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Burying differences

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will accompany Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his scheduled visit to Bangladesh in June to sign the Land Border Agreement (LBA). Besides signing the LBA, there are expectations in both New Delhi and Dhaka that the Teesta water-sharing issue, involving the river that runs through both countries, will come up. With its source in the Eastern Himalayas, the Teesta flows through Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh, where it eventually merges with the Brahmaputra. 


The long-standing river-sharing agreement, which was due to be signed in 2011, was dropped after the West Bengal chief minister had raised pertinent objections. Banerjee’s legitimate objection to the agreement in 2011 arose from the proposed quantum of water the State of West Bengal would receive from Sikkim. The West Bengal government had argued that the quantum of water was not enough and that such an agreement would harm the State’s interests. Over the past few months, however, the dynamics have changed dramatically. 

During her historic visit of Bangladesh earlier this year, Banerjee had assured Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that she would play a positive role so that the much-talked-about Teesta water sharing deal could be signed soon, keeping the interests of both Bangladesh and the West Bengal unharmed. Media reports across India have also suggested that New Delhi is likely to offer West Bengal a substantial financial package in return for the money lost due to the water-sharing agreement. To further add substance to such unverified reports, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited West Bengal last week to seek her support.

The rapprochement between Prime Minister Modi and Mamata Banerjee has allowed significant progress on a series of key decisions regarding our regional neighbour. The sudden turn of events, however, follows a prolonged war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party ruled Centre and Trinamool Congress (TMC)<g data-gr-id="37">-led</g> government in West Bengal. The Centre’s decision to extend the proverbial olive branch to TMC comes at a time when Prime Minister Modi, in his bid to pass key legislation in Parliament, seeks the support of Banerjee and her party. Although, the TMC continues to maintain its stand on the Land Acquisition Bill, its leaders have agreed to support the Goods and Services Tax Bill after their doubts about certain provisions were removed. To alleviate the State’s initial loss of revenue in the event of a Goods and Services Tax, the Centre has already sent two cheques for about Rs 1,000 crore to West Bengal as compensation for central sales tax. 

In addition to GST, the TMC also supported the Centre’s proposed Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh, after the latter agreed to the former’s demand for a special financial package that would rehabilitate the inhabitants of the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh. “All our demands have been met. The NDA ministers have negotiated far better than the UPA on both the Indo-Bangla land agreement and the GST Bill,” said TMC spokesperson Derek O’Brien.

In seeking TMC’s support for key bills, Modi has accepted that the best way to conduct legislative business with a myriad of regional interests is to positively engage with them. One hopes that in the name of development, the Centre continues to positively engage with other regional interests. In the larger context, however, finding a formula to share the Teesta waters and the ratification of a Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) would play a significant role in improving bilateral ties between both nations. With a New Delhi-friendly Hasina at the helm in Dhaka, Modi’s visit in June will probably be the best chance India has to resolve its troubles with Bangladesh.  

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