On March 17, our newspapers ran headlines that India assured Bangladesh of the Teesta agreement after the West Bengal elections.
Arriving from a bilateral meeting in New Delhi, Kabir bin Anwar, a senior secretary at the Ministry of Water Resources, told journalists at the airport that following the West Bengal elections, "surveys, inspections, data collections etc will be done jointly to bridge the gap between the two countries. A framework agreement in this regard will be inked soon. The 54 common rivers will be discussed in phases."
India's central government always maintained a narrative that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's continuous opposition has been the key obstacle in signing the Teesta deal. So, there was a subtle hint that changes in the West Bengal leadership could be a welcome relief to break the stalemate.
Two weeks prior to the New Delhi meeting, Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar paid a hurricane visit in Bangladesh. He talked sweetly, like the Indian diplomats have been doing on the Teesta issue, and said, "our (India and Bangladesh) comfort levels are so high" that there is no issue "we cannot discuss and resolve amicably."
Bangladesh, as always, patiently waited for the West Bengal elections to end. In the meantime, Narendra Modi came, paid a visit to Matua Hindus in Gopalganj; the West Bengal leadership accused him of impressing the state's Matua voters, a TMC vote-bank. So, chances were that Banerjee did not like it very much as the election weeks were due.
On May 2, the Indian election commission announced state elections results. No other Indian state assembly elections received so much attention in Dhaka before. Anxious of the rising influence of Hindutva and anti-Bangladesh politics in the border state, people in Bangladesh did celebrate BJP's defeat in West Bengal.
But many in Dhaka did not hide worries on Trinamool Congress' victory in regards to the future of the Teesta river water sharing agreement, an Indo-Bangladesh bilateral issue unresolved for years.
Since the deal is not happening, as per India's central government narrative, because Mamata Banerjee and her party again formed government in West Bengal, many in Bangladesh speculate that possibility of a Teesta agreement is slimmer than ever.
But is that the case? Is only Mamata's stubbornness responsible for India's failure to sign the agreement?
Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka, has been observing the Teesta issue for a long time. He said holding only Mamata or West Bengal responsible for India's failure to make the deal happen is a "myth."
"Teesta water flows down from Sikkim, and more than 20 hydro dams are being built there. They will say dams are no big issues because they eventually release water. But in reality, it is estimated that a dam hampers 5 to 7 percent of water flow"
"Now if we estimate this figure per every dam built in Sikkim, the West Bengal itself does not get much water," he explained why West Bengal or any other province for that matter would refuse to share water already prevented elsewhere.
The professor believes that bringing Sikkim into the discussion could get a solution. But "India's central government is not bringing Sikkim in the discussion because they are profiting from these hydro dams."
Ainun Nishat, a professor emeritus at Brac University, has been part of many Indo-Bangladesh water-sharing discussions. He was one of the proponents of the Ganges Treaty signed in 1996 between India and Bangladesh.
He said bringing Mamata Banerjee, or West Bengal for that matter, in India-Bangladesh bilateral discussion is "over-valuation of what's happening in Kolkata."
Ainun Nishat does not like Mamata Banerjee, or any Indian internal issues being regarded as such a big obstacle when the discussion is between two countries.
"The agreement would be in between the Bangladesh government and Indian government. It is not our headache what West Bengal does," Nishat added.
Although Indian politicians, beginning with the late Sushma Swaraj, maintained a narrative that the central government cannot bypass one of its states to make a treaty with Bangladesh, the Indian constitution is actually not strictly federal.
As per the Indian constitution, in the event of a conflict between the Union and State laws on concurrent subjects, the state must give way to the union to the extent of such contradiction. Unlike the strictly federal system of the United States or Australia, the residual power in India, i.e. power to enact laws on subjects lies with the Centre and not with the States.
Under Article 253 of the Indian constitution, Parliament can make laws even on the State List to comply with the international agreements to which India is a party. The States cannot oppose such a move.
The Article reads, "Legislation for giving effect to international agreements- Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body."
Then what prevents India when they are constitutionally allowed to bypass West Bengal? Sushma Swaraj said from her 'past experience' such agreements are not 'durable.'
The experts in Dhaka believe portraying West Bengal's veto, an internal issue of India, as the main obstacle for water sharing, which is a bilateral issue between Bangladesh and India, is a poorly chosen excuse when the country's central government has full control over the state.
"If Delhi does not want to solve the Teesta problem, they will keep it hanging showing Mamata card as an excuse," said Ainun Nishat.
Professor Imtiaz Ahmed said the water does not come from West Bengal; it flows down from the upstream. "Mamata Banerjee wants a big compensation that India's central government refuses to give, neither it is bringing Sikkim in the discussion. Consequently, it is creating a politics here in between Delhi and Kolkata."
With an apparent lack of goodwill on Delhi's part to solve the water issues, the analysts in Dhaka emphasise creating political pressure. "We cannot sit idle in the face of these politics," said Professor Ahmed. Ainun Nishat said, "If Bangladesh cannot create sufficient political pressure, Teesta won't happen."
Correction Note: In the printed version, this sentence - Sushma Swaraj said from her 'past experience' such agreements are (not) 'durable' - went without "not", we have corrected the sentence online.