Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Didi, Jamdani sari and Tippaimukh

As I See It
The Independent
November 25.,2011

An aide of our Foreign Minister seeking anonymity had leaked to the media that the Minister would present a Jamdani sari to the Chief Minister of Paschim Bangla when she met her in Kolkata on way back from attending an international conference in Bangalore last week. I was wondering what Didi would do with a Jamdani sari knowing that she does not wear one. The leaking of the gift to the media reflects poor judgment. Our Foreign Minister still does not seem to realize what she and Bangladesh are up to while negotiating with India. Weeks before she met Didi, the Indian Government announced it would build the Tippaimukh!

On the subject of Didi, the Foreign Secretary was caught on the wrong foot when he faced the journalists at the Foreign Ministry. When asked about this visit of the Foreign Minister to Kolkata, he stammered and ended giving an astounding reply. He said he did not know where the Foreign Minister was!

Our Foreign Minister received the same disappointing news from Didi that our Prime Minister was given by the Indian Prime Minister in Maldives. Didi informed her that her government would form a committee to find out how much water would be available at Teesta during the dry season and how much of it her State would be able to share with Bangladesh.

Before her meeting with Didi, our Foreign Minister had met the Indian Foreign Minister in Bangalore during the IOR/ARC meeting. SM Krishnan assured her that a deal on the Teesta is” round the corner”. How much of what SM Krishnan said should be taken seriously is not difficult to assess. Against his assurance, Dr. Manmohn Singh has stressed the need to build consensus among the stakeholders and Didi, upon the need to see the findings of the committee. In diplomatic parlance, “round the corner” could therefore also be an indefinite wait.

Nevertheless, our Foreign Minister, showing the same optimism she did late in the evening of September 6th on a Teesta deal even after the Indians had officially taken it off the table just hours before their Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka, has told a news media upon returning to Bangladesh that India is hopeful that a deal on Teesta would be signed “soon.” Neither Didi nor our Foreign Minister spoke to the media after their meeting in Kolkata that lasted for half an hour. If a deal is imminent, then Didi, who otherwise has good feelings for our Prime Minister and Bangladesh , would have said something positive about Teesta knowing Bangladesh ‘s impatience for a deal.

The Teesta apart, the Indians are breaking other commitments too. The news that the Indians are going to build the Tippaimukh Dam has caused uproar in Bangladesh among bipartisan non-government and environmental groups as well as the opposition political parties. The news comes after firm commitment given by the Indian Prime Minister during his recent visit to Bangladesh that India would not harm Bangladesh’s interest by constructing the Tippaimukh dam. The same commitment was given to our Prime Minister during her visit to Indian in January, 2010. In deciding to go ahead with Tippaimukh Dam, the Indians would also be violating international conventions and laws as well that require consultation with a lower riparian in construction a dam on an international river.

The Teesta debacle and breaking the commitment on Tippaimukh are examples of India lacking on the element of trust. These broken promises and commitments are nothing new though for India has a history of breaking promises, commitments and agreements. What is amazing is the fact that our negotiators for some mysterious reasons simply refuse to acknowledge the history and see the pattern.

This time, our State Minister for Water Resources has beaten all others in our negotiating team in backing India. He has called any concern of Bangladesh on Tippaimukh and whatever else India does on our common rivers unwarranted because such actions are internal matters of India! He has blamed the opposition of trying to play politics with what he thinks is none of our business. Kuldip Nayyar, a noted Indian journalist, reacted sharply, in contrast to our Minister and for that matter our government, and accused India of betraying a trust.

Indian Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey had said after the disappointing end to the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh that the attitude of Indian politicians, bureaucrats and analysts towards Bangladesh is one of “disdain and apathy.” The decision to go ahead with Tippaimukh underscores the fact that the attitude of the Indians towards Bangladesh is exactly what Muchkund Dubey has said; India just takes Bangladesh for granted!

And why not? We have those negotiating for us with India telling us that we have made a historical mistake in the past by not trusting India. They have highlighted the US$ 1 billion soft but tied loan by India as a show of Indian generosity. They thanked India profusely for its promise to make us the regional connectivity hub that they said would make us rich and important. They bargained away our security and land transit cards for the loan most of which would be spent for India’s and for its promise on connectivity hub. In the process, they have made our position more vulnerable than ever before and have placed us at India’s mercy. And now, there is a Minister who thinks it is India’s right to do as it pleases with all our common rivers!

Amidst growing public concern in Bangladesh, a spokesman of the Indian External Affairs Ministry confirmed that India has decided to build the Tippaimukh Dam and advised Bangladesh to look for details in the website of the MEA Ministry! India, it seems, did not feel the need to even inform Bangladesh through the normal diplomatic channel about the matter. It is not that India is not aware of the importance of Tippaimukh to Bangladesh; their attitude can be explained simply as arrogance. Perhaps, it has been afflicted by amnesia and thus forgot the commitment of its Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, our government, hopeful that the Jamdani to Didi would get it the Teesta deal, could not find the courage to question the Indian decision, let alone demand its annulment. Or perhaps those authorized to speak over the issue have also been afflicted by amnesia to recollect the assurance the Indian Prime Minister has given to Bangladesh a few times. There is one difference though in the type of amnesia of the two sides. The Indian amnesia is one of convenience and arrogance; ours is one of subservience.

At time of filing this piece, the Prime Minister announced in parliament that she would send a Special Envoy to New Delhi to seek “information” on the Tippaimukh Dam in the face of mounting public opinion consolidating against India on the issue. A Special Envoy will serve little purpose for the government has demonstrated to the Indians its subservience by some na├»ve and poor diplomacy of its chief negotiators to be taken seriously. The only way to show India we are serious about the Tippaimukh Dam is to face the Indians unitedly. The BNP has offered to work with the government over Tippaimukh; it is now for the ruling party to unite the nation on a grave national issue against Indian designs.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

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