Why Bengal CM Mamata mustn’t harm the emerging Bangladesh-India good neighborhood ties? By Ozair Islam

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In a regretful tone, Prime Minister Modi said, "Mamata is ruining Bangladesh-India relations," at an election campaign stop in Barrackpore, North 24 Parganas district, on May 12. It seems clear now that Modi is entirely correct in his accusation. The Bengali provincial administration, headed by Mamama Banerjee's "Trinamul Congress," is the one undermining and attempting to damage the nascent relations between India and Bangladesh, not the federal government. It appears that Bengal CM lacks the bare minimum of cordial gratitude, despite Bangladesh's pursuit of good neighbourly regional partnerships with Bengal province in addition to central-to-central level India-Bangladesh official diplomacy through various initiatives like economic and tourism diplomacy, people-to-people connectivity, Hasina-Mamata good personal relationships, and mango and hilsa fish diplomacy. CM Mamata has always used the Bangladesh card in Bengali politics because of her adherence to extreme nationalism and chauvinism, as well as her massive vote-bank politics.

Just observe Mamata Banerjee's latest displays of obstinacy. In relation to the recent Hasina-Modi meeting on June 22, she brought up her illogical and unjust points about the potential renewal of the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty and Indian involvement in the management of Teesta's waters. It's quite likely that Mamata Banerjee's letter to Prime Minister Modi may be a significant barrier to the Indian engagement in the management of Teesta's waters and the renewal of the Ganges treaty. Current discussions are still clouded by Mamata Banerjee's resistance to the Teesta Treaty in 2011, which resulted in its last-minute cancellation. West Bengal's plan to dig more canals upstream and India's ongoing unilateral actions regarding Teesta water usage have further complicated the situation and undermined Bangladesh's legitimate rights as a low-river country under international river law regarding equitable sharing of the shared river Teesta's water.

 One may now even see Mamata's devious political manoeuvring with the Central administration. Mamata accused the Modi administration of keeping West Bengal out of discussions between Bangladesh and India over the renewal of Ganges Treaty and the distribution of water from the Teesta River. In a letter to Prime Minister Modi, she made the claims. However, sources cited by many Indian media sites claim that the Indian central government rejected Mamata's proposal in its entirety, stressing that the correct processes were followed. A committee was established on July 24, 2023, to carry out an internal assessment of the Ganga water sharing agreement, according to a report published by the Press Trust of India (PTI). The Chief Engineer of the Irrigation and Waterways Department was nominated by the West Bengal government on August 25, 2023, in response to an invitation to participate. Up to 2024, there was still connection between the federal and state administrations. The Centre received information on April 5 from the Joint Secretary of West Bengal's Irrigation and Waterways Department on the budgetary needs for overseeing the Farakka Dam's downstream territories for the next thirty years. Many Indian news outlets have confirmed that the West Bengal government was contacted throughout the internal review process, therefore endorsing the central government's position. These assessments have made it clear that procedures for due diligence and consultation were followed, and they have characterized Banerjee's assertions as baseless.

 

Delhi was reportedly unable to control shared river water issues without the involvement of the Bengali government, owing to Mamata Banerjee's argument that river water management falls within the purview of the state. According to the Indian quasi-federal constitution, the central government alone is responsible for foreign policy. The prime minister and his office, the bureaucracy under the ministry of external affairs, and the external affairs minister are the main institutions involved in formulating and carrying out foreign policy. The Centre has the authority to declare war, negotiate, ratify, and carry out treaties; it can also acquire or relinquish territory; it can interact with other countries and international organizations; and it may designate and receive diplomatic and consular representatives. It is understandable why, shortly after India gained independence, none of the major international agreements that the country had signed—the Indo-Bhutanese Treaty (1949), the Nehru-Liaquat Agreement (1950), the Indo-Nepalese Treaty (1951), the India-China Agreement (1954), the Tashkent Agreement (1965), the Indo-Soviet Treaty (1972), the Simla Agreement (1972), and the Indo-Lanka Accord (1987)—had been preceded by Parliament or even briefed to state governments. The question now is: Why is Mamata, who enjoys political discourse, politicizing this issue? Why may the issue have been resolved in India's Supreme Court if it was so serious?

