A NEW BEGINNING FOR INDIA-BANGLADESH
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done the seemingly impossible by finalising the long-pending Land Boundary Agreement ahead of his Bangladesh visit
The ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement between Bangladesh and India by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet would ensure that the Bangladesh parliament would also green-light the proposal for its implementation.
The LBA, also referred to as the Indira-Mujib agreement, was signed in May 1974 for exchanging enclaves between the two countries.
The Bangladesh parliament had ratified the agreement, but it was not done by India. But now, since both houses of Parliament have passed the bill, it would go to the state assemblies – Assam, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya and West Bengal – for formal approvals.
The agreement was delayed by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination that took place in August 1975. By that time India had already been brought under ’emergency’ by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and had other priorities to handle.
There was another reason for shelving the LBA agreement – the Indian government was also watching the political changes in Bangladesh in the post-Mujib era.
In the present scheme, the Bangladesh cabinet secretary M Musharraf Bhuiyan said, Dhaka would gain 10,041.63 acres from India – Bangladesh would get a total of 111 enclaves covering 17,160.63 acres, while India would get 51 enclaves covering 7,119 acres.
Currently, the number of people in the Bangladeshi enclaves is 37,386, while the number in the 51 Indian enclaves is 14,090.
“It would serve as a catalyst for improving trust, connectivity, secure borders, and systematic and sustainable development,” says Farzan Rahman, an IT professional from Dhaka.
The LBA’s complexities and follies were the result of the indiscriminate division of villages before Partition in 1947.
Muhammed Zamir, a former career diplomat who served in the Pakistan foreign service, says the Radcliffe Boundary Commission, which was set up by the British government prior to the division of India, should be blamed for all the mistakes made during Partition.
“Radcliffe was superficial in his approach to the task given to him. He was not sensitive to prevailing issues and his haste in submitting the commissions’ report left a number of omissions that resulted in suffering for a large number of people,” says Zamir.
“It was because of lack of clarity that for more than 67 years, a large number of people were denied social justice. The day after Independence was granted to the two countries, Indian and Pakistani representatives associated with the commission were given two hours to study the award which was written in a hurry,” he adds. “And it was to be notified the next day. Such was the haste under which the award was drafted.”
The Radcliffe award created enclaves in India and in erstwhile East Pakistan.
The blunders caused because of this award also resulted in confusion over territories. There was no suitable mechanism whereby control could be exercised by the two countries in the other’s enclaves. Lack of clarity and the definition of possession of land in certain border areas also created a messy situation which persists till this day in localities in West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam.
The total area involved was about 982.40 acres, of which Assam’s claim was 714 acres. In West Bengal, the disputed land was 4,355 acres, of which India’s claim was 2,398 acres. For Meghalaya, the area was small and was 256 acres out of 291 acres.
While detractors of former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru blame him for not solving the issues relating to enclaves after the creation of East and West Pakistan, Nehru did make earnest attempts in 1958 through the Nehru-Noon Agreement. This agreement was questioned by the Supreme Court in India, which ruled that any transfer of land could be affected only by amending the Constitution.
The Nehru government duly introduced an amendment in Parliament; however, it could not be passed because of the issues related to the transfer of Berubari enclave on the West Bengal–Bangladesh border.
After Nehru’s death, the bilateral relations between the two countries soured and the subsequent India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 left no room for any peaceful settlement.
However, after the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indira Gandhi- Mujibur Rahman agreement was signed but India failed to live up to Dhaka’s expectations in ratifying the agreement.
India and Bangladesh share a 4,095km border which is the fifth-longest in the world, but the tension between the two countries also encouraged a lot of illegal immigration. Politicians of both the countries used the situation to their advantage.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy has given a new dimension and hope to India-Bangladesh relations.
“Modi, though belonging to a pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party government, has shown great political will and maturity by solving the border dispute for good. Both Modi and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would be remembered in history for the LBA, but one should not forget the earnest efforts of Indira and Mujib – the two assassinated leaders,” said Mehfuz Massud, a Dhaka University student.
Now the residents of the enclaves in India and Bangladesh will have to choose their preferred homeland. However, in either case, they will have an identity which has eluded them for 67 since years since Partition.
Zamir says both the countries should facilitate the process of implementing the LBA and set up a joint committee with adequate representatives after framing the rules.
Prakash Bhandari – Senior Indian journalist, whose work is regularly published in Indian media
JUNE 12, 2015