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Thursday, March 18, 2010

BOTTOM LINE Will sweet words cut any ice?

Barrister Harun ur Rashid

The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arrived in Dhaka on February 19 for a three day visit. Her entourage includes ministers, businessmen, media and eminent cultural media personalities who are popular in Bangladesh. The visit has drawn widespread attention since it was due to her opposition that the Teesta water agreement could not be signed.
Mamata is quintessentially a politician and observers say “she came, she charmed the people of Bangladesh with her personality and she left, with reassurance of love for Bangladesh.”
On thorny issue of the Land Boundary Agreement which envisaged the swapping of enclaves between the two countries. Ms. Banerjee had earlier opposed that too but recently softened her stand.
The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sought to reassure the people of Bangladesh ahead of her crucial meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina: “You may have questions in your mind about Teesta. Please keep faith in me about that. You have some problems, we have some problems. I will discuss that with Hasinaji on February 21 when I meet her. Leave it to us. Don't worry about it. Padma, Megna, Ganga, Jamuna -- we have never seen divisions there. No one will be able to divide us even if they want to,” Ms. Banerjee said in Dhaka.
Her story seems to be that the Central Water Commission is a premier technical organisation of India in the field of water resources and is presently functioning as an attached office of the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India. Teesta River flows from Sikkim and Sikkim has many water projects which deplete flow of water to West Bengal. If Sikkim can be persuaded by the Modi government to release more water to West Bengal, the chief minister will then be able to share the water with Bangladesh.It may be recalled that in September 2011, Ms. Banerjee had pulled out of a delegation to Dhaka led by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was expected to make a major announcement on the sharing of the water of the Teesta. She claimed the pact would harm the interests of the people of north Bengal through which the Teesta flows. Her move had embarrassed Manmohan Singh and he was not able to sign the pact.
But the question mark over Teesta remains for two reasons; first the election in West Bengal will take place in 2016 and, second, the BJP and Trinamool Congress of Banerjee are likely to contest the election. It is reported that it is not desirable politically to sign the Teesta water sharing agreement with Bangladesh before the state election.
Furthermore, Ms. Banerjee seems to have become politically weak. The divisions among the leaders have led to the loss of the two by-election results in the state. BJP, which has been gaining ground in West Bengal riding the Saradha scam, has posed the biggest political threat to the TNC of Banerjee at the West Bengal election.
It may be recalled that the Saradha scam seems to have tainted the reputation of Ms. Banejee and her party leaders. The  Kolkata-based Saradha Group is said to have defrauded thousands of investors, including poor people, in West Bengal, leading to the arrest of its owner Sudipta Sen. Saradha Group  had over 10,000 registered chit funds across the country and with an aggregate turnover of Rs. 30,000 crore per annum.
The shadow thrown by the Saradha scandal is slowly creeping up the hierarchy of the Trinamool Congress. After two Rajya Sabha MPs, the CBI arrested Madan Mitra, one of most powerful ministers in Mamata Banerjee's cabinet, for his alleged involvement in the multi-crore chit fund scam.
The BJP president alleged that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was more interested in trying to save her scam-tainted party leaders than developing the state. Shah also reminded people that the Mamata government had opposed an NIA probe into the Burdwan blast in January, throwing a question to his audience: “Will you allow such a state government which gives priority to vote-bank politics over national security?”
The question is why did she come to Dhaka? There are several reasons, some of which deserve mention. First she wants to soften the minds of the BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Modi, towards her by visiting Bangladesh so as to enable her to become a “goodwill messenger” between the Bangladesh government and the Modi government in resolving long-pending issues between Bangladesh and India. Second, she wants to demonstrate to the people of West Bengal that she is popular with the government and people of Bangladesh with a view to winning the 2016 legislative election in West Bengal. Third, although her party has won 34 seats out of total 42  in the Lok Sabha in the May parliamentary election, BJP's overwhelming victory  with 282 seats (BJP and its allies NDA =336) has diminished her political leverage with the Modi government..
Let us now wait how the political game is played out between TNC and BJP in the coming months.
The writer is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

The Daily Star, 22 February 2015