Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina Holds Silence On Teesta, PM Modi On Rohingya

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke before Sheikh Hasina did, reciting poems by Tagore and Bangladesh national poet Kazi Naz

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Mamata Banerjee, Sheikh Hasina and PM Narendra Modi at Shantiniketan


Kolkata:  Two prime ministers and a chief minister shared the stage for four hours at Shantiniketan, the institution set up by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. But in the end, silence spoke the loudest.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not use the "T" word -- the contentious Teesta water treaty unresolved for years. Bangladesh wants more water from the north Bengal river, and Mamata Banerjee is unwilling to give. It will hurt Bengal's farmers, the Trinamool Congress chief says.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been unsuccessful on meeting a promise to Bangladesh after he became PM.

Paying rich tribute to her father, Bangladesh founder Mujibur Rehman and two great poets Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam at the just inaugurated Bangladesh Bhavan, Sheikh Hasina said, "Our two countries have solved many problems between us."

Referring to the land boundary pact signed recently between the two neighbours, she added, "Some problems remain to be resolved but I don't want to blot this wonderful event by bringing them up."

It was a master class on how to send out a message without saying a word. Teesta, unspoken, message sent. One other word she repeated again and again: Rohingya. Sheikh Hasina wants India's positive intervention in the issue.

"There are 11 lakh Rohingya in Bangladesh with a population of 16 crore. When they came, we thought we should shelter them even if it meant sharing our limited resources, including the rice on our plates," Ms Hasina said.

"We want Rohingya repatriated expeditiously. Myanmar must think about their return. Both our countries must tell Myanmar to take them back," she added.

Mamata Banerjee spoke before Sheikh Hasina did, reciting poems by Tagore and Bangladesh national poet Kazi Naz. The poems spoke of equality of Hindus and Muslims. Ms Banerjee also did not say a word on Teesta.

PM Modi also did not touch on the Teesta and Rohingya issues. He wished Bangladesh well as the country will see its national election. "Sheikh Hasina has a vision of turning Bangladesh into a developed country by 2041. She has all the support India can give for fulfilling the vision," PM Modi said.

He did mention a matter about lack of drinking water. "On my way to this venue for the convocation, students were indicating they wanted water. As the chancellor I apologise for all inconveniences," PM Modi said.

There was also no handing out of the Deshikottam, Visva-Bharati's highest award. Jogen Chowdhury, an artist named for the award along with six others, has expressed displeasure. He was to get the award from PM Modi. He has indicated that the Prime Minister's Office avoided giving the awards because he was a TMC parliamentarian.

"The importance of an artist is not decided by any award," said Mr Chowdhury. "The government is above parties and should not be narrow-minded. I believe the PM will repent this. He should repent this," Mr Chowdhury said.

Acting vice-chancellor Sabujkali insisted there was no politics behind the decision not to award the Deshikottamas. "No politics. It's just that there was no time. We will have a celebration where the awards will be given at a later date," she said.

Sheikh Hasina is in Kolkata today. She may hold a one-on-one meeting with Mamata Banerjee. But the Teesta issue may still not reach the talks table.


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