Indian HC (High Commissioner) has made it crystal clear. India does not want Bangladesh to internationalize critical issues regarding borders, sea limits and rivers. Mr Saran, new HC to BD, remarked, “We look forward to working bilaterally on issues that involve India and Bangladesh”.
India is surely not afraid of its tiny neighbor’s legal muscles. There must be a good reason for insisting on “bi-lateral” agreement as a better option for Bangladesh.
Ever since the creation of East Bengal (not East Pakistan) in 1905, which was meant to lift the Bengali peasants from their dismal socio-economic conditions, a stressful relationship has existed eclipsing over one thousand years of common roots. Hindus objected to the Bengal split as it was harmful to their commercial interests as most of the farm lands in East Bengal were owned by West Bengali Hindus. With the support of a large political base all over India (Congress) West Bengalis convinced the British colonialists to reverse the Bengal partition in 1909. Muslim Bengalis lost East Bengal but crafted a desire to form their own state after colonialism.
That eerie feeling of living with deep suspicions never quite ended since the first partition and its subsequent reversal. Last year Bangladeshis pinned a lot of hope on Dr Singh’s visit till Mamata (Chief Minister of West Bengal) rudely boycotted her PM. Mamata is not interested to talk about another water sharing agreement. She claims we have been receiving more than our share of water from Farakka. These gestures could add nothing but fuel for more apprehensions among common people.
India is being seen as a big, strong, nuclear power state which wants to bully its small neighbors into submission by “bilateral” agreements. The chances of bi-lateral agreement being favorable to Bangladesh is next to NIL. Bangladesh needs India as a partner in the long run. India also needs Bangladesh as a peaceful eastern neighbor. Respecting individual state’s right to international arbitration would only bring progressiveness in South Asian politics.
Myanmar’s legal defeat last week in the international tribunal must have been a wake-up call for India. Bangladesh filed a case against India at about the same time as it did against Myanmar, using the same legal counsel Paul Reichsler of USA. With Myanmar, dates were quickly fixed and the case got under way as per schedule. With India, things are not quite that easy. Till date, not a single hearing could be fixed.
India changed gear asking for bi-lateral settlement instead of international arbitration following the verdict against Myanmar on 14 March 2012. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni cancelled a press briefing on Saturday March 17th after meeting with the new Indian HC. Politically, bilateral talks on sea limits with India could be a set-back for the AL government which hoped to win and dispel skeptical fears of a pro India attitude.