December 9th, 2011
M. Serajul Islam
Two Advisers of the Prime Minister, Dr. Mashiur Rahman and Dr. Gowher Rizvi have been assured by the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh when they met him in New Delhi that India would not harm Bangladesh with the proposed Tippaimukh Dam. He said that the agreement signed between the National Hydro Power Corporation, Manipur Government and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam on October 22 is to build a hydro-electricity project.
The Indian Prime Minister also offered Bangladesh a stake in the proposed project under cross border power cooperation among SAARC countries to draw electricity from the project. Dr. Singh said that there would be consultations between the two sides so that Bangladesh would know that the proposed dam would not harm it.
The assurances are convincing but only on face value. However the Indians had assured Bangladesh twice in the past at the highest political level that it would do nothing at Tippaimukh that would harm it. This assurance was first given to Sheikh Hasina when she visited New Delhi in January, 2010.
Dr. Manmohon Singh reiterated this assurance more forcefully when he visited Dhaka in September this year. The spirit of the assurances was clear. India would take Bangladesh on board for whatever it did at Tippaimukh. This the Indians did not translate into reality. It went ahead and signed the agreement to construct the Tippaimukh Dam without informing Bangladesh. It was only when the news was broken in the Indian media did Bangladesh come to know that India had gone ahead and signed the agreement.
Slow to get confirmed
Bangladesh’s efforts to gain confirmation of media reports in India were slow in coming. When it came, the Indians saw no fault in signing the agreement without informing Bangladesh. Bangladesh was asked to look at the website of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs for details. A spokesman of MEA gave a written response to Bangladesh’s concern later in which it was said that India would not harm Bangladesh.
Thus before the Advisers visited India, the Indians did not feel that there was any reason to keep Bangladesh informed over it. As a consequence, the news took Bangladesh by surprise. It is not just the opposition but the civil society and environmental groups came together to oppose the dam because serious bipartisan concerns remain in the minds of majority of Bangladeshis over the dam. Sheikh Hasina herself expressed concern when she said in parliament that she would not allow any harm to come to Bangladesh.
There are a few serious issues that make it difficult to feel the comfort that Dr. Gowher Rizvi has express in the media on Indian assurance after returning from New Delhi. The first worrying point is why the Indians did not keep Bangladesh in the picture and why it had to send two Advisers and a Special Envoy waiting to go to New Delhi. It is not that the Indians are not aware about Bangladesh’s concerns. No matter how convincingly the Indian Prime Minister tries to assure Bangladesh now, the way they have dealt with it on the latest situation over the Tippaimukh issue tends to suggest that Delhi takes Dhaka for granted and treats it condescendingly – a major irritant that has stood in the way of sustainable friendly relations between the two countries.
The India treatment of Bangladesh has actually angered people like noted newsman Kuldip Nayyar and formed Indian foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey. In fact, the latter has put it on record that “the attitude of most Indian political leaders, senior officials, business magnates and strategic thinkers towards Bangladesh has been one of disdain and apathy.” One cannot help feeling the same attitude in what the Indian Prime Minister has said to the two Advisers. If the Indians respected Bangladesh then in the first place they would not have gone ahead and decided on the construction of the dam keeping Bangladesh out of the loop and in the second place, they would have sent a Special Envoy to Bangladesh instead of Dhaka’s sending two Advisers and waiting to send a Special Envoy! At the least, the Indian Prime Minister could have expressed regret for not informing Bangladesh before signing the agreement.
The Indian Prime Minister’s assurances now do not do anything to the element of trust that his government has broken with Bangladesh. He of all persons should know what the Indians have done to Bangladesh by withdrawing the Teesta Agreement off the table after giving us assurances that it would be signed in Dhaka during his visit. Then why should he forget his major faux pas and then an official apology with his insensitive and absurd statement that 25% of Bangladeshis are anti-Indian and under influence of Pakistan’s ISI?
It is just not the Indian Prime Minister who has been insensitive and disdainful towards Bangladesh in recent times. It has been so all along in the relations between the two countries. As the much smaller neighbour, the record shows quite clearly that it is Bangladesh that has always gone ahead first and made concessions to India. The Indians either did not match Bangladesh’s concessions or in other instances, promised to match the concessions and then reneged.
Take for instance the 1974 India-Bangladesh border agreement. Bangladesh kept its part of the agreement within months of signing the agreement. The Indians did not, on one pretext or another. Teen Bigha corridor was agreement bound to be handed to Bangladesh under the 1974 agreement in exchange of Berubari. Bangladesh has now been given 24 hours access through it to its enclaves of Dahagram and Angorpota but not the right to own it. Absurdly, Bangladesh negotiators have acclaimed this 24 hours’ access as a mark of success of their negotiations!
Bangladesh allowed the Indians trial run for 40 days on the Farakkha Barrage. Indians perpetuated that unilaterally till Bangladesh was able to reach an agreement in 1996. For 22 years, the Indians dried the northern part of Bangladesh by holding back the water of the Ganges illegally. In 1992, Bangladesh withdrew tariffs against Indian goods under the SAPTA Agreement. The Indians, who were supposed to reciprocate, did not. Bangladesh has been pleading for India to do since then without much success. In fact, there is a litany of such broken promises by India in the history of Bangladesh-India relations.
Even in the backdrop of such a history, Sheikh Hasina risked her political career and gave India unilateral concessions on two critical areas to Indian interests, namely security and land transit. Instead of feeling embarrassed that Bangladesh again gave the concessions expecting to see the Indian heart for its legitimate rights on water, trade and a host of other bilateral issue. Instead it was shown the same face by India, that it could not be trusted. India did what is a pattern in Bangladesh-India relations. It reneged on the Teesta and now on Tippaimukh.
The Indian Prime Minister, after his latest “assurance” to Bangladesh, has said in Manipur that the project has been accorded environmental clearance and he has asked concerned Ministries to pursue World Bank funding for it. So what is India going to discuss with Bangladesh on Tippaimukh except re-iterating that it knows what is best for Bangladesh, a view that the Bangladesh government has accepted obligingly?
The BSF betrayal
For another Indian “assurance”, it is the same story; the same pattern. Only two weeks ago, the BSF beat to death another Bangladeshi and kept his body in a field for all to watch. Yet in the Joint Statement of the recently concluded Bangladesh-India Home Secretary level talks, it was the Indian concern that Bangladesh Border Guards should refrain from indiscriminate firing that was reflected ahead of ours! Bangladesh’s policy on India cannot any longer be called subservient. It is worse.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan