Is India being truly friendly with Bangladesh? It is obviously not given the developments in recent months despite the promises and assurances given repeatedly by Indian leaders. Last week, Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud lamented that Bangladesh was getting the least ever water flowing down the Teesta river - only 300 cusecs now compared to 2,000 cusecs in the previous year. This draws a horrible picture in relations between the "friendly" neighbours. If one would say Bangladesh is India's "unequal" neighbour in terms of size and power, we may find a "helpless" consolation. But, of course, this does not reflect Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's assurances to Bangladesh that the BJP government would remove all irritants and resolve all pending issues including the sharing of Teesta water and a Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) between the two countries.
Even during the rule of Congress, the Indian party known for its "historic" friendliness with Awami League, these issues were not addressed properly or were resolved. Although government changed in India many times since Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971, which India helped morally and physically, nothing has changed towards improving ties between Dhaka and New Delhi, except to offering of friendly assurances and lofty commitments.
The 1974 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) is long awaited. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had it ratified by Bangladesh parliament within weeks after he agreed this with then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But after four decades now, India is still sitting on the matter without ratifying the LBA agreement at their end.
Hopes for an immediate solution of the Teesta and LBA issues got a dramatic boost during the recent visit of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who came to Dhaka in February to lay wreaths at the Central Shaheed Minar (memorial of the 1952 Language Martyrs). She though broke the hearts of the Bangladeshis by dropping at the last moment from accompanying the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2012 that scuttled the signing of the Teesta water agreement "stole" the hearts of many Bangladeshis on her recent trip by raising hopes that Bangladesh was just at the turning point of having all disputes with India resolved.
But, in effect, that remains as elusive as ever. Mamata, who previously played a key role to offset probable deals on the issues, lately met Modi in Delhi and told him she was withdrawing her objection to concluding the Teesta and LBA agreements. It came as another good news for Bangladesh but we should not forget that the strings are in hands of Modi and Delhi South Block.
By exemplifying friendly neighbourliness, Bangladesh law enforcing agencies, under directive of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, recently busted training camps and seized huge hidden weaponry owned by suspected Indian rebels along our border with Indian state of Assam. This was widely reported in media both in Bangladesh and India and was praised by the government in New Delhi.
This came in line with a commitment Sheikh Hasina made to India that Bangladesh would not allow Indian rebels or outlaws to operate from its soil. Naturally, we in Bangladesh can expect India to reciprocate to this gesture.
But to our dismay, we see India did not even take any strong measure to arrest Bangladeshi militants hiding in India and punish the bomb squad detected in Burdhawan in West Bengal which is linked with Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami party. Bangladesh security and intelligence officials collaborated fully with Indian counterparts when they visited Bangladesh in connection with the Burdwan incident but we saw no tangible result yet from the Indian side.
Nor did Indian authorities return Nur Hossain, the mastermind of Narayanganj seven murders, despite repeated promises by the Indian government.
Having seized power from Congress in Lok Sabha election last year, so far Modi has visited Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka belying high hopes and sort of assurance given by India's new government that his visit to neighbours will begin with Bangladesh. That hasn't happened and no one knows when the Indian PM will find it convenient for a trip to Dhaka.
Not only Teesta and LBA, it was learnt recently that India has changed drawings of its huge Tipaimukh hydro-electric generation project across Bangladesh's northeastern border without consulting or informing Bangladesh. If executed, the Tipaimukh project could be the worst threat to farming, fishing, navigability and the overall environment in Bangladesh.
To the north, India is planning to build a dozen or so dams on the Ganges river (which is named Padma in Bangladesh) that would also spell a disaster to life and living of millions of Bangladeshis. India's Farakka barrage built on the Ganges decades ago obstructs flow of the river during dry season and releases excess water in monsoon flooding vast areas in northern Bangladesh.
Borders between the two countries have remained tense and heavily fortified by trigger-happy Indian BSF who kill Bangladeshis without hesitation under any pretext including illegal migration, trespassing and smuggling. This sort of virtually one-sided shooting and killing has not stopped despite repeated promises by the Indian government and its Border Security Force (BSF) at regular meetings with Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB). India failed to keep promises it made to Bangladesh over many years and instead is now trying to 'push' alleged illegal Bangladeshis from northeastern India. There is no reliable verification conducted with Bangladesh to ascertain the real number of Bangladeshis who fled to India over past decades and living there for years. An unknown number of Hindu families have gone to India to live permanently. But Modi's BJP government is not targeting them, their eyes have been fixed on alleged Muslim migrants.
Bangladesh political parties -- be it Awami League or Bangladesh Natioinalsit Party (BNP) -- they always look for Indian support in governance, development and regional and international issues of common concern. Even the Jatiya Party of General Hossain Mohammad Ershad feels the same way. It is not unusual or surprising that parties in Bangladesh would like to maintain and develop ties with the next door neighbour when it is a huge country and regional power like India.
India is Bangladesh's major business partner - they sell billions of dollar worth of goods to Bangladesh but buy few. The imbalance of trade is growing every year despite New Delhi's assurance that they would do everything possible to reduce the trade gap. Tariff on some tradable commodities have been eased by India but the non-tariff burden is still very high. This is contrary to the spirit of good neighbourliness.
Narendra Modi is known as a suave politician. Soon after taking power he sent External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Dhaka with a "pandora's box" that we all believed was filled with formulas to implement "genuine hopes." Then, came several more Indian dignitaries, including Mamata Banerjee. She assured that Bangladesh can rely on her for solution of the Teesta water sharing and LBA issues. Once settled, Bangladesh will get its due share of the Teesta water and people living along the disputed frontiers and in enclaves on both sides will get their national identity. But it appears that such things would still take long to happen.
The flow of Teesta water will recede further. As it came to the lowest ever now, Bangladesh has sent a protest note to Delhi requesting to augment the flow. The first response Dhaka received on this was, "the flow is low because of 'not much' rainfall in India." Maybe, when it rains along the Teesta in India it will also rain in Bangladesh. Then Mamata or Modi will have no need to augment the river's flow to help Bangladesh as nature will give its bounty.
..Bangladesh government, preoccupied to tackle internal political crisis that has been stoked by the BNP leader Khaleda Zia, should also now turn eyes on India and launch a government-to-government initiative to speed up solutions to the Teesta and LBA issues. India has no reason as such to be too friendly with Bangladesh on these issues. These are entirely a matter of headache and extreme worry of Bangladesh.
Let us all hope that the water of holy rivers of the Ganges and Teesta should not be hostage to unholy politics between India and Bangladesh.