Teesta water treaty eludes again
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s present visit also was infructuous as far as the very important Teesta water-sharing agreement is concerned. While West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not agree to give Teesta waters to Bangladesh, on the ground that there was no surplus water to be shared and giving Teesta waters to Bangladesh will hit the people of North Bengal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that he could do anything about Teesta without the concurrence of the West Bengal Chief Minister. But the Teesta water treaty is vital not only for Bangladesh but for India also.
General elections in Bangladesh are to be held in a year and a half in October, 2018. Sheikh Hasina and her party Awami League’s electoral fortune depends to a large extent on resolving the Teesta water-sharing tangle. This is likely to become a major electoral issue in Bangladesh. If Sheikh Hasina is unable to break the deadlock over Teesta by then, she will be criticized roundly for her failure. Sheikh Hasina is painted by the Opposition as a pro-India leader. Both the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khalida Zia and the Jamaat-e-Islami are likely to go hammer and tongs at Hasina for not being able to persuade India to share Teesta waters with Bangladesh. If the Opposition gets the better of Sheikh Hasina and Awami League fails to come to power, it will be a matter of deep concern for India. This is a simple reality that should be intelligible to all sensible people. It will mean the coming to power of die-hard anti-India communal forces in Bangladesh and certain consequences will follow.
Mamata Banerjee has offered to share the waters of Torsa and some other smaller rivers of North Bengal with Bangladesh. But a detailed feasibility study of sharing the waters of these rivers will take time and the actual sharing, if at all, will begin much later. The political complexion of Bangladesh, however, will change much if the impasse on Teesta continues. India has, this time, offered a concessional credit of $4.5 billion, including $500 million for military supplies, obviously to wean away Bangladesh from China. India has also agreed to help Bangladesh in the field of civil nuclear energy. But these will be of little help to Hasina and cut little ice with the people of Bangladesh if she cannot get Teesta waters for her country. Every stakeholder in India, including the West Bengal Chief Minister, should be able to understand the importance of the treaty in keeping a friendly government in Dhaka.