December 2nd, 2011
M. Serajul Islam
Well known and acclaimed Indian journalist Kuldip Nayyar called the Indian decision to construct the Tippaimukh Dam a break of trust. He then wrote a scathing article in one of the leading newspapers of Dhaka where he blamed India for failing to match Bangladesh on the major concessions that Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina made to India. Teesta to him was a major disappointment and now the decision on Tippaimukh is a letdown of major significance.
The Indian journalist also wrote that Sheikh Hasina’s popularity is on a sharp decline. Indian letdown is adding to her current predicament. He however felt that despite the Indian letdown, the anti-Indian feelings in Bangladesh have not increased. He gave high marks to Sheikh Hasina for her firm commitment to secularism.
Hasina’s political risk
Sheikh Hasina had taken great political risks by giving India assurances from day one of her tenure against terrorism and insurgency and subsequently by handing over the ULFA terrorists to India, albeit secretly. Bangladesh also offered India land transit early in Sheikh Hasina’s present tenure that has gone to operation on a trial basis recently. At literally the 11th hour, indeed the evening before the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka, the Indians withdrew from the table the agreement on the Teesta after assuring Bangladesh that the deal would be the icing on the cake for celebrating the success of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit. Thus the visit of the Indian Prime Minister ended disappointingly.
Now the news about the Tippaimukh Dam and the manner in which the Indians have treated Bangladesh when it sought news on the Dam has added salt to the injury. It is not that the Indians did not know the bipartisan feelings in Bangladesh against the Tippaimukh Dam or fears about it. The recent earthquake of major significance in Sikkim close to Bangladesh has only enhanced public concerns and fears over the Tippaimukh Dam.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had more than convincingly communicated this to the Indian Government during her official visit to New Delhi in January, 2010. Her concerns and those of Bangladesh were duly reflected in the Joint Communiqué of that visit. The Indian Prime Minister again acknowledged the concerns of Bangladesh when he spoke to a cross section of Bangladesh’s intelligentsia in Dhaka University.
Thus the news that India would build the dam has caused widespread concern and anger in Bangladesh. The Prime Minister herself vowed that she and her government would not allow the Indians to do anything that would harm Bangladesh. She announced in parliament that she would send a Special Envoy to India to discuss with the Indians the concerns of Bangladesh on the Tippaimukh Dam.
Unbelievable Govt. stance
Yet against the Prime Minister’s stand, strange as it may seem, there have been some unbelievable statements in the press from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Water Resources. The State Minister of Water Resources in an interview to a local TV station said that it is India’s internal matter whether or not it decides to construct a dam at Tippaimukh. He then went to say something absolutely incredible. He said that India has the right to do whatever it pleases with any of the international rivers we share with it as the lower riparian. By his incredible stand he gave away Bangladesh’s rights under international laws and conventions of waters of all rivers flowing to Bangladesh from India! He said that the opposition is playing politics with the issue of Tippaimukh.
The Foreign Ministry, instead of contradicting the suicidal comments of the State Minister, backed him instead. In a press interview at the MFA, the Foreign Minister thought that the hue and cry raised over the Tippaimukh Dam are unwarranted and that it is part of the opposition ploy to fiddle in troubled waters. She assured the nation that there is no reason to doubt Indian intentions. India, she has no doubt, would not harm Bangladesh. The Foreign Secretary also joined his Minister and addressed the media to assure that India can and must be trusted!
There is clearly a major disconnect between the Prime Minister and her team. By implication, her team is telling her that she too should have full trust in India! They are not bothered that India has dismissed our concern over Tippaimukh by a curt reply to go to the MEA’s website for details about the dam. To them, trusting India is more important than finding out, first why India chose to go ahead with the dam without informing Bangladesh and second, whether or not the dam when eventually built would harm Bangladesh!
The Indian arrogance has infuriated many well known Indians like Kuldip Nayyar. Yet such arrogance has not had any impact on our team that is currently dealing with India. In fact, they are, accepting each act of Indian betrayal as proof of Indian friendship and concern for us. They have given to India the guardianship to decide our interests and have written our rights off even to question Indian intent.
The outcome of all these are going to take Bangladesh and India at directions of conflict instead of friendship. Kuldip Nayyar is right in expressing his concerns at Indian attitude that is causing Bangladesh-India relations to fall apart and pushing the ruling party on a steep decline politically. . He is however mistaken in thinking that it is not causing anti-Indian feelings to grow. In fact, today, the anti-Indian feelings are growing faster than Kuldip Nayyar may be willing to admit.
Indian arrogance is rendering justification to the BNP’s anti-Indian stance in politics that could have been contained if the Indians had not been as insensible and insensitive as they have been. Many in the AL camp are also beginning to question Indian intentions. In the process, a great widow of opportunity opened by Sheikh Hasina upon assuming power for a paradigm shift in Bangladesh-India relations is also being wasted.
A former colleague with first hand experience about Bangladesh-India relations asked me bluntly why India first aborted the Teesta agreement and now unilaterally went ahead with Tippaimukh fully aware that it would place a government both covertly and overtly out to please it in political trouble. I had no answer except blame it upon the dynamics of domestic politics in India. He disagreed. He said firmly that the Indians have some hidden agenda for which they are subjecting the Bangladesh Government to pressure. He had me thinking. Is India changing sides aware that the Government, as Kuldip Nayyar has written, has made a mess of governance? Or is India trying to force this government to sign some agreement with which it could hold the next government responsible to serve its interests?
There is a postscript to Bangladesh’s absurd ways of negotiating with India. The Minister for Water Ramesh Chandra Sen has said Bangladesh would take India to the international court for protecting its interests! Does he know what his Deputy has said in public or the trust that the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary has in India? Perhaps not. Our negotiators are behaving like children lost in a maze without grasp of reality in their pursuit to please India at any cost.
The writer is a retired career diplomat and former Ambassador to Japan.