India could show the world that it cares about its neighbours at a time when relationship between neighbouring countries in different corners of the world is becoming sourer. India could leave an example of how a powerful country should behave with a neighbour less powerful. But the opportunity is missed.
USA under President Trump is not in good terms with neighbours like Canada and Mexico. Relationships between China with its neighbouring countries like Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam are fast deteriorating. Due to Brexit, Britain will find it hard to maintain a friendly relationship with the European Union's remaining 27 member countries. Russia is viewed as a big brother trying to oppress its neighbours in East Europe. Pakistan and India, as usual, are suspicious of each other and at times at daggers drawn. Even in such global unfriendly environments, countries like Australia and New Zealand in one part of the world and Germany and France, in the other, have been building good relationship.
India could join a "club of friendly neighbours" by forging better relationship with its neighbours. But it seems India cares much more about its own interest than others' even in cases where its neighbour is crying for water to quench its thirst. Bangladeshi people are frustrated that Teesta deal could not be signed and hopes for a deal seem to have been evaporated into smoke.
It is now clear that Teesta issue is not going to be resolved anytime soon. The issue has been trashed on back burner. Bangladesh will not be able to share water of Teesta River, an international river, no matter what is clearly stipulated in international laws as to sharing of a transboundary river that flows through a number of countries. Why? Because, as Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, said, "there is no water in Teesta River". How does it sound? That 'there is no water in Teesta River' is an alarm that should be raised by Bangladesh, not India, because Teesta water has been diverted upstream Bangladesh by building a barrage at Gazaldoba on Indian side, letting parts of Bangladesh to parch and become a desert at the end of the day.
Negotiations went on since 1972 and six years have passed since the deal was aborted at the last minute due to intransigence of the Indian side. There is no doubt that Bangladesh has all along been bargaining for a Teesta Deal which conforms international laws and satisfies people of both India and Bangladesh. India had to recognise what are Bangladesh's needs from a neutral viewpoint. Two countries must have also made homework to distinguish areas of conflicts that are negotiable from those that are not. But negotiations are not possible if any party aims to win at any cost. If one party is "soft" and easy to control, such softness is perceived as a weakness. And the "soft" party is always a loser. Now the negotiations on Teesta deal seem to have produced zero result. What happened is a question Bangladesh people have right to know.
Even many Indian scholars and statesmen fully recognize Bangladesh's just demand for a fair share of Teesta water. But when there is a negotiation between these two countries the deadlock over a probable deal is always attributed to the objection raised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that sharing Teesta water with Bangladesh will deprive the people of her state. Is it not like a powerful negotiator remaining on the sidelines and getting West Bengal and Bangladesh fight with each other, a strategy known as buck passing?
Why is the buck being passed on Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal? There could be some political reasons for which Mamata cannot readily or publicly agree to share Teesta water with Bangladesh in spite of her good wishes for Bangladeshi people. The central government of India could easily sign a deal with Bangladesh with or without the consent of Mamata. "According to article 253 of the Indian constitution, the Union government has the decision-making power in the matters of sharing waters from the transboundary rivers." said Dr Amit Ranjan, visiting research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.
During Bangladesh's Prime Minister's recent visit to India, Indian Prime Minister has, however, assured that the Teesta issue would soon be resolved. How soon is the 'soon' is a question that will linger. Paraphrasing a line of Bob Dylan's famous song, How many years can some people exist before they are allowed to be free? may we sing, "How many years should Bangladeshi people wait before they are allowed to quench their thirst for water flowing through India?"