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Modi sings Mamata's tunes on Teesta issue: Was Bangladesh the ice-breaker they needed?

Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee. Now, what are the words that come to your mind at the mention of these names together? Rivals? Headache? Enemies? BFFs not? Whatever they may be, 'friends' is probably not a word that you're reminded of immediately when these two people are in question.

The one day, you are greeted with this: a video of Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, grinning ear-to-ear, while talking to each other. And last week, it was reported that Modi and Mamata will tour Bangladesh together, which they did.

Not only did Modi tour Bangladesh with Banerjee, he even sang the West Bengal CM's tunes on the Teesta water sharing issue. The Prime Minister, who is not only known to have strong opinions on all issues, but is also known to wax eloquent about them in public, said the following about the Teesta issue: "I am confident that with the support of state governments in India, we can reach a fair solution on the Teesta and Feni rivers. We should also work together to renew and clean our rivers."

No wonder then The Telegraph had to say the following about Banerjee's state of mind when she left Bangladesh following the tour with Modi. " Mamata Banerjee boarded the flight back to Calcutta with a wide grin tonight hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Bangladeshi soil what she wanted to hear from him on the Teesta river."

 Modi sings Mamatas tunes on Teesta issue: Was Bangladesh the ice-breaker they needed?

PM Modi, Sheikh Hasina and Mamata Banerjee. AFP.

The sharing of Teesta's water has been a bone of contention between India and Bangladesh for while now, with Banerjee exhorting the neighbouring country to trust her judgment on the issue in the past.

Back in 2011, Manmohan Singh had faced stiff opposition from Banerjee on the Teesta water sharing issue. Singh had wanted to sign an agreement which Banerjee alleged will not be in favour of Bengal. Teesta, which runs through north Bengal and Bangladesh and how much water both countries get has always been disputed by the leaders of the countries.

Aparna Ray writes for Global Voices, " In 1983, an ad-hoc water sharing agreement was reached between India and Bangladesh, whereby both countries were allocated 39% and 36% of the water flow respectively. The new bilateral treaty expands upon this agreement by proposing an equal allocation of the Teesta River."

In fact, when Banerjee visited Bangaldesh earlier this year, the neighbouring country's Prime Minister didn't forget to refer to the dispute in a roundabout way, even while holding a lighthearted conversation with Banerjee.

NDTV reports that Banerjee had joked about not getting too many Hilsa fish from Bangaldesh. Following which Hasina had quipped, the more water there will be in Bangaldesh's rivers, the more fish will be bred. Anyone who is aware of the tension between Bangladesh and India over water sharing, can immediately figure that this was a clever reference to the Teesta issue.

However, over the past couple of months, Banerjee has only reassured Bangladesh that they will not get an unfair deal on water sharing, though no official announcement has not been made.

Narendra Modi, given his history of discord with Banerjee, could have easily made a grand declaration about water-sharing, especially to prove a point to the Bengal CM. However, he did nothing like that and made it absolutely clear that the the water-sharing issue will not be resolved without the state government's inputs. In fact, from what he said, it is clear that he indicated that Mamata Banerjee's opinion on the matter will be of prime importance while taking any decision on the issue.

It is important to note here that while Teesta water-sharing may not been as significant as the Land Border Agreement in Modi's scheme of things and India-Bangladesh diplomacy, it is an issue that is very close to Banerjee's heart. Therefore, by letting Banerjee lead on the Teesta issue, Modi doesn't stand to lose anything. However, it is a rather convenient way to take a first step towards winning Banerjee's confidence.

Banerjee, who is known to be a fairly egotistic person who doesn't take slights lying low, is obviously pleased. Banerjee and Modi's war has been one of egos but Modi had never directly engaged with Mamata Banerjee in the past, like the way Banerjee did. The West Bengal CM had called him Hitler and a 'murderer', but Modi had only made references to the Saradha scam and talked about illegal immigrants in the state, never taking personal potshots at Banerjee. He left that to his aide Amit Shah, who had turned up in Kolkata and threatend to oust Trinamool Congress from the state. In fact, Shah had famously said, "Didi, this is Amit Shah and I will oust TMC from West Bengal."

However, with the recent by-poll and civic polls defeat, BJP may have learnt the hard lesson. They may have realised that making inroads into West Bengal's politics will not be possible by sparring with Banerjee at the moment. Given that BJP's presence in the state is negligible, it perhaps makes more sense to piggyback on Trinamool's popularity to find an audience first in Bengal.

With the state elections up next year, Banerjee too maybe swallowing the bitter pill and extending her hand of friendship for Modi. Bengal, which has been reeling under unemployment and lack of industrial development, most definitely needs financial assistance from the Centre if Banerjee had to show any 'paribartan' (change) to the voters next year, as promised. While she has been at loggerheads with Modi for a better part of her tenure as Bengal's CM, the impending elections may have helped her see sense. Broiled in many controversies and accused of being autocratic, Banerjee will need a strong development blueprint for the state to present to the voters next year. And that will become easier with Modi's intervention.

This Bangladesh trip may have acted as the peacemaker Modi and Banerjee desperately needed.

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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2015 15:24:56 IST