ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
A glimpse of the Indian mind
Publication Date : 30-09-2013
Times of India Group’s senior editor, foreign affairs, Indrani Bagchi, literally took the words from our mouths. In an interactive session between a 12-member Bangladesh media delegation and a distinguished panel of interlocutors in the Indian capital on September 17, she said, “By hindsight, India never had it so good (with Bangladesh) as during the last four and a half years.”
Sharing the view being generally held in India, she added, ‘from power to connectivity to credit line to trade, we have had very good relations with Bangladesh.’
On what we put as undercoverage of Bangladesh in the Indian media, pat came a lighthearted remark from Indrani—’no news is good news.’
One-time Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Deb Mukherjee observed, although the Teesta water sharing accord is not yet in place in different other areas considerable headway has been made.
Bangladesh’s exports to India have doubled and ‘a relationship of trust’ has been built.
Rajeet Mitter, also formerly India High Commissioner to Bangladesh, stressed that Indian media and intelligentsia have been robustly supportive of Bangladesh’s concerns over early signing of the Teesta water sharing accord and finalisation of Indo-Bangla land boundary agreement, 1974 along with the protocols relating to 6.4 kms of the undemarcated border.
Pinak Chakrabarty, an erstwhile Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh and now Secretary, Economic Relations at the EAM, replied to two points that I had raised at the meet: First, the 10 bills that were passed in the Lok Sabha’s extended monsoon session, some of which requiring the UPA government to go the extra mile with dissenting parties vis-à-vis the amendment to the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh which couldn’t even be tabled in the Lok Sabha. Secondly, I pointed to the unabated border killings by the BSF.
To my first query, Pinak Chakrabarty said, ‘those were normal bills but ratification of the land boundary agreement entailed a constitutional amendment by a two-thirds majority which the UPA government didn’t have.’
Indian external affairs minister Salman Khurshid who would meet us at the south block later in the day (which I will dilate on in due course) wondered aloud in passing as to why Indo-Bangla border agreement had hung fire for so long? To my mind, majority governments had been in existence during the incumbencies of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, and to an extent Narasimha Rao, as well when the ratification might have been easier. Then, the era of coalition and minority governments with partnering support from inside or outside of the parliament dawned and continues till date, an ambience in which mustering a two-thirds majority may be difficult. But is it a mission impossible given that a collective voice is worthy of garnering when it comes to placing good neighbourly relations on an unassailable footing? More to the point, the two prime ministers had committed to finalising the border and Teesta accords.
On the border killing issue, Pinak Chakrabarty said something to this effect, ‘A border is either controlled or free. So long as it is controlled there are procedures to be followed. We have tried border fencing but it is sometimes breached and this also happens along Mexico and USA borders where killings take place’. But between a controlled and a free border there can be a friendly frontier. Examples abound.
Abhijeet Tripathy, a former Deputy High Commissioner to Bangladesh, made an unconventional point, implying as to how many people are going to be affected by a lack of Teesta accord or existence of 6.4 kms of undelimited border? How that is going to influence voting, he wondered. He could have use for briefing from Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi, one might have thought.
A senior journalist pointed out on the sidelines that Bangladesh High Commissioner Tareq Karim’s tit-a-tat with Narendra Modi did not go down well in secular circles. But another way of looking at it would be that if our Foreign Minister Dipu Moni had met BJP leaders the Bangladesh High Commissioner was perhaps only pursuing the matter.
Uttam Sinha, a water expert of considerable standing, picked up from Bangladesh’s longstanding proposal for regional inter basin cooperation on water management. He built up on the theme saying that it is not merely sharing of common river waters which should preoccupy our minds but also taking stock of the hydrological resources of the region and fostering a participative culture among all the stakeholders should be the broader goal, if South Asian countries are to prosper through meaningful handholding.
The writer is associate editor, The Daily Star.