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Mamata-Modi duet on Bangladesh
Subir Bhaumik, Former BBC Correspondent
Mamata-Modi duet on Bangladesh
PHOTO : TIWN

As far as India's relations with Bangladesh is concerned - and in which Tripura has a huge stake -- both Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerji are bad news.

 Modi started the Bangladesh-whipping during his election rallies in Assam and followed it up by asking 'illegal migrants from Bangladesh to pack up and leave' during his rallies in West Bengal. He may be trying to whip up the favourite whipping boy of indigenous communities in Northeast -- the East Bengali settler popularly described as Bangladeshi . But because his party is a front runner in this election and he is widely believed to taking over as the next PM , there is considerable consternation in Dhaka, specially in ruling Awami league circles and those closely attached with secular politics.

Sheikh Hasina is worried because if Modi's coming to power is followed by attempted pushbacks of so-called Bangladeshis (like during the tenure of the last BJP government at the Centre) , it could lead to severe tensions on the borders that would surely be exploited by the Islamist forces like Jamaat-e-Islami . Already one can see attacks against Hindus in Commilla -- and Awami League fears this can multiply if provocations mount on the borders.

Already the BNP is trying to whip up anti-Indian sentiments by organising a Long March to Teesta last month . The focus of the Long march was on 'Hasina's failure to secure national interests on the waters issue." So the least Modi can do if he is serious about his 'Rajdharma' is to avoid anything that will unsettle the present regime in Dhaka and jeopardise its existence by whipping up issues that will only benefit Hasina's rivals, who are already looking at prospects of the end of UPA with some concealed glee. The least Modi can do is maintain the continuity of India's current policy towards Bangladesh, strongly back the current regime and oppose Western attempts to force a fresh election.

Mamata Banerji has opposed Modi's anti-Bangladeshi tirade, even going to the extent of asking the Election Commission to put him in jail for provocative statements that could create communal disturbances. 

She has threatened that 'Delhi will burn' if one Bengali speaking person is affected. Analysts say Mamata's attempt to whip up Bengali passions, especially amongst the minorities, is a clever attempt to win support in the last rounds of elections in her state, where opinion polls suggest somewhat unexpected and impressive gains by the BJP. Modi may have tried to strengthen that trend by trying the politics of 'Hindu consolidation', but Mamata is strongly falling back on the state's secular traditions to hit back at what has become an unexpected threat for her -- a silent saffron stir, if not a wave, with the Left and the Congress suffering a certain level of irrelevance.

As he becomes sure he cannot get Trinamul Congress to support a BJP-led government, Modi is becoming more aggressive in attacking Mamata. The Bengal leader is trying to outflank him by playing the secular card to attract supporters of the Left and Congress to her fold by whipping up Bengali pride and passions."

But,  if Mamata is serious about her poltiics of regionalism and not just about garnering votes by using popular passions, she will need to reverse her Bangladesh policy. She must withdraw her objections to the Land Boundary agreement and the Teesta water sharing deal. That will help India connect to Bangladesh positively and take the wind out of the sails of Hasina's opponents. It is well known by now why she is not putting in the public domain the Kalyan Rudra report on Teesta -- because hydrologist Rudra has opposed any upstream diversion from the Teesta and said the normal flow of the river towards Bangladesh must be maintained to save the river itself. Both Modi and Mamata need to come on the same page soon enough to work for a more friendly policy towards Bangladesh which can help Hasina save her face and justify her actions to help India on the many fronts that she has done.  For Tripura, which has been given passage through Bangladesh for transporting the heavy equipment for Palatana and 10000 MT of foodgrains, this is crucial.Or else, our state has no reason to back the politics of either Mamata or Modi.

 (Mr. Subir Bhaumik is a veteran journalist, former BBC correspondant and author of ‘Insurgent Crossfire’ and ‘Troubled Periphery’) 

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