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The Politics of Water Governance in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin

Transboundary water politics in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin are
affected not only by inter-government relations between India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh,
but also by dynamics on different scales, including the hydropolitics between Indian states
within the basin. At the same time, the disputed issues, and the patterns of power dynamics
between actors, are similar in transboundary interactions in the basin as well as in inter-state
interactions within India. Both transboundary water disputes and India's inter-state ones are
subject to intense politicking. Within the Indian polity, however, domestic water issues divert
political attention away from transboundary ones. Indian states also have significant influence
over transboundary water governance, and at times this is at odds with India's central
government. This paper describes the parallels and interdependencies between inter-state water
conflicts within India, and the transboundary ones with India's neighbours.

India is assumed, in relation to its neighbours, as a unitary, cohesive unit rather than an aggregate of states, ministries, and interests that compete and sometimes conflict with each other. Taking a constructivist view of India’s water governance, i.e., one that accounts for these complexities, contradictions and conflicts in water governance networks, allows for a more nuanced understanding of the transboundary water interactions between India and its coriparians. This, in turn, allows for the exploration of a more flexible and appropriate transboundary water policy.

This article examines state-level political dynamics that affect the water interactions that India has with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.The purpose of this analysis is to provide insights into an overlooked aspect of regional hydropolitics that may be of relevance to Indian hydrocrats as well as international organisations engaged in water resource policy-making in the region (e.g., the World Bank-led South Asia Water Initiative). Relations with Pakistan over the rivers of the Indus basin are outside the scope of this paper as the political relationship between India and Pakistan is highly securitised and their water interactions are largely governed by one international agreement, the Indus Waters Treaty.

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