‘India should give more than it takes’

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Mizanur Rahman Khan | Prothom Alo Nov 12, 2019    

Shashi Tharoor is an Indian author. He is also a politician and a career diplomat. During the Congress-led UPA government rule (2004–2014), Tharoor served as the state minister for external affairs (2009–2010) and human resource development minister (2012–2014). He is currently a member of parliament, Lok Sabha from Kerala. Shashi Tharoor recently came to Dhaka to attend the ninth edition of the Dhaka Lit Fest, the biggest international literary festival in Bangladesh. In an exclusive interview, he talked to Prothom Alo on Saturday.

Prothom Alo : Do you think that India’s neighborhood policy could be a crucial factor in reversing America’s 2016 NO to YES in 2046 when the world will again get an Indian candidate as the United Nations Secretary General?

Shashi Tharoor : I don’t think anyone in his right mind should predict what the world will be like in 2046, whether there will even be a United Nations as we know it today. 2046 cannot be taken for granted, so I prefer not to think about such speculations. All I can say is that India’s neighborhood policy is valuable in its own right, not with any other consideration. I don’t think the US thought about our neighborhood policy when they made their decision of 2006. The neighborhood policy something in India’s self interest and as well as the interest of all our neighbours.

I am a big believer in what we call assymetrical neighbourhood relations. Even when I was a minister, I made a speech suggesting this: that we being the biggest country in the subcontinent, we must give more than we take. And I think that’s the right way to approach and I believe that all our smaller neighbours should have a positive approach from India.

Prothom Alo : Last month in Delhi, Kissinger defended his 1971 notorious tilt and has laid a wreath at the Indiraji Samadhi saying: ”I felt I owed it to her.” He even stated that in case of conflict between India and Pakistan or India and Bangladesh/Sri Lanka, the US ”may part company”. Do you find the underlying indication commensurate with Trump’s south Asian policy?

Shashi Tharoor : Well look, I mean I am not a fan of Kissinger’s 1971 approach. When I met him in New York and I spoke to him about it, he said something very different to me. The perception is that it was the geo-political realities of that time. Any decision that they would make tomorrow, if there were to be a conflict between India and Pakistan, would not be based on the geopolitics of 1971, but of today. So I am not expecting at all, that what Mr. Kissinger has to say will govern American policy makers.

I hope there will be no conflict anywhere in the sub continent, between any two countries, in the sub continent. But if there is, the reasons for it will be very different from 71. The US will be having a very different set of considerations from 1971. We are in a different position in terms of our vulnerability to superpower influence that we were in 1971. It may well be that any superpower might take a certain position, and the contending parties may completely ignore them, and that is also possible.

Look what’s been happening throughout West Asia, the Middle East and the conflicts that area whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Libya, whether it’s most recently the Turkish entire colony of the Kurds, superpower’s influence has been absolutely minimal.
Prothom Alo: Does the Congress agree that the Bangladesh-India relationship has reached its highest peak? How do you see the failure of Teesta water sharing as enshrined by the Dr. Manmohan Singh government? You did point out categorically that you will use modern technology to harness the waters of the Brahmaputra? What would be the fallout on us?

Shashi Tharoor : Ok first all as far as the relationship is concerned, it’s in excellent shape, and I give a lot of credit to Bangladesh for their very constructive attitude, towards India, towards India’s interests and issues, and we have seen this in particular on the security front, Bangladeshi cooperation in apprehending terrorists from northeastern India who have been seeking safe haven in Bangladesh. Their apprehension by the Bangladeshi authorities, handing them over to Indian authorities, this has been an extraordinary step of confidence building. So I would compliment Bangladesh on its very valuable contribution to ensuring that India and Bangladesh have such good relations today.

As far as the Teesta is concerned, as you know the obstacle was never Delhi, when it was the Manmohan Singh government or the Modi government. The concern has been the feelings of West Bengal and in those days Mamata Banerjee was an indispensable ally to the Manmohan Singh government, and her negative was indeed a veto. Today she is not a part of the Modi government that gives the Modi government a little freer hand.

As for the Brahmaputra, let me say that right now it is very much status quo up and down, upstream and downstream. Our concern has been very much that China is doing a lot of construction upstream. Now so far the Chinese have assured us and all evidence confirms that these are what is called the run of the water projects, that flows into a dam, and flows out again and continues in the course of the river.

So as long as the Chinese are not doing anything to reduce the flow to our side, I don’t see any reason for any concern or action. But it is true that there is no agreement between China and India such as the Indus waters agreement between India and Pakistan, and therefore there is not even an international legal obligation to permit a certain minimum flow downstream that is to India, Nepal and Bangladesh. That is something we would have to worry about if the Chinese government takes a different attitude.

For the moment, I would not worry too much about it but we certainly need to be vigilant, we do need to develop sophisticated technology. Once the water has come downstream to us, all of us, that is India, Bangladesh and other countries affected in the area, we will have to certainly take whatever necessary steps required to ensure that the customary rights of water users are protected.

Mizanur Rahman Khan is a joint editor at Prothom Alo. CLICK

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