Bangladesh has lost against India in the diplomatic chess game. Apparently, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia’s lack of professionalism is responsible for this loss, but actually it’s nothing but the failure of our unprofessional and, sometimes, professional diplomats. Political leaders pose for photographs after deals are signed, while the main job of ironing out such agreements is carried out by bureaucrats. The fight of intellect, wisdom and language skill between Indian and Bangladeshi diplomats has been raging on for 40 years. And in this game of diplomatic chess, despite sufficient merit our diplomats have been behaving childishly and losing at the battle of negotiation table; just like our cricket team. The difference in the intellect and art of communication between the bureaucrats of the two countries is a direct reflection of the disparity found in the skills of Indian and Bangladeshi cricketers.
The over-enthusiastic body language of our political leaders in front of New Delhi bureaucrats compromises the position of accompanying Bangladeshi diplomats. Let me give an example. When westernized political advisor Gowhar Rizvi makes Indian foreign secretary his ‘buddy’, the South Asian rural bureaucrat of New Delhi questions the point of calling up his Bangladeshi counterpart Mizarul Kayes. Instead, he calls up Gowhar da, and Mizarul remains in the dark about consequent diplomatic proceedings.
Another curious case is that of our Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, who is trying to be a frequent world traveler like Ibn-e-Batuta, and the entire ministry is kept busy typing up her travel itineraries and arranging air tickets. Dipu Moni is intelligent and skilled but she perhaps doesn’t know how to play chess. So, India has assessed Gowhar and Dipu Moni to be same old simple Bengalis, and not as complicated as Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal.
Whenever a non-Bengali Indian encounters a Bangladeshi, they spend the first ten minutes in assessing the education and intellectual level of that person. Indian non-Bengalis also do the same thing with Indian Bengalis, because at the back of its mind New Delhi is aware of the infinitive creativity and soul-bondage between Dhaka- Kolkata Bengalis. So using the Mamata unpredictability card, Delhi south block bureaucrats are actively trying to create chasms between Dhaka and Kolkata.
Indian foreign secretary calls up Pakistani foreign secretary whenever necessary or urgent. The bureaucrats of both these countries have consistently worked towards developing bilateral ties. Hindi and Urdu languages so similar when spoken that senior diplomats start their conversation and negotiation in English but quickly switch over to Hindi and Urdu. Deep inside both India and Pakistan hope for good relations. Also, their nuclear status convinces them to respect each other. Washington, too, wants them to maintain good ties so that it can keep China in stress by using India and use Pakistan to further the peace process with the Taliban. That’s why Bangladesh stands nowhere in Indian foreign ministry’s preference list. There is only USA and Pakistan.
Rural South Asian diplomatic grapevine has it that Delhi bureaucrats make fun of West Bengal just as Islamabad bureaucrats make fun of Baluchistan. But, for an indefinable heart ache, they can’t say much about Bangladesh. In the readymade garments sector Bangladesh has defeated both India and Pakistan, in achieving the United Nation’s millennium development goals Bangladesh is also in a better position than both of them, and is now among the top investment destinations of the world. Bangladesh’s tourism sector is quite unexplored but at least Delhi and Islamabad are well-versed with the best of the sea beaches and mangrove forests offered by Bangladesh. If Dhaka can materialize the ‘Digital Bangladesh’ program, we will also snatch away Indian monopoly in the Information Technology outsourcing sector. Recently, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen praised Bangladesh as a role model on the social index, ahead of India and Pakistan, and since that announcement all’s gone quite on the western front.
Now, Bangladesh career diplomats should be given a free hand to polish their skills. Indian foreign secretary will have to call up Bangladesh foreign secretary and not the foreign advisor. In rural South Asia every individual is genetically wired to be status conscious, so even Hasina should offer only a measured smile to a measured Manmohan Singh in order to tackle Delhi dadagiri. If you look at the photographs of Bangobandhu and Indra Gandhi you will see the required degree of diplomatic smile: friends not masters. This should be a part of our diplomatic training, especially in this rural South Asia where Barack Obama’s de-classed smile is quite useless. In interactions with Delhi the simple Bengali smiles of Sheikh Hasina, Gowhar Rizvi and Dipu Moni have, indeed, cost us a lot.
Having said that, whatever water or trade facilities Bangladesh got from India came via Sheikh Hasina’s smile diplomacy. Khaleda Zia has with a serious face only written four letters to Delhi while her water resource advisor merely follows her around like a funny paper tiger. That means whatever Ganges water we got or the freedom that Bangladeshis living in the Indian corridors recently received are a net result of Sheikh Hasina’s diplomacy. In lieu of that Hasina has offered trans-shipment to India. Khaleda Zia, who is now shedding crocodile tears on the Tipai Mukh dam issue, conveniently forgot to talk about the Tista river water dispute when she visited Delhi as a prime minister. On her way back when journalists asked her about the Tista issue she smiled and said she had forgotten to raise it with her Indian counterpart.
Being trapped in partisan politics we have not been able to utilize our talents in negotiations with India. We have failed to use the diplomatic talent of Debo Priyo Bhattachariya, Shahriar Kabir, Suronjit Sen Gupta and Shafiq Rehman. Gowhar is definitely good as a US lobbyist but his western neo-liberal behavior holds no water in rural Delhi where doctrines of Chanakya and go-getter Koutilya are in vogue. Once during a bilateral meeting, Indian diplomats found themselves stunned by Debo Priyo Bhattacharyya’s arguments. Shahriar Kabir is so familiar with the anti-dam activist leaders of India that he doesn’t need a joint review commission to find out facts about the Tipai dam issue. Suronjit Sen Gupta is himself a Koutilya but with wisdom, and the most complicated intellectual of Bangladesh Shafiq Rehman can be just like a pinch of salt on the face of an Indian leech.
Outwardly Gowhar Rizvi and Dipu Moni can continue with their smile diplomacy but for on- table negotiations with India we must utilize the above mentioned Bengali intellectuals. Bangladesh doesn’t have a nuclear bomb to counteract the demon desires of India, but we do have the strength of intelligence. We once became united against the hegemony of Pakistan, fought and achieved freedom and ensured our right to food. It’s now time to unite again to wrest back our right to water. This is another freedom struggle, not of arms but of unity and intelligence. The hammer of unity amongst 160 million people can demolish Tipai Mukh dam. India will have to understand that it needs the help of Bangladesh to combat separatist movement in its Seven Sister states. And such help cannot be one way. If you give water, we will help you. If not, there’s no transit for you.
Pakistan’s occupying army killed 3 million Bangladeshis during the genocide of 1971. We are now facing another genocide. We cannot afford to lose any time. We must win this water war against India before our death toll reaches the same number. In the black & white photographs of 1971, we see the cruelty of Pakistan army. In the colored photographs of 2011 we see Bangladeshis dying of arsenic poisoning, dead bodies floating in flood-swept marshes, drought-dead peasants, hungry faces of monga, and the dead body of Falani hanging from the barbed wire along the Indian border: all signs of a demon’s thirst for water. India is systematic cleansing out our resources through blatant human rights violations. But we need to remember that we are not as weak or vulnerable as we were in 1971. We must control our political itching and unite against these abuses. Our leaders need to be firm in diplomatic negotiations with New Delhi: that is the great expectation of an ordinary Bangladeshi.