Manmohan Singh shakes hands with Sheikh Hasina (top) and Mahinda Rajapaksa on the sidelines of the third Bimstec summit in Nay Pyi Taw on Tuesday. (AFP)
Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar), March 4: Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, has obliquely expressed hope for a positive resolution of the Teesta river treaty that was put in abeyance after Mamata Banerjee expressed reservations.
In a 20-minute meeting with Manmohan Singh this afternoon, Hasina raised the Teesta issue. According to Syed Akbaruddin, the foreign ministry spokesperson, Prime Minister Singh said: “You know how difficult it is. We are trying to work on a consensus. But in the meantime, there is no impediment in the free flow of water (to Bangladesh). However, I agree that in the long run this issue must be resolved.”
Within Dhaka’s political establishment, however, there is a realisation that a settlement can “realistically” fructify only after the Lok Sabha election, officials accompanying Hasina for the Bimstec summit said.
The chances of a resolution depend on whether there is a regime change in India, which party or coalition will possibly head the next government and most importantly, the kind of veto Mamata might exercise thereafter. In Bangladesh’s view, the Trinamul Congress is expected to win a majority of the seats in Bengal and perhaps better its 2009 showing.
Hasina also thanked Singh for operationalising a 500MW power line from Bheramara in Bengal to Bangladesh. “It has had a good impact on our relationship because it directly touches the lives of several people,” the spokesperson quoted Hasina as saying.
Likewise, on the Land Boundary Agreement that is awaiting Parliament’s ratification, Hasina told Singh how “deeply she appreciated the development that, after a long hiatus, the pact finally reached the Indian Parliament”.
The BJP is also being looked at and observed “keenly” in Dhaka as the possible head of the next ruling coalition in the Centre. Narendra Modi, the BJP’s Prime Minister candidate, appears to have become a “major object of interest and scrutiny” in Bangladesh’s establishment, among its opinion-moulders and the media.
The broad reading is that since Modi is a “committed” member of a “religious, fundamentalist” party, India-Bangladesh equations might head for a spell of “uncertainty”. Like in many countries, the 2002 pogrom of Gujarat’s Muslims evoked a strong reaction in Bangladesh.
In July 2013, Dhaka made its first outreach to Modi when its high commissioner in India, Tariq Karim, called on the Gujarat chief minister at his official residence. Karim was in Gandhinagar to speak at a workshop on mangroves.
A recent speech Modi made in Assam, where he recycled the BJP’s stated paranoia over Bangladesh’s “Muslim infiltrators” and contrasted them with the Hindu refugees who crossed over to escape alleged religious persecution, has apparently become a big talking point. Indian journalists were asked if such assertions were the staple of pre-election rhetoric or a statement of serious intent.
Earlier today, Hasina flagged Bangladesh’s concern over the Teesta pact in her statement at the Bimstec. The statement was made available to the media.
She stated: “Sustainable development and reduction of poverty also demands beneficial conservation, development and tapping of water resources in the region. This is also vital for agriculture and food security. Our countries are sometimes affected with production shortfall in key cereals.
“Modalities also need to be found for the sharing of water resources, especially for common rivers. As for example, Bangladesh and India is (sic) sharing the water of the river Ganges with the signing of the 30-year Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, with others to follow soon.”
Prime Minister Singh did not mention anything on the water pact in his summit statement.
Terming India’s relations with its Bimstec partners as “among our most important in the world”, Singh listed connectivity, physical and digital, trade and economic co-operation, energy, tourism, sharing data on weather, space science and security as the major sectors for collaboration.
He said India was working with Bimstec members to improve physical connectivity through projects such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, the Asian Highway Network and the Asean Master Plan for Connectivity.
He said India proposed to launch a direct shipping line to Myanmar shortly.
Singh emphasised the need for an early ratification of various pacts that were part of a collective endeavour to fight the terror threat in the Bimstec region. The pacts he mentioned included the Convention on Co-operation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organised Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking and the Bimstec Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters.