State politics wrong in foreign policy

It is unfortunate that the India-Bangladesh land boundary agreement, which was signed by the governments of both countries, has again become a victim of politics. The agreement was signed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to Dhaka in 2011, but has not yet been operationalised because it needs to be ratified through a constitutional amendment. The agreement envisages exchange of adversely held enclaves on both sides of the border. The 119th Constitution amendment bill which the NDA government proposes to introduce, however, delinks Assam from the agreement by leaving out the enclaves in that state. There is no valid reason for this except a demand from the Assam unit of the BJP. The party did well in the last Lok Sabha elections in the state and hopes to do so in next year’s assembly elections. It thinks that a stand against transfer of territory to Bangladesh will help it electorally in the state, where illegal migration from Bangladesh is a serious political issue.

But illegal migration and enclaves have nothing to do with each other. The enclaves in West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya are a legacy of Partition. Citizens of both countries who live in these enclaves are badly inconvenienced because they are cut off from their countries. They also present many security issues to both countries. Out of a total of over 5,000 acres of land in these enclaves, only 268 acres are in Assam. The issue of land swap has been a sore point in India’s relations with Bangladesh for decades. It concerns not only citizens of Bangladesh in their enclaves in India but Indians in the enclaves on the other side also. It was after decades-long talks that an agreement was reached and it is now again stuck on politics.

During the UPA regime, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had opposed the transfer of enclaves on political considerations. She has since agreed to it.  The BJP had also opposed it but later agreed to the proposal after coming to power. The NDA government has, in fact, told the Bangladesh government that it would get the agreement ratified. It is wrong to make foreign policy decisions hostage to narrow politics at the state level. India’s failure over the land boundary agreement will hurt relations with Bangladesh and encourage anti-India forces in that country. The Congress has agreed to support the Constitution amendment bill if it covers the enclaves in Assam also. The government should introduce the measure in parliament as originally proposed and get it passed in the best interests of the country.

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