Whenever leaders from India visit Bangladesh and those from that country come to New Delhi, certain bilateral issues stand up as sore points. The minister of external affairs, Salman Khurshid, who met the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, was reminded about one such issue: the sharing of Teesta river water between the two countries.
It is time India took proactive steps to ensure sharing of these waters with Bangladesh. Opposition from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was, for long, an excuse not to sign an agreement on the matter. Now that roadblock does not exist and it is only fair that India move on this issue quickly. New Delhi’s inability to sign a river water-sharing agreement has caused heartburn in Dhaka. This is not just an emotional matter: a host of cooperative agreements are being held hostage due to lack of movement on the river water-sharing issue.
That is not the only complaint that Bangladesh has. The agreement to exchange land enclaves between the two countries—a poisonous legacy of partition in 1947—has existed on paper for long. India needs to move a Constitutional amendment to give shape to this exchange. Again, this is not a partisan political issue that can be held hostage to the numbers game in Parliament.
If there is one issue on which it is easy to arrive at consensus, surely it is the exchange of enclaves. Getting rid of these patches of territory in adverse possession of the other country will not only ease life for Bangladeshi citizens but will also greatly ease the misery of Indians who live in them.
So far, Bangladesh has lived up to many of its promises, chief among them being helping India in counter-terrorism. Dhaka has virtually handed the bulk of fugitive United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leaders on a platter. Much of this had to do with that country’s self-interest too. But this was done in the face of a strong anti-Indian constituency that believes in the concept of holding “bargaining chips”. It is time India did its bit.
President Pranab Mukherjee is to visit Bangladesh soon. That will be a fit occasion to sort out this matter. Sure, India is helping Dhaka with financial aid and other resources. But there are some matters where symbolism and material gain join to form a potent combination. It is time India realized the urgency of these issues and did something.
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