister`s visit to Bangladesh was a failure. Given the importance of Bangladesh to India`s well-being, we should have tossed and turned in our beds at what transpired in Dhaka. As it turns out, we slept quite well and continue to do so.

It would be easy enough to blame the prime minister and his team for the failure in Dhaka. Or to blame the chief minister of West Bengal who, bizarrely, at the last moment objected to the river-water agreement that was to be the centrepiece of the summit. However, the deeper cause of the failure in Dhaka is ignorance and public apathy.

We in India have failed to appreciate just how important Bangladesh is to our well-being. There are at least four reasons related to peace and development that make Bangladesh vital for us.

The first reason is that the security of the northeastern states, of eastern India, and of India more widely is affected by what Bangladesh does or does not do. If Dhaka does not cooperate with New Delhi, it is hard to see how India can rein in various insurgent groups that might find refuge in Bangladesh. If, in addition, India cannot get access to the northeast through Bangladesh - even if this only means economic access - it is hard to see how we can integrate those states with the heartland. And if Bangladesh does not remain a stable, open and tolerant country, we in India will have great difficulty in stopping Islamic extremists from flourishing there and from targeting our cities and towns.

The second reason we need to pay relations with Bangladesh much greater attention is that we share rivers with it. India and Bangladesh share over 40 rivers, and these rivers are vital for the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people in both countries. Bangladesh being the lower riparian state is in a weaker position on the use of these rivers. We in India should remember, though, that we are the lower riparian in relation to Bhutan, Nepal and China: if we fail to be sensible and fair over river-water sharing with Bangladesh, we could well find ourselves in an equally hopeless downriver position someday, especially with China.

If Bangladesh does not get enough water (or if it gets too much when the rivers are full), it will face catastrophe. Catastrophe in Bangladesh means instability in India`s northeast, West Bengal, and states further away. Inevitably, severe dislocations in Bangladesh mean refugee and migrant flows into India. Bangladeshis are coming to India anyway for various reasons, and this has already led to tremendous unease in the neighbouring states. Hydrologically-induced catastrophes would enlarge the problem massively.

There is another long-term catastrophe looming for both countries, and this is the third big reason to stay tuned to Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh are amongst the 12 countries that will be most severely affected by climate change. Bangladesh could lose up to 20% of its land as sea levels rise due to climate change. The ensuing turmoil in Bangladesh will inevitably be felt in neighbouring and distant parts of India. The two countries must therefore think about how to cooperate on conservation, alternative energy, and many other related aspects of environmental defence.

Finally, Bangladesh is crucial for India because it represents opportunities and lessons worth learning. In a globalising world where trade counts for so much, Bangladesh is one of our biggest trading partners. Given that it has been growing at over 5% per annum for the past decade and looks set to continue to grow, it is an economic asset. Bangladesh could sell us natural gas, and we could sell it hydropower. Bangladesh is also an exemplar. Its rapidly rising literacy rates (especially amongst women), its steady reduction in birth rates (from a much higher starting point than India), the tremendous advances it has made in basic health (including safe birthing and maternal care); all these put India to shame. If we were not so arrogant, we might learn something from our great neighbour to the east.

In short, Bangladesh matters. If only we could see.

Manmohan’s Dhaka Visit And Chinese Peace Offensive

Within the club of the ruling clique of Bangladesh enjoying delegated power from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, contrary voices are being heard with regard to the success or failure of the Hasina-Manmohan summit in Dhaka. Some ministers and party stalwarts are expressing deep disappointment with the outcome of the summit, as it fell far short of the trumpeted agenda of agreed ‘historic’ steps. Other ministers and advisers and also some party functionaries along with civil society luminaries are vociferous that the summit remained very much on course despite unforeseen obstacles posed by narrow parochial interests.

In tandem, express high level opinion in India, as reflected in that country’s powerful mass media, is also similarly divided. The vernacular press in Paschimbanga and Assam (not Tripura) are articulately standing by the Chief Minister of Paschimbanga for her “principled dissent and dropping out from the entourage of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They are eulogising her for her uncompromising stand on perceived compromise of the interests of her electorate, and squarely blaming the Manmohan Singh team in the federal government for “bureaucratic insensitivity” to grass-root concerns of the electorate, albeit of parochial dimensions. But in a democracy, they have to be addressed ahead of any international commitment.

