Millennium Post

Building bridges

The resolve to find a solution to the contentious issues of Teesta water sharing and ratification of enclaves (Land Boundary Agreement-LBA) would mark beginning of a new chapter in ties with Bangladesh. Her three days official tour to Dhaka from February 19 to 21 (first visit to Dhaka after becoming the chief minister) is considered as a significant diplomatic move. The LBA issue was pending for ages and even Mamata had once raised objection to it. In September 2011, she refused to be a part of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh entourage to Dhaka to sign treaties on Teesta water sharing and exchange of enclaves. Since then both the issues remained resolved.

Then Banerjee had claimed that the treaties on Teesta and enclaves issues will affect Bengal’s share of the river waters and adversely affect farming in North Bengal in terms of “land loss” while exchanging enclaves. After prolonged negotiations and protecting state’s interests, in December 2014 she finally expressed ‘conditional’ support for LBA dependent on rehabilitation package from the Centre.

Teesta River originates in Sikkim and flows through the northern part of West Bengal in India before entering Bangladesh. Sharing Teesta water has become an albatross around the neck of Centre as well as of the West Bengal government.

Under LBA, India will have to transfer 111 enclaves (land with people belonging to Bangladesh but encircled by Indian Territory) measuring 17,160.63 acres to Bangladesh and will receive from Bangladesh 51 enclaves measuring 7, 110.2 acres. In addition, India will acquire 2,777.038 acres adverse possession areas and transfer 2267.682 acres adverse possession areas to Bangladesh.

In terms of population, India has to bear the responsibility of nearly 14,215 people (as per government statistic, which might be increased subject to villagers request on where they want to stay). On the other side, Bangladesh has to take care of nearly 37,369 people alongwith with the several existing government schemes.

On December 22 last year, Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid had come to India and invited Banerjee to visit Bangladesh. The invitation was further followed up by a letter from Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which Mamata realised was an opportunity and accepted the same to attend as a Chief Guest “Bhasha Divas” (Language Day) function on February 21.

Speaking to the Millennium Post Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “I would like to thank the chief minister of West Bengal for having accepted our invitation. It was a fruitful meeting and that too ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to our country. We are hopeful that all the pending issues will be solved soon.” Mamata received a warm welcome from Hasina and President Abdul Hamid and other leading personalities from various fields.

The visit was covered in the local media as a “historic” event which was going to have a long-term positive effect on Indo-Bangla relationship. Many felt that her trip to Dhaka was an attempt to “break the ice” to improve ties, which turned bitter ever since Mamata refused to be a party of Manmohan’s team four years back. Not the least, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) spreading network in West Bengal was also criticised by the Bangladesh government and it needed to be addressed.

During her visit, the air was cleared and the neighbouring country was made to understand that border issues is not a state subject and handled by the Centre. During the visit, she left no stone unturned to look for an opportunity where both the countries can work together to make the “Look East” policy more viable and acceptable in terms of development and security. She interacted with eminent litterateurs and cultural personalities of India and Bangladesh at “Baithaki Bangla” (a luncheon meeting with litterateurs and cultural figures).

Asaduzzaman Noor, Minister of Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh, discussed way and means with Mamata of increasing cultural exchanges for deepening ties between both the countries. Business communities feel that her interaction with the trader’s community could boost the economy of Bangladesh and India can also be benefited in terms of investment in energy and cultural sector.

Her decision to set up of Bangabandhu Bhawan in Kolkata for use of Bangladesh citizens who travel to West Bengal for medical treatment etc, annual India-Bangladesh Film Festival, annual India-Bangladesh Cultural and Classical Music Festival, Bangabandhu Chair in Kolkata University, establishment of a Joint Cultural Committee, donation of 500 books to International Mother Language Institute in Dhaka and exploring possibility of using Aurobindo Bhaban in Kolkata as
memorial for “Mujibnagar government” is going to be remembered as major initiatives towards rebuilding a new relation.

The Bangladesh President applauded her “developmental vision” and requested Mamata to take initiatives for strengthening people-to-people contact, including tourism, connectivity, film production and sub-regional cooperation. Beside Teesta Water sharing and LBA issues, Mamata stressed on various issues of mutual interest including cross border links, trade and culture.

A press statement issued by Bangladesh government on her visit said, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina thanked West Bengal Chief Minister for her support in this regard. Both held positive discussions on the Teesta Water issue and the chief minister conveyed that there are some technical issues that needed resolution so as to ensure that the matter is resolved in a way that benefits both sides and safeguards the welfare of the populations that are dependent on the Teesta waters. Both leaders also expressed their strong commitment on combating terrorism and reiterated their policy of zero tolerance against terrorism.”

To ensure that nothing went wrong during the visit, Bangladesh offered the highest-level of security to Mamata, which is usually offered only to heads of states. Also, Hasina broke the barriers of protocol and hugged Mamata when both met at the Bhasa Smarak on the midnight of February 21 to pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for the Bangla language movement in that country. The gesture of both the leaders is being seen as a reassurance from both the countries especially with West Bengal in overcoming all issues at bay, which acted as hurdle in way of development.

Ali Zakir, a well known theatre personality in Bangladesh, claimed that though Mamata did not share best of relations with Indian prime minister, but it her initiative she is going to resolve pending bilateral issues between both the countries. “She has laid the foundation for a successful trip by Prime Minister Modi,” said Zakir.
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