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Bridged: Distance from ‘apni’ to ‘tumi’

Bridged: Distance from ‘apni’ to ‘tumi’
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during the historic pink-ball day/night cricket test match between India and Bangladesh, at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. PTI

A proposal was indeed mooted to bridge a hypothetical distance but there was not a word on whether the real river came up and was crossed.

“Apni amake ‘apni’ bolben na, ‘tumi’ bolben. ‘Apni’ anek durer shonai (Don’t address me as apni but as tumi. Apni sounds too distant),” a source quoted chief minister Mamata Banerjee as conveying to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during a 54-minute “courtesy call”.

“Khub bhalo hoyechhe meeting. Sab bhalo hoyechhe (The meeting went off very well. Everything is fine),” Hasina told The Telegraph on Friday evening.

Asked whether she was satisfied and had reason to be happy with her Calcutta visit, Hasina said: “When leaders of two friendly countries meet, it is satisfying. Our relationship is the best.”

Referring to the way the two leaders had chatted and broken bread during the lunch break at the day-and-night Test between India and Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens, a source said: “They looked like sisters.”

None from either side wanted to speculate whether Hasina and Mamata had discussed the Teesta water-sharing deal, a thorn in the India-Bangladesh relationship since 2011.

Later, during a brief media interaction, Hasina regretted only the performance of the Bangladesh cricket team. “We couldn’t play well. I hope we’ll do better, Inshallah,” she said while walking away.

“Did you discuss Teesta with Didi?” Hasina was asked, but she smiled and left. Hasina’s party, the ruling Awami League, needs a breakthrough on the Teesta water-sharing agreement for multiple reasons, including the need to silence the Opposition parties that accuse her of sacrificing the country’s interests.

Mamata, who too made a brief statement to the media, did the same when asked about the elephant in the room.

In her statement, the Bengal chief minister echoed Hasina before extending the Bangladesh Prime Minister an invitation to visit Calcutta “frequently”.

Through the day, Mamata and Hasina had spent time together, watching the match and then a cultural programme in the evening.

All eyes were on their evening meeting.

Sources in the Bangladeshi foreign ministry said Hasina and Mamata had spent around 54 minutes together in the evening, which included a one-to-one session of 20-odd minutes.

Bangladesh foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen, who was present during the first half of the meeting, which was also attended by the Indian high commissioner in Dhaka, Riva Ganguly Das, was categorical in his reply.

“We came here only for the cricket…. There was no other agenda,” Momen told this newspaper.

Multiple sources in the Bangladeshi delegation said that although Teesta was top of their mind, Hasina could not have mentioned the water-sharing pact in public for the following reasons:

  • Mamata’s opposition to the deal is well known.
  • The repeated denial of a legitimate demand would allow her detractors to attack her.
  • It’s best not to project Teesta as the cornerstone of the Bangladesh-Bengal relationship.
  • It’s better to leave it to New Delhi to get Calcutta on board for the deal.
  • Keeping Mamata in good humour is important.

These reasons make it clear why Hasina played it so deftly in public.

But did she broach the issue in private (during the one-to-one conversation)?

“It’s anybody’s guess as only the two were in the room,” said a source in the Bangladeshi delegation.

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