Sir — The Congress seems to have reverted to the days when it held undisputed sway at the Centre and was in power in most of the states. There was little dialogue between the Centre and the states back then — decisions were made unilaterally by the Centre and the individual interests of the states were hardly ever taken into account. In spite of the very different political climate now, and even after having faced the hazards of a coalition government, the Congress continues to ignore the federal nature of the Indian polity.
In the most recent instance, the Centre angered Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal and a valuable ally for the Congress, over the Teesta water-sharing agreement (“Didi dam bursts on Delhi”, Sept 5). After decades of deadlock, Bangladesh and India were to have signed an agreement on the matter when the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, visited Dhaka earlier this month. Banerjee, understandably riled by the arrogance and insensitivity of the Central government, decided not to accompany the prime minister on his visit to Dhaka at the last moment.
The sharing of natural resources between countries is a complex issue. Any decision on it would have various ramifications for both the countries concerned. There should be extensive discussion among all those it will affect and transparency should be maintained in all dealings. In this case, the Centre failed to convince the West Bengal government of the advantages of sharing 50 per cent of the Teesta’s waters with Bangladesh. The state government, in turn, failed to convince the people of the benefits of the deal.
The prime minister ought to have foreseen such a fallout and made a greater effort to involve Bengal and its people in the process of making the deal. This would have saved him and his government the embarrassment they faced on the eve of his departure to Dhaka.
Srikanta Bhattacharjee, Calcutta
Sir — The editorial, “Tunnel vision” (Sept 7), correctly observes that Indian policymakers are obsessed with the United States of America and Pakistan, neglecting Bangladesh in the process. But a smooth relationship with all the neighbouring countries would facilitate economic growth for India and the region as a whole.
It is difficult to hold talks with Pakistan, which is ruled by an unstable government constantly buffeted by fundamentalist forces and an aggressive military. With Bangladesh, on the other hand, relations have improved since the Awami League government came into power two years ago. India should have seized this opportunity to cement relations with its eastern neighbour.
It is heartening to note that Bangladesh will have greater access to Indian markets — which will benefit consumers in this country. Other agreements, such as the exchange of border enclaves and 24-hour access to the Teen Bigha corridor for Bangladeshi citizens, are also welcome.
However, the Central government should have acted more boldly when it came to reaching an agreement over the water-sharing of the Teesta and Feni rivers. It should have handled dissent from state governments earlier and pushed through with the agreement. This would have proved the sincerity of the Indian government’s intentions to achieve stronger ties with Bangladesh.
V. Sridhar, Calcutta
Sir — It is unfortunate that Mamata Banerjee had to opt out of the prime minister’s team visiting Bangladesh because of her objections to the water sharing formula devised by the Central government. The plan, if implemented,would have resulted in a sharp drop in West Bengal’s share of the Teesta waters. The waters of the river are crucial to districts such as Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, North and South Dinajpur as well as to the town of Siliguri.
Notwithstanding her reservations about the deal, Banerjee should have given due importance to the Bangladesh visit. She should realize that a country’s foreign policy cannot be held hostage to the compulsions of domestic politics. For Banerjee, her country’s interests always come second to those of her state. Her latest move could even be a political gambit to garner more support for her party, the Trinamul Congress, in North Bengal. Electoral politics may well have governed her objections to the deal.
Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee, Faridabad