Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 24 April, 2014
Times of India, Dr. Subramanian Swamy and water issues
M. Serajul Islam

 Times of India, Dr. Subramanian Swamy and water issues

Teesta project: At the time of filing this article, water suddenly started to flow in the Teesta - a nearly dead river suddenly became alive!

A Times of India (TOI) report, a BJP leader's statement and a particular talk show should wake up the spirits of millions who became martyrs in 1971 in disbelief about what is happening in present-day Bangladesh. The TOI report concerned an incident in Dhaka airport. Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claimed 1/3rd of Bangladesh for the alleged 20 million Bangladeshis who, his party claims, have illegally migrated to India. And in the talk show, participants touched both these issues as well as that of the river waters of Bangladesh that are depleting very fast and upon which depend whether Bangladesh lives or dies.

The TOI report is a very disturbing one for a country where patriotism is the issue that dominates all other issues all the time in public life. If one were to believe our writers, cultural activists and some of the politicians, ours must be the most patriotic nation on earth. The TOI story said that RAW, the Indian intelligence agency, grabbed an activist of the outlawed Indian Mujahedeen who was working as an agent of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, in Dhaka airport as he was being questioned by immigration officials for a passport indiscretion and then managed to take him to India without leaving a trace with the Bangladeshis not doing anything at all or unable to do anything! In fact, had TOI not carried the news, no one in Bangladesh would have even known that RAW had nabbed its biggest catch in recent times with Bangladesh intelligence in complete darkness or an willing accomplice!

The TIO report did not care to ask any of the following questions. First, what was the RAW agent, who first saw Waqas, doing inside Dhaka airport? Second, why was this alleged ISI agent not taken into custody by the Bangladesh intelligence/police? Third, why were the many agencies that work in the airport not anywhere around when the RAW agents grabbed this ISI agent? The TOI report would have made sense if it were reporting the apprehending of the ISI agent in an Indian airport. Therefore, once the news hit the Bangladesh media, these questions are in everybody's mouth and being asked in ways that are ominous both for Indian image in Bangladesh and for the Awami League-led government.

There were other unusual elements in the story too and these concern Bangladesh. The state minister for home, when asked about the incident, stated that he knew nothing about it except what was reported in the media.
Strangely, the vibrant media of Bangladesh, that is so active these days, had no information of such a major incident in Dhaka airport until it was revealed in the TOI. Even stranger is the fact that the Bangladesh government did not react to the news. If it valued its sovereignty and territorial integrity, its interest for good relations with India notwithstanding, it should have at the barest minimum level protested to the Indians about such a blatant interference in its internal affairs.

The news concerning Dr. Swamy was strange and absurd both in the context of what he said and the reaction or the failure to react on the part of the Bangladesh government. Dr. Swamy gave a new twist to an old BJP story against Bangladesh - that there are 20 million alleged Bangladeshis in India. He said that as these people cannot be sent back, Bangladesh should cede 1/3rd of its territory to India as compensation! And what about the reaction of the Bangladesh government to this story? There was in fact no direct reaction, and the media did not seem concerned or interested to seek one from the government. Nevertheless, the foreign minister and the deputy high Commissioner in New Delhi talked about the BJP in the media but in a totally different and ironically opposite context.

The foreign minister said that the government is in contact with BJP that has assured the AL-led government that if it came to power in May it would have the same stance towards Bangladesh as the Congress-led government! The deputy high commissioner in New Delhi tweeted with a reporter of TOI and revealed to him what the foreign minister said to the media in Dhaka. It was unbelievable that the foreign minister would   be seeking assurances from the BJP for the government in case it came to power instead of protesting the absurd claim of Dr. Swamy in the strongest possible way immediately that national interest and national pride demanded.
The talk show discussed these two issues and articulated what the average Bangladeshi is thinking these days: that the fear of India taking over Bangladesh directly is no longer a fear; that it is now becoming a reality and in such a move, the present government in Bangladesh is looking the other way. The three participants are all well-known and not in any way BNP supporters or sympathizers. They came to a very simple conclusion after discussing the three issues that are linked to Bangladesh's sovereignty. The conclusion was that the AL-led government is too much in debt to New Delhi for installing it in power for a second successive term through an election that no one now believes was anything more than a farce.
About the water issue, one said that the process of desertification is now visible as daylight in western and northern Bangladesh as India continues to strangle and kill the rivers of Bangladesh. He added that people whose livelihood is connected with the rivers such as fishing, plying boats etc., have now become beggars while in agriculture, farmers are accessing water by digging wells with costs so many times more that for them agriculture would soon become a forgotten profession! Another participant welcomed the decision of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to hold the Teesta Long March because he thought that finally the party had taken up one issue with which it could lead a movement with the people on its side against the AL-led government.

At a time when history is in the public domain in the context of 1971, it would be only appropriate to take note of what one participant in the talk show said. He pointed to history before 1971 to underline how wrong Dr. Swamy was in what he said. When India was partitioned in 1947, Kolkata and parts of the Indian Seven Sisters were supposed to be a part of Pakistan that would have made these parts of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu mentioned about how the British wrongly gave Kolkata to India in 1947 that the Mohammad Ali Jinnah-led Muslim League did not contest. Looking a little further back in history, in 1905 the British had severed East Bengal and Assam from West Bengal and made the latter two as part of the new political entity it called East Bengal and Assam. Therefore if one were to interpret history in correct perspective, present Bangladesh should claim what the British denied it in 1947 and even more by claiming what the British had given it in 1905 by the Partition of Bengal.
Unfortunately, the AL-led government, set on please-India-mode, cannot dare to either raise these issues of history or ask questions about the TOI story or the slow poisoning of northern and western Bangladesh due to depletion of the waters of the common rivers by India for reasons that the three participants at the talk show stated unequivocally. It is more unfortunate that the media, the civil society and the intelligentsia are doing so little for Bangladesh at risk with its sovereignty. At the time of filing this article, water suddenly started to flow in the Teesta - a nearly dead river suddenly became alive! India opened the sluice gates and the water came flowing like magic just prior to the BNP's Long March. Who says the BNP cannot lead a successful movement?

The writer is a retired career Ambassador.

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