File photo: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina. Photograph:( ANI )
Bangladesh’s water supply is dependent on rivers that flow into the country from neighbouring India
India should take advantage of the rift between Bangladesh and China to mend old ties with its longtime ally.
The Bangladesh government has officially called off the development of a deep-sea port at Sonadia Island off the country’s southeastern coast.
With this, the high-profile project on the Bay of Bengal, which would have further enhanced China’s economic and strategic ambitions in the Indian Ocean region, has been given a formal burial.
The clinical trial of an experimental Chinese COVID-19 vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech in Bangladesh is now uncertain as the health ministry refused to co-financing the initiative as requested by the Chinese drugmaker.
New Delhi should utilise this opportunity for repairing its ties with Dhaka.
The two countries have cooperated on several fronts in the past: economic, diplomatic, development and security.
Dhaka had forged a strategic partnership with Beijing when Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh in 2016 and offered a loan of $24 billion to the country.
Bangladesh was unhappy with India's Citizenship Amendment Act as it felt that it targeted Bangladeshis.
When Bangladesh and Pakistan discussed Kashmir on a telephonic call, India banned the export of red onions to the country.
After failing to secure a water-sharing agreement with India over the Teesta river, the fourth-longest river in the country that flows from India, Bangladesh turned to China to develop a $1 billion agreement to prevent floods and erosion during rains and water shortages in the dry season.
However, these are India's internal issues and Bangladesh had no right to interfere in them.
But it may be time to end the diplomatic tug of war. Here's why:
Been on the waiting list for way too long
Teesta originates in India in Tsolamo. The river flows through Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh. It is one of the 54 rivers that enter Bangladesh from India.
The Teesta has been a source of discord between the two countries with negotiations on water sharing dating back to 1951 when Bangladesh was East Pakistan.
Crucial to both
Teesta is the lifeline for several districts of West Bengal. In Bangladesh, the Teesta flood plain covers 14 per cent of the country's cropped area.
The river is important to both India and Bangladesh and the dispute arises from the question of: who gets how much water?
In 1983, an adhoc agreement allocated 39 per cent of the water to India while Bangladesh got 36 per cent. The agreement lapsed in two years.
In 1984, they decided to give 42.5 per cent of the water to India and 37.5 per cent to Bangladesh.
In 2011, the countries were on the verge of signing a water-sharing pact. The then-Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh was about to visit Bangladesh. But the deal was scuttled by India's internal politics.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office and Bangladesh was intergral to his neighbourhood first policy. He visited bangladesh in June 2015 and told Sheikh Hasina that he was confident of reaching a fair solution on Teesta.
5 years on, there has been no resolution. Mostly because West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee won't play ball.
Bangladesh has been unhappy about the low flow of the Teesta river. It claims that its paddy crops and fisheries have been affected.
China sought leverage
Bangladesh’s water supply is dependent on rivers that flow into the country from neighbouring India. Water sharing issues have badly strained bilateral relations, a conflict that China has sought to leverage to its own advantage.
China tried to portray itself as a helpful and better neighbour by giving Dhaka a loan of $1 billion for the Teesta river management project.
While China's offer is aimed at debt-trapping Dhaka, it will not be in India's interest if it looses another ally to China.
India must solve the teesta dispute to avoid this.
Over the last few months, India has become more sensitive towards its eastern neighbour. It has supported for Bangladesh's stand on Rohingyas.
The Wuhan virus pandemic has brought India and Bangladesh closer.
New Delhi has provided medical aid to Dhaka.
Bangladesh has promised 1.5 million dollars to prime minister Modi's call for regional emergency fund.
Freight services between the two countries have been increased in the last few months..
India also provided 10 locomotives to bangladesh's railways.
The ties seem to be coming back to track and it is the perfect time to talk about Teesta.
Another step towards global leadership
Solving the Teesta dispute, and cementing ties with Bangladesh, takes India further towards its goal of being a global leader.
And to begin with-- the leader of its immediate neighbourhood. More countries are disengaging with China. This is India's opportunity.
The United States has expressed interest in seeking India's view on the Indian neighbourhood as Washington looks to reset ties with Dhaka.