In any case, Mamata's challenge seems to be a reflection of two significant recent developments in India's ‘water diplomacy conducts to Bangladesh’: the rise of "federalization" and " Bengal’s water nationalism." The increasing "federalization" of Indian foreign policy is encouraging. Currently, managing Mamata should be the exclusive responsibility of the federal government in the benefit of India as a whole. Even if the Teesta River water management problem is the main emphasis, the breadth and depth of the general fields of knowledge are much more important. Sheikh Hasina did state that she would choose whichever she thought would be most advantageous between the bids from China and India. Now India should choice its best course of action as it must prioritize the greater national interest just over Teesta and Ganges issues. 

Banerjee's present position might be impacted by regional and local political factors. Mamata's opposition to two treaties might increase Indian political division internally and infuriate Bangladesh for securing and upholding its legal rights over shared rivers. Renewing the Ganga water sharing deal with Bangladesh is a crucial matter that would have a big impact on both nations. Here, practicality is required, and pragmatism calls for renewing the pact for a further 30 years.

Fundamentally, the positive neighbourly ties between India and Bangladesh might be negatively impacted by the refusal to sign the Teesta River agreement and renew the Ganges Water Treaty. Mamta needed to remember that Bangladesh is a trustworthy friend in the region. It is often said that the current state of bilateral ties between India and Bangladesh is ideal. But Bangladesh has made it plain that it still considers India to be its most important neighbour and friend. Given that the prime minister of Bangladesh has been demonstrating her liberal neighbourhood perspective towards India, India, and particularly Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, need to respond with same initiative. The central government of India has consistently narrated the story that the Teesta deal's signature was hampered by Mamata. Thus, there was a subliminal suggestion that the only politician who could break the impasse would be Mamata. 

"I love Bangladesh, but Bengal is my priority," she said in reference to her quote. However, Mamata has to be acknowledged and reconciled with reality. The people of Bangladesh have a deep wound in their psyche over this letter from Mamata. Bangladesh and West Bengal have a very distinct connection. In terms of language, ethnicity, kinship, connectedness, economic development, and burgeoning tourism, the two areas have a unique resemblance. Furthermore, Mamata has always been regarded as a valued friend by Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi people are unable to accept Mamata's disagreement in any manner as a result.

The right to the river is due to the people of Bangladesh. It is demeaning to India and Bangladesh's neighbourly relationship to not sign the pact. The people of Bangladesh have long demanded that the rivers Teesta and Ganges get equal distributions of water. Rethinking this issue is necessary to improve ties between Bangladesh and India. The West Bengal Chief Minister's objection in no way indicates friendly relations between India and Bangladesh. Mamata Banerjee's stance on the relationship between the two countries is considered an anomaly for international river law and India's federal system of government.

Effective river water management between the two nations depends on cooperative collaboration, but Indian colleagues must also evaluate Bangladesh's shared rivers. Simplifying one's life shouldn't be done at the cost of other people. Since the central government is acting positively this time, Mamata Banerjee ought to approve the signing of the long-overdue treaty, since it represents India's long-overdue commitment to Bangladesh. In addition to improving bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh, a successful settlement of the Teesta dispute would benefit Bangladesh's economy. Singing and renewing from both accords would benefit India greatly. This bilateral agreement may satisfy all parties involved in Bangladesh if it is put into action. Without a doubt, India will be able to establish a strong diplomatic and economic partnership with Bangladesh and maintain its status as the country's steadfast friend. The two Bengalis from the two nations would become even more bonded. In light of this, it is clear what kind of response India's Mamata Banerjee ought to give Bangladesh in response to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's "Cordial twice official Diplomacy in a month." "Sign of Teesta water agreement and renew the Ganges treaty" is the only response. 

 

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