The English language all-India newspapers, on the other hand, moaned the incapacity of the Manmohan Singh team to get around home-grown handicaps and make optimum use of the illusion created over the Dhaka summit to clinch a triumphantly cognizable status for Indian power as the regional hegemon in a fast-changing geo-political matrix. Hours before Dr. Manmohan Singh left Delhi for Dhaka, prominent English language newspaper in India, The Hindu in its editorial entitled ‘Mamata plays spoiler’ wrote: “New Delhi expected that the give on the Teesta would yield connectivity through Bangladesh to the North-East States and beyond, underlined by the inclusion of four Chief Ministers from the region in the delegation to Dhaka. All this is up in the air now. Prime Minister Singh’s visit was billed as one that would ‘craft a new paradigm’ in a complicated bilateral relationship. With the likely signing of a border agreement and an extradition pact, the visit is not a complete write off. But there was a palpable feeling of let-down even before the Prime Minister’s delegation took off from Delhi.”

Geostrategic commentator N. Chandra Mohan wrote in India’s largest English-language daily newspaper The Hindustan Times in an opinion column: “A river named Teesta scuppered what would have been truly a historic visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh. The intransigence of Paschimbanga chief minister Mamata Banerjee in supporting a more equitable sharing of the waters of this river meant that India failed to deliver on a key takeaway for Bangladesh. India, in turn, failed to secure a takeaway in terms of connectivity to its Northeast. India’s trade concessions may have salvaged the visit but, overall, both countries have mixed feelings about it.”

Harping on India’s emerging role as a global power, Chandra Mohan wrote: “What is the big picture? Singh’s trip was intended to be a game-changer for two related but distinct ideas: the formation of a larger Bay of Bengal grouping, and South Asian integration with a neighbour that would acquire a greater stake in the rise of India as a global power.

“Thanks to the standoff over Teesta, the formation of a Bay of Bengal grouping is blowing in the wind. India won’t have better access to the Northeast and to Mongla and Chittagong in Bangladesh.

“Out of 38.9 million tonnes of cargo movement, 18 million tonnes could have been diverted if transit through Bangladesh were allowed. This formation cannot come into being unless Bangladesh provides seamless connectivity between India and the Northeast and extends it to Myanmar and the others rimming the Bay of Bengal.”

Apart from Indian security concerns, the geopolitical implications, more particularly the China factor, came out more prominently in the commentaries of several influential English-language newspapers. The Times of India simply concluded in an editorial opinion entitled “No paradigm shift in India-Bangladesh ties” after the 30 hour Dhaka visit of the Indian Prime Minister: “It was a summit that yielded much for both Bangladesh and India, but will forever be shadowed by the failure to get a pact on sharing river waters.”

Commenting on Mamata Banerjee’s last-minute back-out from Dr. Singh’s entourage, which resulted in postponing the signing of Teesta Water Sharing Treaty, The Times of India said: “It should have been a real good news visit, and a signal to other neighbours that teaming up with India has real benefits. But India fell short at the last mile, because it could not rise about local politics when the bigger picture needed to be addressed.

“Since the Teesta agreement has been in the making for almost 20 months, Bangladeshis are finding it difficult to swallow Mamata’s line that she was not consulted.”

In another article, giving details on the water sharing issue, The Times of India wrote: “The water resources ministry’s over-emphasis on a natural occurrence seems to have led to the Teesta tangle that found little acceptance in either Kolkata or Dhaka … Bengal was ready to release 25% of the flow at Gazaldoba in Jalpaiguri district, and Bangladesh had said that it wanted 50% of the flow at Dahlia, which is 105km downstream. A senior official in the water resources ministry said, “The flow at Gazaldoba is about 100 cumecs. While that at Dahlia - for most of the seven lean months - is 125 cumecs. Our studies showed that this increase is because of regeneration flows and we tried to tell both the parties that they can have their way because nature will take care of the difference. But it seems their stances are dictated by political compulsions and that’s what precipitated the crisis.”

