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6 Apr 2017

Mamata set to join Modi lunch with Hasina

TT, Calcutta, April 5: Mamata Banerjee is said to have told her aides today that she would participate in two events to be hosted by the President and the Prime Minister in Delhi in honour of Sheikh Hasina, raising hopes among Bangladeshi diplomats of positive tidings on the sharing of Teesta waters.
Sources close to the Bengal chief minister said she had agreed to be present at the dinner that President Pranab Mukherjee would host for the Bangladesh Prime Minister on April 8 and the lunch Prime Minister Narendra Modi will organise the next day.
"The two countries enjoy a cordial relationship.... The President has invited me to the dinner and I will attend it," Mamata was quoted as telling her aides this morning.
Later, she reportedly told her associates that she would be present at the lunch Modi would host at Hyderabad House, which is used by the Centre for banquets and meetings for visiting foreign dignitaries.
State dinners and lunches are common during the visits of heads of states, but Mamata's participation will add another dimension against the backdrop of her stiff resistance to a Teesta water-sharing deal with Bangladesh.
Successive governments in Delhi have been keen on the deal since 2011 but Mamata's opposition has put a spanner in the plan, causing consternation in Delhi and Dhaka. During an interview to ABP Ananda last month, the chief minister had said the Centre had not kept her in the loop on its plans on the proposed treaty, which she says will deprive Bengal.
The Awami League-led Hasina government, which faces elections next year, is desperate to clinch the deal or at least get a concrete assurance during the Prime Minister's visit to Delhi from April 7 to 10. Water is an emotive issue in Bangladesh, a predominantly agrarian economy.
Accusing Hasina of "selling the country's interests to India", Opposition parties in Bangladesh have already started a campaign against her.
"This is the best possible news.... Mamata meeting our Prime Minister gives us hope that the Teesta logjam could be resolved," said a Bangladeshi diplomat in Delhi, adding that if the chief minister gives the events the miss, it would compound Hasina's problems.
"Everyone knows that the deal is not happening because of Mamata. Now that she is coming to Delhi, there is a possibility of her meeting our Prime Minister. This would not have happened without the President's intervention and we are thankful to him," he added.
Trinamul sources said Mamata had, till last week, been unwilling to attend the dinner and the lunch as she was reluctant to be seen sharing space with Modi at a time she has cultivated the image of being a leading figure in the national Opposition in the aftermath of demonetisation.
The sources said President Mukherjee played a "pivotal" role behind the scenes to convince Mamata to be present at the events, explaining that she would be there on his invitation and not the BJP-led Centre's.
"She was eventually convinced. Although she waited till the last minute, she agreed not only to attend the presidential dinner but also to stay back for the Prime Minister's lunch," a source said.
According to him, the "most important" development of the visit could be the possibility of a meeting with Modi. If Mamata and Modi do hold a meeting, it will be the first since the Trinamul chief upped the ante against the BJP over demonetisation and the BJP's spectacular victory in the Uttar Pradesh elections.
"She has been talking about co-operative federalism, a functional Centre-state relationship and issue-based support to the Centre.... The signs of a relative thaw are there. Let's see how this weekend unfolds," said a senior Trinamul leader.
Aware that her decision to go to Delhi would arm the Opposition with ammunition to again allege a "Modi-Mamata bonhomie", the chief minister seemed to be offering an explanation at a rally in Bankura today. "The Centre and the state should join hands for the sake of development," Mamata said.

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