The Telegraph
Wednesday , October 3 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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With the Trinamul Congress out of the way, the prime minister is going full steam ahead with economic reforms. Brushing aside all criticisms, Manmohan Singh has made it clear that he is no longer prepared to live in a halfway house and seems to have convinced his own party also that it need not worry about the political outcome. Whether his present confidence is justified or not will be known only when the country goes to the polls in less than two years from now. And while he is in his present mood of shaking off his ‘policy paralysis’, the time perhaps has come to tell him to turn to other outstanding issues also, particularly the Indo-Bangladesh treaty on the sharing of the Teesta waters.

The treaty would have been a reality by now if Mamata Banerjee had not, once again, proved herself to be a stumbling block. Much to the dismay of Dhaka, New Delhi had given in to her wishes as she had the numbers in the Lok Sabha to cause worry to the ministry. The numbers are still there but the Congress is pretty sure that it is today in a position to neutralize these with support from Uttar Pradesh.

Even today, the mercurial chief minister is bound to be up in arms as soon as Teesta is mentioned and others too are likely to share her concern over the perceived loss to West Bengal. But the issue has to be taken up — a single state’s objection should not be allowed to stand in the way of an international treaty. There had been objections to the sharing of the Ganga waters as well, but the then chief minister, Jyoti Basu, had taken a larger view. If the present chief minister of West Bengal is unable or unwilling to follow in his footsteps then she may well have to live with the accusation that because of her, a major irritant in Indo-Bangladesh relations could not be sorted out. And Bangladesh, it must be realized, is a major component in the prime minister’s declared Look East policy. There is no reason to suspect that the policy has been dropped. Otherwise, why the desire to improve relations with Myanmar?

Tricky matters

To have good relations with neighbours is always important. Particularly with a country like Bangladesh, which, in recent years, has been more than friendly. At a time when India continues to face hostility from the West, the Awami League government in Dhaka has been very receptive to New Delhi’s request that rebels from this country be given no quarters in Bangladesh. The safety that the previous Khaleda Zia administration provided to such elements is no longer there. Paresh Barua and his bunch of United Liberation Front of Asom men are on the run. It is not that Sheikh Hasina Wajed and her ministry are not facing any opposition to the new stand from within the country, where the Inter-Services Intelligence is active among the security forces.

Now if India wants this atmosphere of bonhomie to continue, the requirements of Dhaka will have to be met. Also to be kept in mind is the transit facility that Bangladesh is willing to offer. If Bangladesh is kept waiting too long for reciprocity then the time may come when it will also decide to look east for better trade relations. India will then suffer.

Admittedly, riparian matters are always tricky. No country located in the upstream can have any patience with demands from down below. The problem becomes even more serious when it concerns two different countries. Yet it has to be addressed and the prime minister will do well to show that here also he means business. If the Ganga waters could be shared without any monumental harm to the port of Calcutta or downstream then why should the Teesta problem prove to be insurmountable? West Bengal will just have to be reasonable.