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Why pressure is growing on Mamata Banerjee to sign Teesta water sharing deal with Bangladesh

With national election due in the neighbouring country this year-end, non-availability of water has become a major issue.

 |  3-minute read |   27-05-2018
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With talks on Teesta water sharing between India and Bangladesh failing to make any headway, Baluchari silk, Sandesh, crates of the finest mangoes and dokra artefacts are all that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has had to be content with.

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The close to one-hour long meeting between Hasina and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee at a city hotel was "warm, friendly and cordial" in strictly official terms but will be anything but sweet to the ears of the people of the neighbouring country.

Apart from the goodies, Hasina has had to return home with a DLitt from a Bengal university named after one of the greatest poets of her country, Kazi Nazrul Islam. But she hasn't received any assurance on water sharing in the lean seasons. Banerjee has once again managed to skirt a discussion on the issue, but with Hasina having thrown the ball in the former's court pressure on the chief minister is building.

With the Bangladesh election scheduled this year-end, the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had already made non-availability of water from Teesta a major poll issue to embarrass the Hasina government, which is often criticised for its pro-India stance.

The fundamentalists-backed BNP has raised the campaign against Hasina for being friendly with India at the cost of ordinary Bangladeshis.

Hasina had repeatedly stressed in her previous bilateral meetings with Indian prime ministers the need to have water from Teesta as large areas of Bangladesh are being affected. The agreement was almost about to be signed in 2011 when West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee backed out at the last moment citing paucity of water. Banerjee's decision to pull out was attributed to her political compulsions. Teesta flows through large parts of North Bengal, an area which back then was still out of the ruling Trinamool Congress' reach.

Since then Banerjee had been kept the Teesta agreement on hold. With general election barely a year away, Banerjee is reluctant to sign the treaty, as it might impact the political future of her party.

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In 2017, Hasina had stressed on the need to sign the treaty given that it has been among the major demands of the Bangladeshis, which assumes greater importance in the face of the upcoming elections.

However, Banerjee has shied away from entering any pact on the issue despite the Centre's prodding.

Banerjee, meanwhile has raised the issue of some other trans-border rivers, which criss-cross Bangladesh and Bengal and face scarcity of water.

Against this background, Saturday's meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hasina was held at the insistence of the ministry of external affairs.

Modi and Hasina's meeting at Bangladesh Bhavan also indicated that Mamata has to be on board on this issue.

During her visit to India, Hasina has repeatedly acknowledged India's, especially Indira Gandhi's contribution to the Bangladesh Liberation War and how Indian people shared their ration and space with one crore refugees from her country. Hasina was clearly hinting at the fact that it was once again time for India to show a magnanimous gesture by sharing Teesta water.

What transpired at the meeting between Hasina and Mamata is a matter of conjecture but the Bengal chief minister came out of the meeting saying that she shared a very good relationship with Hasina and her family.

"Our relation dates back even to the time when she was not a PM. We have good relations and are in touch whenever we are in need," Banerjee said.

Elaborating on the relationship between the two neighbours, she said that she didn't believe there was any boundary - political or otherwise between them.

Asked whether she was invited to Bangladesh, Mamata said the doors were always open: "We want them to come here frequently and we will also go there as and when we feel like it."

Sounds friendly but it is now Banerjee's turn to give turn the right-sounding notes into action.

Also read: IPL Final: Why it's beyond Rashid Khan vs CSK

Writer

Romita Datta Romita Datta

The writer is Associate Editor, India Today.

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