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Mamata should help resolve Teesta row

Mamata should support the agreement from the perspective of federalism in India. Notably, the agreement is not between Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal. It is between Bangladesh and India as sovereign nations. Mamata should uphold Indian federal interests. She should consider the fact that today, both countries are experiencing an unprecedented level of fraternity.

Mamata should help resolve Teesta row

Emotive: With Sheikh Hasina visiting India, the Teesta issue and the Mamata factor have again come to the surface. file photo



Delwar Hossain

Professor, International Relations, University of Dhaka

The Teesta River Water Sharing Agreement continues to remain a unique issue between Bangladesh and India. The two countries were supposed to sign it back in 2011, during the visit of the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka. Since then, the agreement has been the most emotive issue for the people of Bangladesh.

Eventually, it has emerged as a widely talked unresolved matter between the two friendly neighbours and strategic partners. Hence, the signing of the treaty is an inescapable imperative between Bangladesh and India. Due to its significance, both nations must come forward and find the ways to concluding the agreement.

It is well known in both countries that the single hurdle to the signing of the treaty is the opposition by Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal. In fact, the Mamata factor has become a major challenge in the materialising of the long overdue signing of the treaty.

People in Bangladesh believe that the internal political dynamics and Centre-state relations in India stand in the way of the resolution of the Teesta waters dispute. Mamata visited Bangladesh twice in 2015 and had promised that she would play a “positive role” in this regard. But, in reality, the issue has remained unresolved.

Bangladesh has been raising the issue in all its talks and meetings with India. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina talked about it during her visits to India in 2017 and 2019. Mamata should come forward and go beyond state-based considerations and back the Central Government in signing the treaty and thus help strengthen Bangladesh-India friendship.

Teesta is one of the important rivers in Bangladesh. It is a major source of water for agriculture in the north part of the country. More than 20 million people in Bangladesh are dependent on it for domestic and agricultural needs. The 165 million people of Bangladesh feel disappointed about this issue for particularly two reasons. First, it was supposed to be signed in 2011 since the agreement was finalised at the bilateral level. Second, the Government of India is willing to sign the treaty and has assured Bangladesh about it repeatedly, but it remains unresolved.

With PM Sheikh Hasina currently visiting India, the Teesta issue and the Mamata factor have again come to the surface. Given the importance of the Teesta treaty, there are a few critical issues that Mamata should consider. She should support the agreement and facilitate further progress of the Bangladesh-India partnership.

First and foremost, from the historical and cultural point of view, the Bengalis of both Bangladesh and West Bengal have shared a bonding for thousands of years. They enjoy cultural relations which are reflected in exchanges of film, music, education, art and culture between the two nations. It is a common expectation that the West Bengal Government would always extend support in promoting Bangladesh-India relations through cooperation on the waters issue and the Teesta agreement.

Second, Mamata may recall that Bangladesh received the backing of Jyoti Basu, the then CM of West Bengal, in the signing of the 30-year Ganges Water Sharing Agreement. His support was a key factor behind the conclusion of the treaty. It led to an increase in his popularity in India and Bangladesh. Mamata should rethink and follow in the footsteps of Jyoti Basu. She should take this opportunity to enhance her image as a national political leader. Her consent to the agreement would most likely bolster her political leadership at the national level.

Third, Mamata should endorse the agreement from the perspective of federalism in India. Notably, the agreement is not between Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. It is between Bangladesh and India as sovereign nations. Mamata should uphold the Indian federal interests and show respect to federalism. She should consider the fact that today, both countries are experiencing an unprecedented level of fraternity and friendship.

Fourth, it is high time that Mamata demonstrated her diplomatic far-sightedness and acumen by supporting the Teesta agreement as she is often considered the Opposition leader who can challenge the incumbent Prime Minister of India. The neighbourhood is critical for India’s global power status. Bangladesh, under PM Sheikh Hasina, has been exceptionally supportive of the bilateral partnership. It will be a win-win situation for both the countries in this era of geopolitical competition. As a leader of India, Mamata should support India’s promotion of external relations. She should facilitate the signing of the agreement for the greater cause of India’s foreign policy strategy.

Finally, Mamata should show a pragmatic stance on the issue of connectivity. Sheikh Hasina put aside narrow domestic politics in Bangladesh when she single-handedly allowed transit and trans-shipment facilities to India a decade ago despite strong resistance to connectivity between Bangladesh and India by opposition parties in Bangladesh. She defied these parties in the interest of bilateral friendship.

Sheikh Hasina also defied the threat of ULFA and a couple of separatist groups in India when she decided to extradite their leaders to India.

Bangladesh has recently constructed the Padma Bridge, which has opened new opportunities for connectivity between Bangladesh and India. West Bengal is the key beneficiary of the connectivity facilities that Bangladesh has given to India. Mamata should reciprocate and improve the ties by extending her support for the Teesta agreement.

Mamata’s cooperation will certainly help in the signing of the Teesta treaty. The treaty will be a new and powerful source of trust and goodwill between the people of the two nations. It will take the bilateral ties to a higher level in the new era of international relations, marked by global geopolitical rivalries. Mamata should value the depth and nature of the bilateral relations and give due consideration to the urgency of signing of the Teesta agreement. 


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