Determined to resolve the Teesta River water sharing issue, the Indian government is planning to bring together the chief ministers of states bordering Bangladesh to meet Prime MInister Sheikh Hasina to resolve bilateral issues.
On top of the list is the Teesta water sharing issue and Delhi wants a direct discussion between Hasina and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to break the ice.
Since PM Hasina will be staying with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rastrapati Bhavan, the Hasina-Mamata meeting may be held under his stewardship, ably supported by foreign ministry and water resources ministry officials of both countries.
An Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has high respect for President Pranab Mukherjee’s “knowledge of India-Bangladesh issues” and it was his idea to get the Bengali elder statesman to take the lead to resolve the Teesta issue.
The Indian president’s good personal rapport with both Hasina and Mamata is seen as an added advantage.
But it was not yet clear whether the invitation has already been extended to Mamata Banerjee and if so how she has responded.
Trinamool Congress sources say if invited she will surely go to meet the Bangladesh prime minister in Delhi.
“Our grouse has been that Delhi has not properly consulted us before they drafted the Teesta agreement in 2010. If we are consulted and our views are given due importance, why should we not seek a settlement,” a top Trinamool leader said, but was not willing to be named.
When Hasina visited Delhi more than six years ago, Mamata had met her and addressed her as ‘elder sister.’
Modi’s idea of bringing chief ministers of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram to Delhi alongside Mamata Banerjee is also designed to create the necessary push for a resolution.
It takes a leaf out of his predecessor Manmohan Singh’s book because Singh had taken the chief ministers of these states to Dhaka in 2010. Mamata backed out in the last minute, opposing the Teesta deal.
Modi has perhaps also not missed out on Mamata’s conciliatory gestures — the lone Trinamool MLA in Manipur supported the formation of a BJP government in that state and it now seems the move was okayed by Mamata.
CBI investigations in ponzi scams and the Narada bribe taking tapes have put Mamata on the back foot.
Though relations between Modi and Mamata had nosedived after the demonetisation, the BJP sweeping poll victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and formation of governments in Goa and Manipur may have also softened Mamata’s opposition.
Assam is ruled by BJP, Tripura by the Left and Mizoram and Meghalaya by Congress. The chief ministers of these states are supposed to support a solution on Teesta because the process was initiated by the Congress and supported by the Left in 2010.
Though the Northeast Indian states have no direct stake in Teesta, Modi wants a breakthrough on sharing the waters of this river to pave the way for solutions on other common rivers, many of them in the region.
“After UP polls, Modi’s position has become stronger but he intends to resolve the issue within the framework of cooperative federalism,” said a top BJP leader. “Mamata should rise above partisan considerations.”
Since barely a fortnight remains for the Hasina visit, there is not enough time for an agreement now.
But the Indian government is planning a breakthrough and mention about the mutual resolve to reach a final settlement on Teesta in the joint declaration at the end of the Bangladesh prime minister’s visit.
“An agreement will happen once a breakthrough is achieved and that may be at a later stage,” the official of India’s ministry of external affairs said.