Thursday, February 29, 2024

PM’s Bangladesh visit: A non-starter


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The high profile visit by Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh with a colourful entourage of at least four chief ministers from the north eastern states along with government officials has been widely debated by Dacca’s socially networked intellectuals. They asked whether Indian biryani would help bring the two countries closer.

Someone replied that the biryani was too hard and indigestible. Mamata Banerjee’s last minute decision to jump off the entourage is significant. It’s all about the Teesta and how the water sharing proposal put forth by Bangladesh could affect upper riparian areas.

This is a thorny issue that could have best been resolved at home before carrying the controversy abroad and making it a major embarrassment for India. The Teesta flows through Sikkim and West Bengal. As such the Chief Ministers of both states should have given their considered opinions before the visit.

The National Security Advisor, Shiv Shanker Menon, who is also a former diplomat did try to placate Mamata but failed. There is a distinct feeling in the corridors of power in Delhi that the Teesta issue should have been left to the Ministry of External Affairs to resolve and that the Prime Minister’s Office is not very clued in about such diplomatic finesse. This could well be just a point of contention between the services which exists at the best of times. But the focal point is whether the Bangladesh trip is a wasted effort.

Sheikh Hasina is a prisoner of politics as much as Manmohan Singh is. Water sharing even between states in India is a highly contentious issue. With a foreign country the matter is bound to be hit by major bottlenecks since the after-effects of such a move are impossible to contemplate in the near future. If the proposal does come to fruition, it would have been a diplomatic tour de force from the part of Bangladesh. For the moment though it looks like an impossible dream!

On India’s part we will have again missed the bus as far as the use of Chittagong port is concerned. Ultimately even diplomacy is a game of quid pro quo. Chittagong is a crucial window of opportunity for the North Eastern States. Now it would mean another long wait for a viable export-import zone connecting the region with South East Asia and the rest of the world.


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