Hasina Visit: No Word on Teesta yet


India and close neighbour Bangladesh are set to ink 35 agreements during the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India beginning Friday, but would the all-important Teesta deal be on the table?….reports Asian Lite News

According to Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali, the agreements to be inked when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hasina meet here on April 8 would be related to the establishment of border posts, information exchange, nuclear power, science, technology, electricity, energy and defence. But he declined to reveal if any agreement on sharing of the Teesta river waters, that has been hanging fire for years, would be on the table.

Hasina’s visit from April 7 comes seven years after her last bilateral visit to India in January 2010 and almost two years after Modi’s visit to Bangladesh in June 2015.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is to join a bilateral meeting between Modi and Hasina during which the issue of the Teesta water sharing and Ganges Barrage project are to be taken up, Bangladesh media said quoting Indian Ministry of External Affairs officials.

Amid speculation of a likely deal on Teesta during Hasina’s April 7-10 visit, Banerjee on Wednesday said there is no water in the river.

The West Bengal Chief Minister, whose cooperation is crucial for any river water agreement with Bangladesh, has maintained that she will prioritise her state’s interest while deciding on the proposed water sharing treaty.

She has also claimed the Centre has not consulted her over the issue.

“What will I do if there is no water? There is no water in the Teesta,” she said on Wednesday.

Banerjee is also scheduled to join a banquet dinner hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee in the honour of Hasina.

Ahead of her keenly-awaited visit, Hasina on Wednesday said that everything between Bangladesh and India would be dealt with maintaining friendly relations, and nothing detrimental to the country would be done.

At an event in Dhaka, Hasina said “vested quarters” had termed the 25 years Friendship Agreement, 1974 between the two nations as an agreement of slavery. But she said, Bangladesh gained more from the agreement including settlement of the land boundary issue.

She said that Bangladesh has been able to resolve the issue of land boundary with India keeping their friendship intact, and in a similar spirit, the issue of their maritime boundary was also settled.

She brushed aside the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s concerns on the deals to be inked and assured that her government would not sign any deal with India that may harm Bangladesh’s interest.

“Loquacious people will talk, but we (Awami League) can never harm our nation,” she was quoted as saying at her party office on Wednesday.

Hasina was earlier scheduled to visit India during last December but the visit was postponed as both sides could not agree on dates.

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar was in Dhaka in February and met the Bangladesh Prime Minister after which it was announced that the visit would take place in April.

Ahead of the announcement of the visit’s dates last month, Indian High Commissioner Harsh Vardhan Shringla in Dhaka said India attaches “highest importance” to the visit.

Hasina is the head of government of “a neighbouring friendly country with whom we share the longest land boundary. And both land and maritime boundary issues between the two countries have been resolved within a very short time”, he said.

India has also started transmitting additional power to Bangladesh and has set up the third Indian internet gateway in Agartala, Tripura, through Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

Islamist terrorism is also likely to come up for discussion during the summit. With the state of affairs as it is in Pakistan, India would not like to have a similar situation arising in its eastern neighbour where Islamist fervour, particularly of the Wahhabi kind, has been on the rise since 9/11.

Hasina has not hesitated in cracking down on Islamist terrorism in her country.

Sub-regional cooperation is another area that is likely to come up for discussion during the Modi-Hasina summit.

With the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) becoming a virtually ineffective body mainly due to the tensions between India and Pakistan, New Delhi has been giving emphasis to sub-regional groupings within the SAARC and also to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) regional grouping.

Bimstec comprises Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.

In fact, Hasina was among the leaders invited when India hosted the Bimstec Outreach Summit on the sidelines of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Summit in Goa last year.

With China too cosying up to Bangladesh, New Delhi would like to see that balance of ties in the region is maintained.

President Mukherjee has also invited Hasina to stay at the Rashtrapati Bhavan during the visit.