Less than a week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Bangladesh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has ruled out signing the Teesta water-sharing agreement with Dhaka during the trip.
Responding to queries at a press conference Sunday on completion of a year in office, Swaraj said they have “not reached an understanding” on the agreement, and the signing will not happen during the Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka on June 6-7.
“I said it is not going to happen during this visit (of the PM) because I know the facts. Whatever decision on Teesta needs to be taken, it has to take into account the state government’s views. The decision will be taken by consulting them. The state government will have to be taken on board,” she said.
She said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will be travelling to Dhaka and will be present during the signing of instruments of operationalisation of the Land Boundary Agreement. She said there is “no possibility” of Banerjee cancelling the visit. “She is going to be there in Dhaka.”
In September 2011, Banerjee had cancelled her visit at the last minute over her opposition to the Teesta water-sharing agreement, and had not accompanied the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been under pressure to deliver the Teesta agreement with India. She has been urging New Delhi to sign the pact soonest because it is “good for the long run”.
With its source in the eastern Himalayas, the Teesta flows through Sikkim and West Bengal before entering Bangladesh where it eventually merges with the Jamuna (Brahmaputra).
The External Affairs Minister confirmed that Modi will be visiting Israel at a mutually convenient date. “PM will go to Israel. I will go to Israel, Palestine and Jordan this year. But to say that we are tilted towards Israel is wrong. There has been no change in our position with respect to Palestine,” she said. This will be the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel.
On the recent announcement by the cricket board chiefs of India and Pakistan about a series in UAE, she said, “There has been no decision taken for the cricket series… who told you about it?”
She said there is “no flip-flop” in India’s policy on Pakistan and it is not “confused” either. “We are ready to talk on all outstanding issues to resolve them in a peaceful manner, the talks will have to take place only between the two countries and no third-party or country can be involved, and there should no violence and terror during the talks.”
On China building an economic corridor through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, she said that the Prime Minister had raised this issue quite strongly during his China trip. She said India’s activities in the South China Sea — large parts of which China claims to be its own — are “not comparable” since India’s “commercial activities are compatible with Indian laws”.
On Chinese efforts to slow moves against 26/11 accused Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and stall an Indian proposal at the United Nations to ban militant Salahuddin, Swaraj said the matter has already been raised with Beijing. She said India said since China is also a victim of terrorism, they should not look at terrorists as “good” or “bad” terrorists, and take a broader view of the menace.
Asked about US President Barack Obama’s comments on religious intolerance as he left India after a visit this January, she said: “Anybody who talks about religious intolerance in India doesn’t understand the culture… religious tolerance is in our DNA.”
She also dismissed talk that Prime Minister Modi was a challenge to her authority as Foreign Minister: “A pro-active PM is not a challenge, he is a support.” She said she had chosen to stay “low-profile” as she doesn’t want to comment on domestic issues — since she is the External Affairs Minister. She said Modi’s travels are almost at par with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s travels.
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