By Seema Sirohi | Mar 13, 2013,
It is hurting the national interest by indulging in petty politics over the Land Boundary Agreement.
President Pranab Mukherjee boldly declared on his visit to Bangladesh that there was a broad consensus among Indian political parties on close relations with Dhaka. But a few days before he left for this politically significant trip, the BJP had equally boldly declared it was opposed to the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh, calling it flawed and one-sided.
It further warned that it won't support the amendment to allow implementation of the pact when the Bill comes up in Parliament this session. BJP president Rajnath Singh chose to strike an 'opposition' note, demanding to see details and protocols, raising fears that India was giving away more than it was getting. While he was at it, he also brought up the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh for good measure.
Let's put the BJP's threat in perspective - if the 2011 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement is blocked by the premier opposition party in the budget session, India will have broken a second promise to Dhaka, the first being the Teesta Waters agreement which was derailed by Mamata Banerjee. And all this is to a friendly neighbour led by a progressive government and a brave prime minister in Sheikh Hasinawho is taking on the Islamists.
What Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed in Dhaka in 2011 was a continuation of what the BJP-led government had started. It was not something he pulled out of thin air. It pinpoints boundaries - a restorative measure that would settle at least one of India's outstanding border issues. The longer India takes to resolve this, the harder it will get with geography taking a toll and rivers changing course.
The BJP's top leadership has already been thoroughly briefed on the agreement by senior officials of the external affairs ministry. Questions and doubts were addressed to satisfaction. Rajnath Singh was not in his current position then but that is nobody's fault. For him to make declaratory statements opposing the agreement begs the question: Does he even know the details or is he merely playing the cynical game of denying the current government the benefit of concluding a pact that is clearly in the Indian national interest?
Under Sheikh Hasina, India has got unprecedented cooperation from Bangladesh on security issues. Dhaka has handed over men without an extradition treaty, it has uprooted training camps and disrupted networks of northeast insurgents operating form its territory, and taken action against terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Indian Mujahideen. In other words, it has acted to curb Pakistan's ISI. What about this does the BJP not get? All this should be music to its ears.
Why punish a friendly neighbour repeatedly, especially one with whom India has a magical connection? The Land Boundary Agreement is a result of painstaking negotiations, consultations with people living in the affected areas and the state governments of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal. These state governments have already given their written consent. They want official boundaries realigned to maintain status quo on territories in ''adverse possession'' to prevent uprooting large numbers of people who want to stay where they are. When the people most affected and the relevant state governments are agreeable, for the BJP to raise objections appears to be a needless exercise in useless politics.
The other aspect is the exchange of enclaves which are deep inside both countries and have no physical access from either; they have become a massive humanitarian problem. The people living there don't have full legal rights from either India or Bangladesh. As a result, they suffer from poor schools, worse infrastructure and bad healthcare. It is important to address their hardship. Crime has also become a serious issue in some of the enclaves.
The agreement is eminently practical because it deals with the situation on the ground and does what the people want after extensive opinion surveys. Most significantly, it will not lead to displacement - a major plus for any thinking politician.
The BJP is miffed because India will transfer 111 enclaves with an area of 17,160 acres to Bangladesh while Bangladesh will give 51 enclaves spread over 7,110 acres. What is important to understand is that the exchange of enclaves is only a notional one since the protocol basically converts a de facto reality into a de jure one. Neither India nor Bangladesh is in physical possession of the enclaves which are being ''transferred''.
The BJP should help promote this historic resolution and use the gain that would accrue in its political accounting book instead of making predictable pronouncements that undermine India's national interests. The party that hopes to come to power might remember that it is better to inherit a more amenable situation with one neighbour than not.
After all, India's neighbourhood isn't exactly brimming with friendliness. It has huge difficulties in the Maldives, it struggles with Sri Lanka, it fears China and as for Pakistan - well, that is another ball of wax and a very sticky one. Even Bhutan has shown streaks of defiance. So why alienate Bangladesh and give the anti-India elements another big stick to beat Hasina with?
The Land Boundary Agreement is a result of long bilateral negotiations and not of behind-the-scenes, secret parleys so typical elsewhere. It should be durable. Bangladesh has already ratified it. It would be wise for Indian political parties to come together to show that India's democracy is mature and that it can separate wheat from chaff.
Source: Times of India
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