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Dipu Moni's trip to New Delhi:Frustrating outcome
Published : Wednesday, 31 July 2013
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni (left) meets Indian Prime Minister Manmohon Singh in New Delhi on July 26, 2013: There is no time-frame for delivering the deals on Teesta water sharing and land boundary.
M. Serajul Islam

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni has just returned from a three-day trip to New Delhi that has been described in the media as a last-ditch attempt by the Awami League (AL)-led Government to salvage the Teesta water sharing deal and the ratification of the land boundary agreement (LBA) for exchange of the enclaves and land in adverse possession from which Bangladesh stands to gain an extra amount of land. At the time she was in New Delhi, an IBN-CNN-The Hindu election tracker came out with a survey that revealed interesting information about Bangladesh-India relations. 48 per cent surveyed said they could trust Bangladesh the most beating Russia, with 46 per cent, to the top of the list. When asked for an explanation on why Bangladesh figured on top, former Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Dev Mukherjee said that in the last five years "Bangladesh has addressed our security concerns very comprehensively whereas in previous regimes, trouble-makers were given support." The former High Commissioner added that there is a sense of guilt in India "because India has not delivered what India should have delivered on and reciprocated, be it on the Teesta waters or the land boundary agreement."

It was for that reciprocity that Dipu Moni had gone to New Delhi. The need for reciprocity has become urgent for the AL-led government because New Delhi's failure to deliver the two deals has landed the ruling party in Bangladesh in dire straits politically with general election now just a few months away. Thus immediately upon landing in New Delhi where she went unofficially to deliver a memorial lecture, Dipu Moni told journalists: "If this bill does not go through and if the Teesta water sharing deal is not signed, they will surely become important issues in the rundown to the parliament elections in my country."

In pursuance of these urgent objectives, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister met the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohon Singh, and Arun Jetley, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Rajya Sabha. She also met the Indian Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid. After her meeting with the Indian Prime Minister, sources in the Indian Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said informally to the media that Manmohon Singh reiterated New Delhi's commitments on the two issues and it was doing the needful for their resolution. The source added that the Congress-led Government would like to introduce the bill on ratification of LBA in August. The source did not reveal any time-frame for delivering the deals. Dipu Moni's meeting with Arun Jetley also did not raise any sense of optimism. The BJP leader said that his party understood what the Bangladesh Foreign Minister had to say on the LBA but that decision in the matter would be taken in line with the party's policy. For the BJP, the LBA issue is also tied to its stand that there are over 20 million illegal Bangladeshis in India and that this issue would be considered before its decision on supporting the ratification bill. Under the LBA, when ratified, India would have to transfer 17,163.63 acres to Bangladesh against 7,110.02 acres it would get from Bangladesh.

The Foreign Minister did not meet the Trinamool's leader Mamata Banerjee who holds the key to the resolution of the Teesta water sharing problem and has left it entirely to New Delhi to convince her. The signs from Kolkata are not encouraging. Dipu Moni had no meeting with the National Security Adviser Shiv Sankhar Menon who has been coordinating the work of all Ministries and agencies in furthering Bangladesh-India relations.

Thus on what has been revealed from Indian sources, the two deals do not seem anywhere near resolution in the near future. The BJP is now seriously threatening the Congress for power in the general elections scheduled to be held by early next year. As a nationalist political party that builds its acceptance among voters on India's domination in the region, the fact that the LBA would cede territories to Bangladesh would hardly encourage BJP, so close to election time, to support the ratification that would help Bangladesh gain more Indian territory than it would cede. Then of course there is the issue of '20 million Bangladeshis' that the BJP will surely make an election issue.

As for the Teesta deal, Mamata Banarjee has already set sights on New Delhi by building an anti-Congress coalition and there is no chance she would support the Teesta deal now that would help the Congress gain support of voters nationally by projecting itself as the party that deals with its neighbours fairly. Thus while Dipu Moni was in New Delhi, Mamata said that in deciding on the Teesta, she would have to consider the interests of northern Paschimbanga through which the Teesta follows into Bangladesh.

The bleak scenario notwithstanding, New Delhi has in recent times been actively pursuing negotiations with the interested parties to deliver to Bangladesh the two deals. On LBA, the Congress-led government has been sensitising everyone through the media with information that although India would cede more territory in the LBA deal, what the ratification would do is just legalise a de facto situation and that even without the ratification, India has already ceded the territories to Bangladesh. The ratification would only show India as a fair neighbour and alleviate sufferings of the people in the enclaves and land under adverse possession.

There is news that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would be visiting New Delhi in September and interested quarters have suggested that the deals would be delivered then. However, going by the results of Dipu Moni's visit and the current political situation in India, the chances of the deals being resolved before the next Indian elections have drifted further. Additionally, New Delhi would also be aware that delivering the deals at this stage would lead to accusations by the opposition in Bangladesh that it was doing so to help the Awami League and thus interfering in Bangladesh's internal affairs. Common sense would dictate New Delhi to hold the deals if they are ready for delivery and give these to Bangladesh after a new government comes to power so that if the BNP forms the next government, it would be encouraged to deal with India for furthering bilateral relations the way these were developed under the AL-led government. If the AL returned, New Delhi would have no problem because of its historically friendly relations with it.

One good outcome for the future of Bangladesh-India relations from Dipu Moni's New Delhi visit was the positive response she received from New Delhi on sub-regional cooperation to management of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin Regime. The waters of the common rivers are depleting. Only a multilateral approach among all the basin countries could augment waters in these rivers and ensure Bangladesh's survival. The multilateral approach would also augment waters for the co-basin countries as well as make the region one of the richest in the world in water resources. India had so long rejected this approach because it thought that by the bilateral approach, it could extract its interests better without caring for its neighbours' interests, including Bangladesh. Although all past Bangladesh governments had tried to get India to agree to this multilateral approach, it is the present one that has succeeded in getting Indian interested in such an approach. This approach could be the best way to carry Bangladesh-India relations forward, country to country and not country to party.

At the time of filing this article, Dipu Moni did not give any official media briefing on her visit although the media in Bangladesh has concluded her trip was futile. Kolkata's Ananda Bazar Patrika reported the Foreign Minister as saying that "if the deals are not signed, it will be surely frustrating." The hints are strong though that the Foreign Minister did not return from New Delhi with good news for her party.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador and Chairman, Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies.

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