Contrary to public perceptions, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Delhi visit has ended on an encouraging note: India has started taking a two-pronged approach to dealing with concerns of its ally Bangladesh over the Teesta River water sharing.
First, at the administrative level, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is sending a high-level expert committee to inspect the status and operation of eight hydro-power dams and reservoirs in Sikkim. The team will closely scrutinise the storage of water in the projects and final discharge of the Teesta water into West Bengal. It will hold discussion with officials in Sikkim on the projects’ impact on the environment and the river’s flow.
The team will meet officials in West Bengal sometime next month for a final, decisive round of consultations on water sharing.
Briefly, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told both Modi and Hasina in Delhi that the Sikkim projects used up around 60% of the water available in the Teesta River during the lean period, while only 40% of the water was left for North Bengal. Consequently, it is difficult for India’s six North Bengal districts to meet their irrigation needs. So, if the already reduced quantum of water has to be shared with Bangladesh, there would be nothing left for the districts.
The West Bengal government claimed to have submitted a report detailing the present scenario to the Centre, two days before Hasina’s visit.
Mamata , too, made a stab at acquainting Modi and Hasina with the prevailing conditions in order to avoid misconceptions. And, there was no intention to deprive the Bangladeshi people of their due share of water. The West Bengal chief minister had also suggested an alternate plan to use water of the Torsa and other rivers to help fulfil Bangladesh’s requirements.
Also, she had earlier urged the federal government to take the matter up with the Sikkim authorities.
The Centre should have addressed West Bengal’s concerns earlier. Had it done so, the slight embarrassment caused to Hasina could have been avoided, said sources close to Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata.
However, there is still no explanation from West Bengal for why the Kalyan Rudra Commission report on the Teesta deal was never released even if the work was undertaken in line with the chief minister’s instruction.
Now, the appointment of a central expert committee will go a long way in not only meeting Mamata’s demands, but in demystifying the confusion over the availability of water in the Teesta.
Secondly, the central Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership is also using its present anti-TMC political campaigns in West Bengal to mobilise the public opinion for the Teesta treaty.
Right after the recently concluded legislative assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP had announced plans to strengthen its footprint in Bengal. It has planned to fight the TMC at the grassroots level during the forthcoming Panchayat polls and to set up as many booth committees as possible. BJP-affiliated popular organisations and/or supportive social groups are currently holding rallies on specific issues, targeting the TMC. Much to Mamata’s surprise, many supporters and activists of the Congress and the Left Front have been attending the rallies, causing political tensions as well as clashes between BJP and TMC supporters.
Shantanu Sinha, a leader of BJP’s legal cell in Bengal, said: “Mamata has never encountered such a sustained political challenge to her government since 2011 when the TMC first came to power [in West Bengal]. And, over 40 top BJP leaders including our national president Amit Shah ... will be visiting the state in the next few weeks to exert further pressure on the TMC.”
The BJP is now campaigning against the TMC chief, saying she is the one who tries to sabotage the proposed Teesta pact and takes a stand that could benefit only Pakistan in the region and Islamist fundamentalists in Bangladesh.
According to Kolkata-based analysts, Prime Minister Modi -- taking no chances -- has decided on this two-pronged approach to neutralising the TMC’s opposition to water sharing: through taking efforts at the administrative level and involving the masses at the grassroots level.
If the BJP leadership finds that the people’s mood is sufficiently critical of the TMC in Bengal as a whole, it may offer Mamata a final chance to remain on the same page with Dhaka and Delhi in relation to the Teesta issue. And, this will happen at the last round of meeting between Delhi and Kolkata.
If no common ground is still achieved, or the BJP fails to adequately mobilise the public against the TMC, then the Centre may ink an accord with Bangladesh with or without West Bengal on board.
Either way, Hasina may find herself under pressure for the time being; nevertheless, she could expect good news is coming sooner or later.