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Bengal BJP divided over Teesta Accord option
Mamata's stand has support of farmers
By Ashis Biswas
In theory, the choice before the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the centre could not be simpler: Should it fall in line with West Bengal in denying a share of the Teesta river waters to Bangladesh? Or should it accommodate Bangladesh's interests to the extent possible, while compensating Bengal somehow, so that Kolkata does not feel shortchanged?

If the BJP chooses the first option, it can pose a stiff challenge to the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Bengal and help achieve its stated objective, to establish a firm foothold in the East.

But if it prefers the latter and hammer out an accord with Bangladesh, the two countries will write a new chapter of regional co-operation that will help South Asian people to grow in terms of their social, political and economic progress, and integration. It can also bid goodbye to notions of winning big in Bengal elections.

No wonder Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and Mr Amit Shah the BJP President will not find it an easy choice. India's larger interests would be better served if it went for the second option. Both Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have left it for Mr. Modi to have the last word.

In Mrs Sheikh Hasina, Ms Banerjee clearly met her match, during the Indo-Bangla Prime Ministerial level talks from April 7 to 10 in Delhi. Ms Banerjee caused many eyebrows to rise by suggesting that Bangladesh could get its much needed share of water from the Torsa, Jaldhaka and other rivers in the North, instead of seeking increased supplies from the Teesta. Prior to unleashing her last minute feint at the highest bilateral forum, Ms Banerjee had not whispered a single word to either to the media or her political confidantes.

She briefed the press later both in Delhi and Kolkata, urging upon the two governments to discuss her suggestion. However, Bangladesh (as well as Delhi) made its position clear by not officially reacting to the offer of the Torsa.

But Sheikh Hasina on her return to Dhaka publicly revealed her counter to Ms Banerjee: she had urged upon India to connect the Teesta to five or more rivers to increase the quantum of flow in the dry season. Bangladesh could then easily secure its share from the increased supply.

In other words, if Ms Banerjee was determined not to offer any help on the proposed supply from the Teesta, Sheikh Hasina was equally firm in not budging from her country's legitimate demand for water as a lower riparian country from the Teesta, not other rivers !

Both are strong personalities and have gone through enormous sufferings and sacrifices to reach their present station in life. If one tries to upstage the other, it will not work. However, if the battle of nerves carries on too long, common interests of both countries and millions of people will suffer,' says a Kolkata-based analyst.

The BJP state unit is a divided house on the question of Teesta water sharing. Hard core elements would like to get behind Ms Banerjee and applaud her for not yielding to Bangladeshi demands. But they also hesitate -- this would only further strengthen her position as the tallest regional party leader in India, perhaps the last one still standing in face of the BJP's relentless victorious onslaught..

Those in Bengal who support the BJP central leadership and would not mind if Bangladesh won its long awaited share of the Teesta waters, are in a clear majority. It makes no sense to go against the party line especially when the going has been so good even in unfamiliar political territory. Not to mention that BJP votes, despite occasional hiccups, will certainly increase at all levels of elections in the days ahead, even in Bengal. For all the statements and head-shaking among liberal intellectuals , the large numbers of people participating in the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, not to mention the Ram Navami celebrations, have been an eye -opener.

At the expense of the Congress and the Left Front parties, the supporters of which have been joining the BJP mainly to secure some kind of safety -- being the ruling party at the centre, the BJP cannot be given short shrift like others in Bengal opposition -- it is the saffron party that is on a roll. Whether this can be converted into a positively tangible electoral dividend, remains to be seen.

As of now, the BJP is poised to grow stronger in Bengal, despite its continuing lack of dynamic leaders and organisational muscle, thanks to the new surge of spontaneous support from different sections of the society. It is also the only credible challenger to the mighty TMC, which has alienated some people through its failure to maintain law and order, to generate new jobs or to attract major investments, not to mention its corruption.

But before it emerges as a party that can take on the TMC, state as well as Central BJP leaders must make sure that they will be able to hold their own in case the final agreement on the Teesta water sharing is more favourable to Bangladesh than to West Bengal. Given such a scenario, there is no doubt that Ms Banerjee will go on an all-out attack against the 'discriminating centre against the last citadel of regional party politics in Bengal', always known in history for its unorthodox political ways.

—(IPA Service)


News Updated at : Sunday, April 16, 2017
 
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