BJP’s electoral stakes in Bengal tilted balance against Teesta water agreement

The signing of the pact would have handed Mamata Banerjee an advantage. She could have blamed the Modi government for neglecting the interests of West Bengal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Prakash Bhandari

From Dhaka

The Indo-Bangladesh relationship has failed its litmus test. The dispute over the waters of the Teesta river remains unresolved even as Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit to India draws to a close. Although a number of agreements were signed by Dhaka and New Delhi during her four-day visit, Sheikh Hasina will, nonetheless, be targeted by the opposition for failing to get Bangladesh its share of the Teesta water. But why was not an agreement reached?

Manmohan Singh’s tenure would have seen the Teesta dispute resolved as both sides had agreed to allow the river to flow at a minimum level and evenly share water above that level. But Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister, thought it was not in the best interest of West Bengal. Federalism prevailed and the agreement could not be signed.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, though at loggerheads with the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) and its head Mamata Banerjee, has not shown any hurry in settling the Teesta issue too. Modi convinced Hasina that his government was working with the stakeholders to reach an agreement but that she would have to wait. The matter has been referred to the joint rivers commission’s technical level committee to expeditiously exchange and update data and prepare a new draft, it was announced. There is an old saying in bureaucratic circles that if one wants to dump an issue, the best thing is to refer it to a committee.

The BJP government expectedly did not sign the deal because it would have given political ammunition to Mamata Banerjee at a time when the BJP has already established a strong foothold in the state. She could have blamed the Modi government for neglecting the interest of Bengalis and West Bengal. The BJP, after spectacular Lok Sabha elections in the state, is right now on the back foot in West Bengal. Amit Shah’s stress on NRC has not gone down well with the people and more than 20 people, nearly all Hindus, have already committed suicide in panic.

Teesta water sharing has thus been sacrificed at the altar of the BJP’s electoral stake in West Bengal.

Hasina’s team of advisers knew it all too well and it is carrying home several agreements that will benefit Bangladesh.

However, in the political as well as defence circles in Dhaka, experts have raised their eyebrows over Bangladesh allowing India to establish a radar system along its coastline. The move is being seen as India’s attempt to offset China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Experts feel that Bangladesh has burnt its own hand by agreeing to India’s proposal as it would impede procurement of defence goods from China.

Bangladesh has now joined Mauritus, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Maldives as partners with India in setting up a radar system.

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