West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met with Sheikh Hasina in Delhi more than once during the Bangladesh premier’s tour of India, which ended on Monday. Mamata boasted of her “deep love” for the people of Bangladesh and expressed her interest to share river water - only not from the
Teesta. She placed a proposal for sharing the water of the Torsa-Dharla-Mansai river systems instead.
Many in the media labelled this as her ‘alternative proposal’ to the Teesta water deal. Some of the media outlets in India said this was proof of how earnest Mamata has been over resolving the Teesta crisis. When there is not much water in the Teesta, she is proposing to give water to the lower riparian country from other rivers of the region that are considered to have a water surplus.
In my understanding, there is no reason for Bangladesh to feel complacent about Mamata’s proposal. She did not make any statement about the proposed Teesta water pact and she only spoke about increasing the water flow in the Teesta. We cannot count on that statement, and here are the reasons why.
The West Bengal Chief Minister since 2011 has in many ways been impeding the move to seal the Teesta water sharing pact. The draft of the treaty was about to be finalised, but it was adjourned by the Indian central government following her strong opposition. Mamata, however, continued to come up with volleys of assurances like – “leave it to me, I’m looking after the Teesta issue” or “I do love Bangladesh and want to give water”. In reality, no progress has been achieved regarding the signing of the pact.
Mamata’s recent proposal to augment water from the Torsa-Dharala is not a new idea at all. The Bangla Tribune published a report on August 10, 2015 which said the West Bengal Chief Minister had conveyed to the central government that she would accept the Teesta pact if the surplus water from the likes of Manash-Sankosh rivers in the Brahmaputra basin could be diverted to the Teesta.
Was she really serious when she gave that proposal? Or was she making only passing comments. If she was serious, why has she not been able to make any progress in this regard? Why has she been repeating the proposal to divert water from the West Bengal rivers time and again?
Standing beside Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Sunday categorically stated that the Teesta pact would be signed in the current terms of his and Hasina’s government, which means it would be sealed by 2018. This can also be considered an ultimatum to Mamata Banarjee. The statement implies the Indian government will wait for about 18 months at best and sign the pact with Bangladesh even if Mamata keeps up with the veto. Did Mamata play her new card assessing such a development?
It will be a time-consuming process to augment the water from other rivers. So the 2018 time frame cannot be maintained if the so called ‘alternative proposal’ gets the currency. Therefore Bangladesh will have to ultimately rely on Modi, not on Mamata Banarjee.
As per diplomatic protocol, there is no scope for a direct relationship between the head of an Indian state and the Bangladesh government. Despite this, we have some commonness in culture and language with West Bengal and government delegations have called on Mamata over the Teesta water share issue. Mamata has also tried her best to swat the concerns aside.
Many delegations of different capacities, ranging from former Foreign Minister Dipu Moni to Bangladesh High Commissioner in Delhi Syed Moazzem Ali, have met with Mamata in Kolkaka and presented gifts like Ilish and Jamdani. Was there any return from Mamata?
The answer is ‘no’. And although Mamata went to Delhi to visit Hasina this time, the answer was still the same.