Kolkata based The Telegraph said, “Greater cooperation with Bangladesh will enable India to maintain better connectivity with the Northeast. Sheer self-interest, often seen as the cornerstone of foreign policy, should have forced India to accord greater priority to its eastern neighbour. Yet for 12 long years, no prime minister of India (officially) visited Bangladesh. The argument that such visits were not made because the regime of Khaleda Zia was perceived in India as a hostile one is somewhat specious since no effort was made to win her over. Mr. Singh may have left his visit too late for his intentions to appear genuine and sincere. He is also severely handicapped by the fact that on the Dhaka stage he is directing Hamlet without Ophelia.” The Telegraph in its editorial entitled ‘The Tunnel Vision’ repeated Dr. Manmohan Singh’s words: “there is a national consensus in India that India must develop the best possible relations with Bangladesh.” The newspaper stressed the importance of a strong “Indo-Bangladesh alliance” that would “give India leverage in its negotiations with Pakistan and China.”

By the above Indian accounts, it is clear that Teesta water sharing bargains were not so complicated but made out to be so as a red herring to press for political, or more appropriately geopolitical bargains including the China factor. The Chinese government, on the other hand, has welcomed the recent initiatives of Dr. Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina in improving bilateral relations. Spokeswoman of Chinese foreign ministry Jiang Wu said, India and Bangladesh are important countries in South Asia and China would like to see countries in South Asia improve their bilateral ties as well as build mutual trust and make joint efforts to maintain peace, stability and development in the region.

China, which is constructing a network of oil pipelines and roads through Myanmar, has expressly evinced an interest in extending the network to Chittagong to gain access to the platform in the Indian Ocean for energy supplies. While Indian analysts regarded China’s attempts to develop Chittagong port as well as those situated in Myanmar and Sri Lanka as a long-term strategy to “encircle” India with a “string of pearls,” a Chinese counterparts called it “Indian paranoia.”

Interestingly, on the same day when the Indian Prime Minister arrived in Dhaka on 6th September, 2011, the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China published a WHITE PAPER named “China’s Peaceful Development.” The White Paper said: “China calls on countries in the region to respect each other, increase mutual trust, seek common ground while putting aside differences, safeguard regional peace and stability, and settle disputes including those over territorial claims and maritime rights and interests through dialogue and friendly negotiation. Countries should increase trade and mutually beneficial cooperation, promote regional economic integration, improve the current regional and sub-regional cooperative mechanisms, be open-minded to other proposals for regional cooperation, and welcome countries outside the region to play a constructive role in promoting regional peace and development. China does not seek regional hegemony or sphere of influence, nor does it want to exclude any country from participating in regional cooperation. China’s prosperity, development and long-term stability represent an opportunity rather than a threat to its neighbours. China will uphold the Asian spirit of standing on its own feet, being bold in opening new ground, being open and inclusive and sharing weal and woe. It will remain a good neighbour, friend and partner of other Asian countries.

“Taking the path of peaceful development is a strategic choice made by the Chinese government and people in keeping with the fine tradition of Chinese culture, the development trend of the times and the fundamental interests of China, and it is also a choice which China’s development calls for.”

Although the Hasina-Manmohan summit fell far short of expectorations, in his address in the Dhaka University Senate Hall on September 7, the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh evinced a similar pacific outlook. Dr. Singh said: “I have often said that the people of South Asia are second to none when it comes to their talent, their enterprise or their ability to cope with adversity. But to realize the potential of the region we have to believe in the power of cooperative effort. We have to learn to trust each other and work with each other in our enlightened self-interest. Bangladesh, an influential member of the Islamic world and the largest troop contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations, has much to say and contribute in the comity of nations and the affairs of the world.

“It is imperative for India and Bangladesh to find new pathways of cooperation to deal with the common challenges of development. “We seek to build our relations on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and respect for each other.”

The question remains: Will Indian actions match his words?

BY :  Sadeq Khan