And dry flows the Teesta . . . still

The natural reaction to the remarks of Prime Minister Modi that the Teesta issue would be resolved during the tenure of the present incumbents in both countries, and it will be resolved soon is – how soon is soon. These words sound like a lullaby, being repeatedly regurgitated, that a mother sings to a truant child hoping she would fall asleep and forget the little demands that every child makes to her mother at bed time. Bangladesh has been made to look like the little child. And when the Indian prime minister talks about the matter being solved during the tenure of the current governments in the two countries he does not say which tenure.

One can say with little chance of being contested that both the parties are likely to retain the reins of power in the next elections in their own countries. Modi, with his Hindutva agenda going down well with the majority of Indians, and Hasina riding on the slogan of development first, (and nobody can deny that Bangladesh has seen enviable development during the current AL tenure), the outcome of the next elections in India and Bangladesh, in their own ways, is a foregone conclusion.  Thus, given the time India took to finally put its seal of approval on the land boundary agreement, 41 years after it was signed and the Bangladesh Parliament had approved it, we cannot but feel a little apprehensive about the perception of time of our neighbour.

It has been already six years since the Teesta deal was aborted at the last minute due to the intransigence of Mamata Banerjee who is never lacking in effusiveness while talking about ‘Epaar Bangla, Opaar Bangla’ sand the need to enhance the ties between the two Bengals, but remains steadfastly unbending when it comes to the sharing of the Teesta waters. Some aver that Mamata is doing exactly what a leader should do – standing for the interest of the people of her state. Is it only that? Therefore, put in the context of what the Paschim Banga Chief Minister said during her meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, that there is no water in the Teesta to share, one wonders what the reason for the Indian PM’s optimism is.

Apparently, Indian politics has beset the Teesta issue and that is not for Bangladesh to resolve. There is need to rise over petty politics to deliver on the Teesta as was done in 1996 when the statesmanship of Joyti Basu helped in signing the Ganges agreement. And if there is no water in the Teesta it is because, and I quote from an article in this paper, “The flow comes down to West Bengal where India has built a barrage at Gazaldoba from which 85 percent of water flow is reportedly diverted from Teesta River through a link-canal to the upper Mahananda River, which falls on in the Meichi River in Bihar that links the Fulhar River and reaches the Ganges River upstream of Farakka Barrage.” Again that is a matter for India to resolve.

Of course Teesta is not the only issue between the two countries. Of course there is the huge trade gap, but India is not the only country that we import from more than we export to. But slapping of anti-dumping duties or imposing countervailing taxes from time to time seems rather incongruous with India’s decision to open its market to all our goods. That is a way of discouraging export from Bangladesh, and does impede our efforts to rectify the huge anomaly in the mutual trade figures.

But coming back to other Indo-Bangladesh issues, all other issues of Indian concern and of consequence to its strategic interests have been addressed by Bangladesh long ago. Prime Minister Hasina has lived up to her assurances that our soil would never be allowed to be used as a launching pad by anti-Indian elements. Huge savings are being made in goods transportation through Bangladesh as well as through Chittagong port. It is quite another thing whether we are getting a fair deal in the bargain.

We hope that India would realise that for Bangladesh Teesta is an issue that has the most far reaching consequences for us. And it may sound like whining, but the fact is that the dried up Teesta has wrought havoc to the northwestern part of Bangladesh with irredeemable consequences on the people and the environment. Mamata has come up with new alternatives but can we wait that long for any new arrangement that has only just been conceptualised? This is one way of putting Teesta in the back burner. No matter how many deals are made and what lines of credit are offered to Bangladesh, anything without a positive indication on the Teesta diminishes the magnitude of other mutual achievements. The Indian PM’s assurances for Bangladesh is not positive enough.

Source: The Daily Star

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