The Dhaka visit that was not to be

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata has put the Indian delegation headed for Dhaka in an awkward situation by her refusal to be part of it. File photo  

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee may feel that her stand is vindicated with the Centre admitting that any agreement over the sharing of Teesta waters between India and Bangladesh will have to be acceptable to West Bengal. She has, however, put the Indian delegation headed for Dhaka in a somewhat awkward situation by her refusal to be part of it.

The decision to defer formalising an agreement for the sharing of the Teesta waters, which was expected to have been one of the more important pacts to be signed over the next two days, has certainly cast a shadow over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka and the upcoming talks between him and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, to which both countries are attaching great importance.

The purported reason for Ms. Banerjee's opposition to the proposed final draft of the Teesta treaty is that it is detrimental to the interests of West Bengal. It has been argued that if the water-sharing ratio as stated in the draft is maintained, the future of the Teesta Barrage project, set up to provide irrigation supplies to large parts of north Bengal, will be in peril.

But questions have been raised why her decision not to accompany Dr. Singh came so late, more than a fortnight after she had responded positively to his invitation. Could not the objections she raised have been sorted out over the past few weeks?

And if consensus on an agreement that, in the words of Union Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, “has to be acceptable to the State government (West Bengal) and also acceptable to Bangladesh” was elusive all the while, why this delay in acknowledging the need for more consultations with the State government, well after the Teesta issue was put high on the agenda for the talks in Dhaka.

Moreover, could she not still make the trip, given that other issues like the exchange of enclaves and trans-border trade, which are to be taken up in the talks, have a direct connection with West Bengal?

Or is it just a case of political posturing, a pressure tactic that goes beyond the anxieties over the quantum of Teesta waters to be shared and one which did not quite pay off?

Bail-out package

Ms. Banerjee, after all, finds her government caught in a deep financial malaise. That the bail-out package of Rs. 21,614 crore announced by the Centre last month is not enough for the State's economy to get back on its feet has been one of the concerns haunting the Chief Minister. This was evident from her seeking further assistance from the Prime Minister when they met here on August 21.

And then there are the political implications of Ms. Banerjee pulling out of the Bangladesh visit. It might have won her some popularity in rural north Bengal, standing by the farming community apprehensive of the fallout of none-too-favourable ratio of the sharing of Teesta waters with Bangladesh. But what about the consequences for relations between the Congress and its largest ally, the Trinamool Congress, in the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre?

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 2:25:02 AM |

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