Mamata at the rally in Dinhata, Cooch Behar, on Saturday. Picture by Main Uddin Chisti
April 12: Be global, act local — Mamata Banerjee today borrowed this management maxim while speaking against a proposed land boundary agreement with Bangladesh and the sharing of the Teesta’s waters at three campaign rallies in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar.
Both issues are crucial to India-Bangladesh ties but the UPA II government has failed to seal the deals because of stiff opposition from the Bengal chief minister, who has cited local concerns.
“The Teesta’s waters cannot be shared (with Bangladesh) without consulting us. We will first ensure that our drinking water supply is adequate and our farmers in areas such as Jalpaiguri get enough water for their crops. Only then can we think of sharing the Teesta’s waters with Bangladesh,” Mamata told a crowd of 10,000 on Jalpaiguri’s Sports Complex Ground.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was keen on signing the two pacts with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, during his trip to Dhaka in September 2011 but could not do so because of Mamata’s resistance.
Since the pact to demarcate and exchange enclaves has not been signed, there is some confusion over the citizenship of the residents and allegations have been made that they are deprived of several amenities.
Both the Indian and Bangladeshi governments have said the land boundary agreement can significantly improve the quality of life of those living in the enclaves.
“We love the residents of the enclaves and want to make it clear that a decision has to be taken on the basis of their opinion. We will not allow any decision to be imposed on us,” Mamata said at a rally in Cooch Behar’s Dinhata.
On several occasions, the UPA government has tried to reach out to the chief minister to ensure the land-swap pact can be signed.
CPM leaders Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose have criticised Mamata for her opposition to the two treaties, which they say has fanned anti-India sentiments in Bangladesh and strengthened fundamentalist forces such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Mamata, however, has highlighted the two issues to win the support of people in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar and managed to convince a section of the electorate that sharing the Teesta waters will spell doom for farmers in the region.
At her public meetings, she has been opposing the land boundary agreement by saying that India will lose around 10,000 acres if enclaves are exchanged. Trinamul leaders have expressed fears that Bangladeshi residents of enclaves in India will not return to their country after the pact is signed, increasing the population pressure in north Bengal.
“She is using the two issues to gain political mileage in the area although her opposition to them is unfounded and has embarrassed the Centre,” a senior state government official said.
Trinamul sources said the chief minister was expected to continue speaking on the issues in Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri, which have borders with Bangladesh.
“The move helped her in the panchayat polls and she is hoping for the same result in the Lok Sabha elections,” a source said.
At a rally in Alipurduar, which falls in the Dooars tea belt, Mamata referred to her government’s move to start giving land rights to garden workers.
At all the three meetings, she criticised the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate, referring to Narendra Modi as the “face of riots” who “has his hands smeared in blood”.