“The land boundary agreement is historic, it will be good for all,” was West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s short response to the media on Saturday.
Banerjee’s presence, and more importantly her one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was a key highlight of the first day of Modi’s visit to Dhaka.
The West Bengal chief minister had a 40-minute meeting with Modi on Saturday afternoon as the two leaders, engaged in an animated conversation, walked to the venue where they flagged off the two bus services along with Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
An Indian officer said the three leaders later met in a private affair, without any officials.
The Bangladesh prime minister also spared no efforts to please Banerjee. Soon after her flight landed in Dhaka, Hasina phoned the chief minister and requested her to stay longer. Banerjee then altered her previous plans and attended the banquet.
“We were privileged to have with us the chief minister of West Bengal,” Modi said in his statement to the media after meeting his Bangladeshi counterpart. Banerjee’s presence has brought some hope to the stalled Teesta water-sharing treaty, though the Trinamool leader, faced with the forthcoming assembly elections in 2016, will not be changing her position on the treaty.
Unhappy over the treaty, the West Bengal chief minister had refused to accompany the then prime minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka in 2011.
“No important water-sharing treaty has been signed in the world in this century, indicating how increasing water stress is making sharing and cooperation more difficult,” said strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney, author of the book 'Water: Asia’s New Battleground'.
He added, “With states in India asserting their rights, it is no longer possible to do what Nehru did; ride roughshod over the interests of local Indian states, especially Jammu and Kashmir, by signing the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan.”
The Teesta deal was set to be inked during then prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September 2011 but was postponed last minute due to objections raised by Banerjee who had also dropped out of the prime ministerial delegation.