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PM's Bangladesh visit: Centre acts iffy on Teesta treaty

Last updated on: September 5, 2011 19:28 IST

PM's Bangladesh visit: Centre acts iffy on Teesta treaty

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Sanchari Bhattacharya in New Delhi

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's forthcoming bilateral visit to Bangladesh has been prophesied as a "historical" one. But Mamata Banerjee's latest political stunt has ensured that for now, the creation of history may have to wait a bit, writes Sanchari Bhattacharya who is travelling with the PM to Bangladesh.

The West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee's last-minute decision to royally snub the PM's invite and skip the trip has left the Centre gasping with surprise and looking for plausible excuses.

The Centre's embarrassment was evident at the media briefing on Monday, organised by the external affairs ministry, about the PM's two-day Bangladesh visit.

Persistent media personnel badgered Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai with questions about Banerjee's absence and the impact it will have on the trip.

The newly-appointed top diplomat fielded them with stoic responses like, "of course, one more CM's presence would have been useful" and "I would not like to speculate on this matter."

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Image: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh

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'Water is a sensitive issue'

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Some Bengali newspapers had reported on Monday that Dr Singh's government may take the Teesta water treaty off the table with Bangladesh to appease the chief of its electoral ally Trinamool Congress.

Banerjee had pulled out of the trip citing her dissatisfaction with the final terms of water distribution as per the Teesta agreement.

When quizzed about whether the crucial agreement had been put on hold, Mathai responded cautiously, "Water is a sensitive issue. We are trying for an agreement on Teesta but it has to be one that is agreeable to all the parties involved. Nothing will be done unless it is accepted by all the state governments and Bangladesh".

If New Delhi hesitates to sign on the dotted line on the Teesta agreement due to Banerjee's posturing, it will be a major blow to the ongoing fairytale saga of Indo-Bangladesh ties.

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Image: Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai

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'Will deal with issues that may arise in the future'

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Dhaka has repeatedly stated that it is looking forward to a major agreement on Teesta water distribution during Dr Singh's visit, which would be crucial for its agricultural economy.

During the PM's visit, "We will deal not only with issues that we have in the present but also those which may arise in the future," Mathai told journalists at the briefing.

While in Dhaka, Dr Singh will not only meet his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina and President Zillur Rehman, he will also exchange notes with opposition leaders known for their distrust of India -- Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief Khaleda Zia and Jatiya Party chief General Hussain Muhammad Ershad.

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Image: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Photographs: Andrew Bira/Reuters
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'We don't perceive it as a zero sum game involving China'

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The prime minister will visit the Bangabandhu Museum, which honours Bangladesh founder Mujibur Rehman. He will also address the students of Dhaka University on the topic of 'India, Bangladesh and South Asia".

Though Mathai refused to give details of the exact agreements that will be signed during the PM's visit, he conceded that a number of deals were expected to be inked in the fields of environment, security cooperation, fisheries, infrastructure, culture, transit and trade.

Responding to a question by rediff.com on whether India's decision to seek transit through Bangladesh had anything to do with China, Mathai said, "If the transit arrangements work out, it will mark a major transformation in eastern Asia. But we don't perceive it as a zero-sum game."

 


Image: Bangladesh founder Mujibur Rehman

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