Teesta, border pacts: Will Mamata back Khurshid's optimism?

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New Delhi, Feb 19: Will the continuing Centre-Mamata tussle hinder the Teesta agreement between India and Bangladesh? According to a report published in Bengali daily Anandabazaar Patrika, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid has said that he would talk to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the issue besides every other relevant ones that the latter wanted to raise.

Khurshid expressed hope that New Delhi would reach a consensus with Banerjee within a few weeks to conclude the Teesta agreement. The interim pact was scheduled to be inked during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka in September 2011 but did not happen owing to the last-minute objection raised by the West Bengal CM. Efforts to convince her were made from the Bangladeshi side as well but initially they did not succeed. Even the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had met Banerjee in Kolkata on issues pertaining to India, Bangladesh and South Asia.

khurshid-hasina

However, the relation between the Banerjee government and Banladesshi authorities improved gradually and political observers feel the current situation could prove conducive for the much-awaited Teesta agreement. Recently, Banerjee was seen exchanging pleasantries with Bangladeshi representatives at the recently concluded Kolkata book fair where the theme this year was Bangladesh itself.

Bangaldeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed is due to arrive in India in September this year and the current Awami League-led government is looking forward to ink the pact before the national election due in December-January. Will it be possible to get the agreement done during Hasina's visit? According to the ABP report, Khurshid said efforts were on to arrive at a conclusion as quickly as possible. The UPA government would also like to get the job done before the next Lok Sabha polls due in 2014.

Will Mamata be bypassed? Khurshid said he wanted her cooperation

Khurshid said New Delhi would not do anything that would cause harm to the interest of West Bengal, which shares the longest border with Bangladesh. He said the Centre has kept her in the loop while taking calls on Teesta and the border agreements and will ensure that all concerns are addressed properly.

The West Bengal CM also expressed reservation over the border agreement but Khurshid said they were discussing the issue with representatives of the Trinamool Congress, a former ally in the UPA, and things were moving in a positive direction. He also expressed hope that the BJP would cooperate with the Congress in settling the border issue with Bangladesh. The Assam state unit of the main opposition party has been raising objection on the issue.

Khurshid was optimistic that the Land Boundary Agreement, 1974 and its additional protocol signed in September, 2011 would be ratified in the Parliament in the upcoming budget session.

Khurshid showered praise on Banerjee, describing the latter as a popular politician and rubbished the viewpoint that the West Bengal CM was against Dhaka's interest. He backed the TMC chief, saying she had rightly expressed her concern about a possible water crisis in her state because of the water-sharing pact. The external affairs minister was confident that he would succeed in convincing Banerjee that the agreement would not harm her state's interest. He also stressed the security aspect and said Dhaka's cooperation was necessary to ensure the security of West Bengal.

Stakes are high, can Khurshid deliver?

Whatever be Khurshid's idea, there is no doubt that the Centre will face a challenge in inking the Teesta agreement with Dhaka as long as the unpredictable Mamata Banerjee continues to be the CM of West Bengal. She had sought a report on Teesta from a river expert but suddenly decided to suspend the proceedings, making the crucial matter uncertain. Indo-Bangla relations have witnessed a significant improvement of late but will it have the backing of Banerjee?

Can Khurshid deliver on the ground? The stakes are high.

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