Ranjana Narayan writes in the Asian Lite, Britains top Asian newspaper on Mamata’s Dhaka visit.
She went, she saw, she attended and returned.
That in sum appears to have been the itinerary of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during her trip to Dhaka. On her rests the hopes of an accord between the two nations – India and Bangladesh – on sharing of Teesta waters.
Mamata made her reservation on Teesta clear right at the onset of the trip. Though it was announced that she would be accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Dhaka, Mamata chose to fly separately, travelling to the Bangladesh capital on the evening of June 5, ahead of Modi’s next morning flight.
Though she is generally quite open about her views, Mamata did not speak to the media in Dhaka.
She attended the flagging off ceremony of the Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala and Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati bus services along with Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and smiled, but clearly maintained her reserve.
According to media reports in Dhaka, Mamata stayed at the Radisson hotel in Dhaka, not at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel where Modi was put up.
She had a meeting with Modi on Saturday and was present during the ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement. She left for Kolkata after attending the official banquet hosted by Hasina that night.
Mamata remained in her hotel while Modi was visiting the National Martyr’s Memorial in Savar and the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum in Dhanmondi on Saturday morning.
The Daily Star, in an item titled ‘Mamata here, yet not here’, quoted journalists based in Kolkata to say that the chief minister “passed time with the members of her entourage, gossiping at the lobby”, while Modi was visiting the memorials.
The daily said that Mamata’s visit “seemed more about showing diplomatic courtesy than real fortitude to foster relations between the two countries through signing the Teesta water-sharing deal”.
“She clearly indicated that she was not part of the Indian delegation accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his maiden visit to Bangladesh,” it said.
Mamata, the paper said, hugged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on meeting her and seemed in a good mood as she exchanged greetings. She also presented Hasina with a baluchuri sari she had brought from Kolkata. Earlier, Mamata sent mangoes and litchis to Hasina’s official residence.
“However, many see Mamata’s Dhaka visit as a pure political game, exposing India’s internal politics to a third country,” it said.
In a report on Monday, titled “Teesta behind her silence”, the daily says that Mamata kept to herself. “Not even once during her 25-hour stay in Dhaka did she speak before any forum or to journalists”.
On landing back at Kolkata airport, Mamata spoke to the media and said she was delighted at the hospitality shown to her in Bangladesh and how significant the LBA was. But there was no word on the Teesta.
The paper quoted journalists based in Kolkata as saying that Mamata, had agreed to go to Dhaka with Modi “only on the assurance that the pact wouldn’t be signed and no comments would be made on it”.
In 2011, Mamata backed out of the entourage of then prime minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka over her opposition to the Teesta water sharing deal that was ready to be inked then, causing huge embarrassment to the Indian government.
She visited Dhaka in February this year, and had assured Hasina that she would play “a positive role” in resolving the Teesta issue.
With West Bengal assembly polls due in 2016, Mamata is believed to be averse to saying anything about the Teesta water sharing, as the river passes through north Bengal before flowing to Bangladesh. Sharing of waters with another coountry is an emotional issue with the constituents.
On Sunday, during his speech at the Bangabandhu Convention Centre, Modi acknowledged that “some tasks” were still to be accomplished. He said he believed that panchhi (birds), pawan (wind), and paani (water) needed no visa – and that the Teesta issue had to be solved with a human approach.
He said he has to take his states along in whatever decision is taken. “I will try to find a resolution, on that I give my assurance. Koshish jaari rehni chahiye (efforts should continue),” he assured.
Congress leader Raashid Alvi told IANS: “I don’t know the details..but Mamata should have spoken something (about Teesta), if she had gone to participate. If the conflict between the two countries is solved, it will be appreciable.