Dhaka, Bangladesh (BBN)– Mamata Banerjee boarded the flight back to Calcutta with a wide grin tonight hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Bangladeshi soil what she wanted to hear from him on the Teesta river.
“I am confident that with the support of state governments in India, we can reach a fair solution on the Teesta and Feni rivers. We should also work together to renew and clean our rivers,” Modi said, steering clear of expansive announcements that had marked some of his foreign tours.
Although the Indian establishment has been tamping down expectations on the Teesta water-sharing deal during this trip, some sections in Bangladesh were nursing hopes that Modi would send a firm signal, reports ABP Live.
Instead, the Prime Minister ended up seeking Mamata’s support standing on foreign soil. Modi did not name Mamata or identify any particular state but the water-sharing deal is stuck primarily because of Calcutta’s objections.
“Our rivers should nurture our relationship, not become a source of discord,” Modi said, probably asking for some more time from his Bangladesh counterpart on turning Mamata around.
The Himalayan river flows into Bengal from Sikkim and then enters Bangladesh, which makes the neighbouring country a natural claimant to a share of its waters. It has been a long-standing demand of Dhaka that India should give Bangladesh its due share from the Teesta, which serves at least 12 hydel power projects on the Indian side, besides acting as a lifeline for north Bengal.
In an attempt to strengthen the Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh – which has consistently delivered on India’s demands to crack down on insurgents and allow transit through its land – Delhi has been keen to seal the agreement for the past few years. But Mamata’s concerns derailed the first attempt to sign a deal when she pulled out of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s entourage in 2011.
Although Modi got her on board this time – which raised expectations in Bangladesh about the possibility of a breakthrough – he had to be content with completing the formalities to operationalise the Land Boundary Agreement, which India’s Parliament had approved unanimously.
The Hasina government, keenly awaiting the closure of the deal, is aware of Modi’s predicament. Instead of sticking to the diplomatic quid pro quo, Dhaka offered whatever it could to India.
From offering Internet bandwidth to the Northeast, agreeing to earmark 600 acres for special economic zones for Indian companies to invest, permitting LIC to enter Bangladesh and extending support to secure India, Dhaka tried its best to prove its intentions to Delhi.
“Just mention one thing that India wants but Bangladesh has not delivered…. They have given 600 acres to us for an SEZ. What more to expect?” asked an Indian diplomat.
Modi tried to reciprocate by doubling the line of credit to $2 billion (around Rs 13,000 crore) to augment infrastructure in Bangladesh, besides promising support on a gamut of areas. (Chart on Page 4)
Although no timeline was set on sealing the Teesta deal, the host country did not display any discontent. “The two countries share 54 rivers and we are discussing how to work together to manage them,” Hasina said.
Unlike in 2011, when the Opposition parties in Bangladesh had cried hoarse about non-fulfilment of the Teesta water-sharing expectations, there was no attack so far this time.
Sources in the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Office said Modi, Hasina and Mamata discussed Teesta during their 15-minute meeting.
“Last time she did not come, but this time she was here…. This itself is a positive sign. Besides, the body language of the leaders made it clear that we have reasons to be hopeful,” said a source.
Through the day, Mamata – who has been given the honour of a visiting head of state – seemed to be in a good mood. When Mamata came face to face with Hasina, the two flew into each other’s arms and were locked in an embrace, making it the most poignant photo-op of the day.
Responding to Hasina’s request to attend tonight’s dinner she was hosting in honour of Modi, Mamata dropped by at Pan Pacific Sonargaon, the venue, before leaving for the airport.
“It was a historic day as the two countries completed the process to operationalise the Land Boundary Agreement,” said Mamata.
A river expert in India who is aware of the contours of the negotiations said sealing of the Teesta deal was just a matter of time. There is a qualitative difference between 2011 and 2015, he said.
According to him, experts in both the countries had realised that the irrigation target they had set could not be met and any agreement must include retaining some water for the Teesta to survive.
“The experts in both the countries have broadly agreed on how to share the water…. Now it is up to the politicians in the two countries to take the deal to its logical conclusion,” he said.
Sources in Dhaka said the Bangladesh establishment was aware of Mamata’s constraints before next year’s Assembly elections.
Aware of the political undercurrents in India, Dhaka appears to be leaving it to Modi to secure Mamata’s consent on the Teesta.
“Mamata will drive a bargain with Modi as she knows that the Prime Minister is keen to seal the deal. But for that, he has to make Mamata happy first,” said a close aide of the Bengal chief minister.
Mamata indeed had reasons to smile.