Hopes fading for India-Bangladesh land swap pact
New Delhi: While Bangladesh is fervently hoping the Indian parliament will resolve the long-pending issue of ratifying the land boundary agreement there appears little likelihood of the bill being passed at least during the current monsoon session that ends Aug 30. According to informed sources, the bill has not been scheduled for tabling in the upper house for next week's business. When parliament reconvenes next week after the Independence Day and weekend holidays, there will not be many working days left.
The constitution amendment bill for implementing the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) on swapping territory will require to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses. With the few working days left this does not seem possible at all in this session, a source said. The union cabinet had in February approved the draft of the bill for implementing the LBA of 1974 and the protocol to it inked in 2011.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been busy talking to the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to get it on board to pass the bill in this session. While senior BJP leaders are believed to be supportive of the LBA, its units in Assam and West Bengal are not ready to support the land swap, the source said. The swap envisages the transfer of 111 enclaves with an area of 17,160.63 acres to Bangladesh, while 51 enclaves with an area of 7,110.02 acres will be transferred to India. A 6.1 km undefined border - out of the over 4,000 km bounday - stretch will be demarcated with the bill's passage.
The BJP units in Assam and West Bengal have been actively campaigning against the LBA. They feel it will legitimise the passage of people without permits to cross over to India. The BJP has been actively raising the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh, said to be in millions, through the porous border. Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, who visited New Delhi last month, had met BJP leader Arun Jaitley to urge the party to help pass the bill in the current session. While Jaitley had given no assurance, Moni had said she "thought" his response was positive and he would talk to his party colleagues. "It is also an election year and we cannot afford to antagonise our local units," said a knowledgeable party source, who did not wish to be identified.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had met BJP leaders L.K. Advani, party chief Rajnath Singh, and leaders of opposition Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley in an effort to get their support for the LBA. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has also been speaking to the BJP leaders. But the BJP feels more discussion is needed on the LBA. "There are several issues that need to be weighed in on the matter of exchange of enclaves. It is not that simple," said the source.
Another source, with access to high-level thinking in the party, said it was more important for the BJP to weigh any decision in terms of its impact on elections here rather than in a neighbouring country. The Bangladesh government is keen to have the LBA ratified, which Dhaka has done many years ago. With the friendly Sheikh Hasina government set to go for general elections in January 2014, Dhaka is keen to have at least the LBA passed by the Indian parliament as an example of "demonstrative action" by India. The BJP, which is also keen that the Hasina government wins, does not feel that the LBA is "such a big issue" that it could affect the elections.