THE assertion of the Bangladesh prime minister’s adviser on international relations, Gowher Rizvi, upon his meeting with the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on Saturday, that the ‘notions about the adverse impacts of the Tipaimukh dam on Bangladesh are groundless’, seems to underline two sad truths.
First, despite its repeated assurances otherwise, New Delhi would allow construction of the Tipaimukh hydroelectric project in the upstream of the river Barak, which, according to experts and environmentalists, could wreak havoc on the ecology and economy of north-eastern Bangladesh. Second, a section of the Awami League government, which apparently does not include the prime minister, is willing to put its faith in the Indian government’s assurance, notwithstanding the fact that New Delhi has more often than not chosen to not live up to its promises, that the Manmohan Singh administration has thus far not shared any data on the Tipaimukh project and that experts in Bangladesh and India have persisted with their opposition to it, pointing to its long-term adverse impact. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Sunday, Rizvi even suggested that the hydroelectric project could in fact benefit Bangladesh and that Bangladesh could also invest in the project. Such suggestion could be construed as the adviser’s naiveté at best and collaboration with the Indian plan at worst.
While the incumbent administration has time and again sought to have people believe that it has turned a new chapter in the Dhaka-Delhi relations, and that the ‘friendly’ Indian government would never do anything that may harm Bangladesh’s interest, the ground reality seems to suggest otherwise. Suffice it to say, the Indian government’s decision to go ahead with the Tipaimukh project, overriding the genuine and legitimate concern of the majority of the people in Bangladesh is just one instance of its apparent duplicity. Delhi has played the same ‘say something but do something else’ trick as regards sharing of the Teesta and other trans-boundary rivers, killing of Bangladeshis on the border by the Border Security Force, demarcation of land boundaries, exchange of enclaves and land in adverse possession, removal of non-tariff and para-tariff barriers to Bangladeshi products — the list could go on and on. One of the reasons why India has got away with such blatant disregard for Bangladesh’s concern and interest may be that the country’s political parties have failed to take a united stand against such behaviour, which is unacceptable in a modern comity of nations, and more often than not allowed their mutual mistrust and partisan bickering to prevail over national interest.
Thankfully, in recent times, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition have taken a similar stance on the Tipaimukh project, both insisting that there should be a joint and comprehensive survey of the construction site. The government needs to build on such rare convergence of opinion. To this end, it needs to convene a national convention, involving the democratic political parties, social organisations, rights groups, experts, academic, informed sections of the media and, for that matter, representatives of democratically oriented and rights-conscious sections of society. The focus of such a convention needs to be reaching a national consensus on not only Tipaimukh but also other issues that blight the country’s relations with India. If the government goes for such an initiative, the opposition political parties need to respond positively. It is imperative for all to realise that the nation must speak with one voice when national interests are ignored or trampled with by a so-called friendly neighbour.