Originally Published 2013-08-23 13:28:24 Published on Aug 23, 2013
India's interest lies in ratifying the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh because this would not only boost the image of the country but also establish India's reliability in delivering promises. Political parties need to rise above their narrow and short-term political interests and see the larger picture.
Parties need to support boundary agreement with Bangladesh
"The enthusiasm that governed the bilateral relationship between Delhi and Dhaka for the past few years is fast eroding in the face of India's delay in ratifying the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA). The Congress-led UPA government has repeatedly failed to introduce the bill for its ratification due to lack of consensus among political parties. This has become an uncomfortable situation and India's credibility is being questioned, something that could affect future bilateral relations.

The LBA was scheduled to be introduced in the parliament on August 19 but had to be withheld because of protests by Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Trinamool Congress. Earlier in May, the bill could not be tabled due to protests by the AGP. Parties like the AGP maintain that the implementation of LBA will compromise India's sovereignty. The smaller parties' opposition to the agreement is backed by the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), though for a different reason. The BJP claims that it was not consulted before the agreement was signed between the two countries during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh in September 2011.

The BJP's opposition has made the situation very difficult for the government. Ratification of the LBA needs a constitutional amendment which requires a two-third majority in the parliament. Hence, the BJP's support becomes crucial. This has further deepened scepticism about whether the bill will actually be passed in the parliament. Delhi's repeated assurances that it would get the treaty rectified are not cooling down Bangladesh's anxiety. In fact, Bangladeshi foreign minister's July visit to India was primarily used to seek the BJP to support the agreement. However, it was a failure and it only invited further criticism against the Hasina government in Bangladesh.

The LBA is not a sudden initiative. The process began when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Bangladesh's first Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman signed an agreement in 1974 to resolve the border problem. But the two countries found it hard to implement it because of subsequent mistrust and suspicion that became to characterise the bilateral relationship. The current efforts provide an opportune time for both the countries to take it to the logical conclusion.

Considering India's troubled relationship with most of its neighbours in the recent past, Bangladesh's efforts to improve relations need to be appreciated with more than just tokenism. Since coming to power, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave priority to mending relations with India. Unlike Pakistan with whom India's repeated request to take action against terror groups operating across the border have shown no result, Bangladesh has not only shown sympathy to India's concerns but also has acted against forces inimical to

India's interest operating on its soil. Bangladesh's efforts have greatly helped in improving peace and security in India's northeast. The long and porous nature of the India-Bangladesh border with undemarcated patches and enclaves in each other's territory meant that border management is a major challenge. Often these areas are used for illegal activities including human trafficking to smuggling of arms and narcotics. In this context, the implementation of the LBA will not only resolve the long-standing border dispute between the two countries but also go a long way in addressing these issues.

New Delhi's inability to pass the bill is casting a strong negative image of India in Bangladesh and sections of the society who are against good relations with India may use this as precedent to oppose future cooperation. In Bangladesh, relations with India are strongly measured through the prism of losses and gains. In fact, when the agreement was signed, it was seen as a major gain in Bangladesh's favour. The implementation of the LBA would primarily mean exchange of enclaves. India would have to transfer 111 enclaves with an area of 17,160.63 acres while Bangladesh would transfer 51 enclaves of 7,110.2 acres. Bangladesh would gain around 10000 acres in the exchange.

The LBA was a major outcome of Manmohan Singh's visit and has a special significance for Bangladesh's politics. The agreement was a major face saver for the Awami League government after India backed out of signing the Teesta water sharing agreement during the visit. But today the Awami League government is facing increasing criticism for its efforts to strengthen relations with India. In fact, the non-implementation of the LBA is seen as a major failure of the government. There is apprehension that if the LBA is not implemented, it might impact the Awami League's electoral performance. A timely implementation of the LBA could greatly change the fortune of the party in the coming parliamentary election scheduled for later this year. Ratifying the LBA is important for another reason - this will strengthen the hands of secular forces in Bangladesh as the country struggle to restore secular values.

India's interest lies in ratifying the LBA as it would not only boost the image of the country in Bangladesh and the region but also establish India's reliability in delivering promises. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina deserve credit for showing the political will to resolve the land boundary issues. This measure greatly helped in reducing the feeling of mistrust. All the efforts made in transforming the relationship will go futile if the LBA is not ratified. Political parties need to rise above of their narrow and short-term political interests and see the larger picture around.

(The author is an Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation)

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Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee (1975 2021) was Senior Fellow with ORF. She specialised in Indias neighbourhood policy the eastern arch: Bangladeshs domestic politics and foreign policy: border ...

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