Foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on a quick trip to Bangladesh on Thursday raised prospects of signing of the controversial Teesta Water Sharing Treaty something that Dhaka has been waiting for since 2011.
During his meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this afternoon, Jaishankar handed over a personal letter from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, inviting her to visit Delhi. No dates have yet been fixed, but is expected within a few months.
Bangladesh had long wanted the Teesta Water Sharing Agreement to be signed with India. The pact should have been signed and sealed during prime minister Manmohan Singh’s 2011 visit to the neighbouring country. In fact, that was to be the highpoint of the trip but the West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee refused to endorse and threw a spanner on what was billed as a done deal.
The long anticipated pact was to have been a major diplomatic triumph for the UPA government, but ended being a disaster. What is more it was an embarrassment for the Sheikh Hasina government, and the opposition made a big deal of the fiasco. But with the mercurial chief minister putting her foot down, it was impossible for Manmohan Singh to go through with it.
Perhaps the UPA leadership had not done its homework and thought that Mamta Banerjee would not pull out at the last moment. Since then, Teesta water agreement had fallen off the bilateral radar. It was a major disappointment for Dhaka as the Awami League government had been assured by Delhi that it was a done deal.
Water sharing was not mentioned in Jaishankar’s opening statement. However, Dhaka’s influential English daily the Daily Star said in its report on Jaishankar’s visit : ``The foreign minister recalled that the two countries had resolved many of the outstanding issues in the spirit of friendship and cooperation and expressed hope that all outstanding issues including the early signing of the Teesta Water Sharing Treaty may be concluded at an early date.’’
Considering the current state of relations between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress, any chance of co-operation on water sharing seems far-fetched at the moment.
Despite a few major hiccups in ties during the NRC and the CCA agitations in India, which was regarded as anti-Muslim, and attacks on Hindu puja pandal’s in that country last year that led to angry protests in India, the two governments have handled these controversial incidents with a great deal of maturity. As a result, India and Bangladesh continue to have excellent ties.
Ever since the Awami League came to power relations have grown tremendously. India too as a growing power in the region is being much more generous with its neighbours and is ready to step in to help in any emergency, including the pandemic or natural disaster.
Jaishankar said that Bangladesh was one of the most important countries for India as it looks to promote its neighbourhood first policy. His counterpart reciprocated the sentiment by saying India is Bangladesh’s most important neighbour.
Earlier foreign minister Abdul Momen had told the local press that he had asked New Delhi to lobby with the US to lift sanctions slapped last December on seven serving and retired officials of the country’s elite anti-terror unit (Rapid Action Battalion) for alleged human rights violations. Many in Bangladesh are furious with the minister for turning to India for help in a matter not of national interest but on a minor matter like this.
Asked about it at his weekly news conference, MEA spokesman Arindam Bagchi dodged the question, saying instead :`` Look, our Foreign Minister is currently in Dhaka and he will have a meeting very soon. So, I am not going to say anything at this point on what the discussions have been or have receive it in advance….Let the visit happen and then we will see if we are in a position to share with you any further details on this."