By Vivek Sengupta
Mamata Banerjee’s announcement that she will not join Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his historic visit to Dhaka tomorrow comes as a huge embarrassment to the UPA Government. Unless the situation is retrieved in the next few hours, it would take the fizz out of the visit regardless of whatever else is accomplished in the course of the trip.
It is easy to dismiss Mamata’s announcement as another instance of her alleged temperamental behaviour. But there is no gainsaying that the Bengal Chief Minister’s precipitate decision exposes once again that the UPA Government’s political risk management skills leave a lot to be desired. External affairs may be the Centre’s exclusive domain, but how could the Union Government be so totally naïve as not to take on board the political leadership of a state that is to be directly affected by a proposed international treaty? The UPA Government works very hard to do deals abroad, but it forgets to put in matching efforts to sell those deals to constituencies within the country! It happened with the civil nuclear agreement with the US. It has happened with the Teesta waters sharing agreement with Bangladesh.
It is true that the Mamata Banerjee Government in Bengal is still in its honeymoon phase. But she has taken some bold steps already that have the potential to cause severe difficulties later. The move to “solve” the Gorkha problem is one such step. There is peace in the Darjeeling Hills, but that peace can easily be ruptured if the Gorkhas begin to feel that Kolkata has not delivered on what it promised. Besides, there are elements in surrounding areas who feel that Mamata has given away more to the Gorkhas than they deserved. The short point is if she has to bring North Bengal back into the mainstream, she cannot afford to have an agitation in some districts protesting against the proposed Teesta agreement. The Centre ought to have taken pains to “sell” the proposed agreement to her, reassuring her that North Bengal’s interests have been taken care of. Observers recall that the Centre had taken great pains to bring Jyoti Basu and the Left Front Government on board in the Nineties when the Farakka waters agreement was signed with Bangladesh. And that agreement remains a sore point with many sections of the political establishment in Dhaka. Waters are a tricky business.
Vivek Sengupta is Founder and Chief Executive of the consulting firm Moving Finger Communications. You can follow him on twitter at @vsengupta