The Bold Voice of J&K

Land border solved, bond strengthened

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 Kalyani Shankar 

At last, the land boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh is on its way to being ratified in Parliament. The border issue has been a sour point between the two countries for four decades now. The delay in ratification was because India’s foreign policy had been held hostage to domestic politics.
Folklore has it that the enclaves in India and Bangladesh were the result of a series of chess games between the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and the Faujdar of Rangpur, who used the villages as wager. Thus, some villages in Cooch Behar became properties of Rangpur while some of those within Rangpur were owned by the Cooch Behar Maharaja. An informal arrangement between the two rulers allowed easy collection of revenues and general administration.
But after partition, Rangpur became a part of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and Cooch Behar became a part of India, when Maharaja Jitendra Narayan acceded his Princely State to India in August 1949. But the conclaves were a problem.
With the land boundary agreement of 1974 and the 2011 protocol to the said agreement, India and Bangladesh agreed to exchange these enclaves and demarcate the land boundary between them. The Constitution (119th) Amendment Bill, 2013, proposes to give effect to this proposed land exchange.
The people of these – numbering around 60,000 – have been rendered stateless due to a cartographic anomaly. They have no access to even basic services such as electricity, hospitals and schools. The agreement envisages transfer of 111 Indian enclaves to Bangladesh, while Bangladesh will transfer 51 enclaves to India. Through the swapping of adversely possessed land, India will gain 700 acres of land.
Four agreements had been attempted before. The first was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s pact with his Pakistani counterpart Feroz Khan Noon in 1958; the second was between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1974; the third was between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and General HM Ershad in 1986; and the fourth between Prime Ministers PV Narasimha Rao and Khaleda Zia in 1992.
Once Parliament ratifies the agreement, it will not only end the border dispute but also open up a new era in India-Bangladesh relationship. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning to visit Bangladesh in June. If the treaty is ratified, Modi can go to Dhaka, armed with this good news. He has been talking of ‘neighbourhood first’, and the ratification will show that he means business.
A demarcation of the border will also help to check on illegal immigration. This will benefit the North-East and Assam in particular. Also, New Delhi will be able to officially talk about the issue of migrating Bangladeshis, a thorny problem for Assam for nearly three decades. The Shiv Sena, the Asom Gana Parishad and the BJP have also been agitating on this issue.
Huge economic opportunities will also be created for both Bangladesh and the border States of Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Tripura, once the border is finalised and fenced. All parties will benefit from being connected with the other. Dhaka can be India’s gateway to other East Asian countries. India can seek from Bangladesh, as a goodwill gesture, transit rights to its own North-East, bringing development to that region. Bangladesh too will benefit.
Given these advantages, one may wonder why it had taken so long to get the border cleaned up. Political compulsions were blocking the deal. When the Congress was in power, the BJP opposed the LBA. Now that the BJP is in power, the Congress tried to put a spoke on the measure, for political reasons.
The BJP’s now-scuttled proposal to exclude Assam from the LBA was prompted by its electoral calculations. An Assembly election will be held in the State early next year and the party is hoping to come to power, ending 15 years of Congress rule. The Congress had made it clear that it would not support the LBA in Parliament, if Assam was excluded. Eventually, the BJP gave in. The ratification restores India’s credibility with Dhaka and with the region.

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