Considering the build-up on either side of the fence, neither India nor Bangladesh might have anticipated the non-event if ever there was one at the bilateral level ~ the meeting between Begum Hasina and Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata last Saturday.
True, foreign policy is beyond the remit of any Chief Minister; but the suggestion for the “one-to-one” had come from Dhaka, and the MEA is reported to have readily concurred.
The meeting had generated considerable interest in both countries, undoubtedly more than the Visva-Bharati convocation or the inauguration of the Bangladesh Bhavan in Santiniketan.
And yet, far from disclosing the trend of the discussions, let alone the upshot, there was an unmistakable degree of reticence both on the part of the Bangladesh Prime Minister and West Bengal’s chief minister.
A day after the ceremonial grandstanding at Santiniketan, it turned out to be a damp squib of an epilogue to Hasina’s two-day visit to West Bengal. The Chief Minister, known to be firmly against sharing of the waters of Teesta, might arguably have raised a scintilla of hope when she underlined a geographical phenomenon in her address at the inaugural of the Bangladesh Bhavan on the Visva-Bharati campus ~ “ A lot of water has flown down the Padma-Jamuna-Meghna rivers, and a lot of water will flow in the future as well.”
Was the allusion to the Teesta, a few months ahead of the Bangladesh elections? There is little doubt that forward movement on this score will enormously strengthen the Awami League’s domestic constituency.
In reality, however, the status quo persists, one that fully bears out the Begum’s lament during Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka ~ Didi pani denge nahin. The time for hilsa diplomacy or the exchange of Dhakai sarees is not yet.
Quite the most critical facet of the Bangladesh PM’s visit was her appeal to India to take the lead in “building pressure on Myanmar for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees”.
On the face of it, the forum might appear to be rather odd ~ the opening of Bangladesh Bhavan. Obliquely enough, that appeal for humanitarian intervention was addressed to Mr Modi.
The fact of the matter must be that the Prime Minister has been remarkably insensitive to the plight of the Rohingyas, a predominantly Muslim community… if his recent visit to Myanmar is any indication.
Begum Hasina’s message, therefore, calls for reflection. For the rest, the convocation was so shoddy as to bristle with grave embarrasments in the presence of dignitaries.
Most particularly, the acute shortage of drinking water in Santiniketan’s blistering summer and for which the Prime Minister as Chancellor ~ his first visit in four years ~ felt compelled to make an appeal to the university authorities.
The other lapse calls for reflection ~ the Deshikottama was not awarded this time as the PMO did not concur with the list approved by Visva-Bharati. And thereby hangs a tale.