Border with Bangla, at last


June 09, 2015

Forty years and several governments later, India and Bangladesh have signed the historic land boundary agreement. But there is still a water dispute to sort out that is going to be much tougher to negotiate

There is really nothing unusual about one government following up on the policies of another, even if the two were not of the same political party. It is also not out of the place to acknowledge this continuity.

Like an yesteryear chief minister of a southern state did at the World Economic Forum in Davos once. He made it a point to mention that the two speakers before him and he, himself, belonged to three different political parties. Yet there was continuity in the economic policies of India though his party, which initiated the new economic reforms, had lost power.

So when Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed on the dotted line last weekend sealing the land boundary agreement (LBA) between India and Bangladesh, he rightfully thumped his chest and gleefully agreed with media which compared this to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It was, indeed, a historic occasion. But it was also time to remember that the framework for this critical pact was finalised in 1974 by Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. And that his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had stymied all efforts by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government to get parliament’s approval for the LBA. So, why talk of the denial of the Nobel Prize because it was an agreement

between poor countries? 

Maybe the number of people living in the enclaves around the so-called border of India and Bangladesh are much less than those who benefited from the unity of the two Germanys. But they are, still, people. Indeed, an estimated 52,000 people (38,000 in India and 14,000 in Bangladesh) living in the patches of land belonging to one country or those that lay in the territory of the other country will become citizens of their respective countries by this agreement between India and Bangladesh.

It means that they will be entitled to the benefits of a welfare state which had been denied to them since 1947. All this because the 4,097km long border had not been clearly drawn when the British left the sub-continent. Clear border lines will ensure that terrorists in some of the northeastern states of India will not get a safe escape route to Myanmar or Bangladesh. In fact, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s categorical stand that she will not allow her country to be used for anti-India terrorist activities has been highly appreciated in India by successive governments.

It was her approach that, to some extent, pushed the previous Congress-led UPA government to press for the LBA to be passed in parliament. But, Modi’s party, the BJP, had taken a stubborn stand against it. And, worse still, the then prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, was humiliated when the Chief Minister of the eastern state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, had also refused to go along with him to Bangladesh because she was opposed to the sharing of Teesta waters as well as the LBA. Fortunately, the BJP changed its stand once in power. And, it was also able to carry along the maverick West Bengal Chief Minister. That it politically suited her to be there - what with state elections not too far away - is another matter.

However, credit should go to Modi for being able to convince Mamata not to oppose the LBA as it was in the interest of India. How Modi convinced her will, perhaps, remain a secret for quite some time now, though many have not failed to notice two critical changes that have occurred in recent weeks. First, the remarkable victory Banerjee’s party, the Trinamool Congress, secured in the municipal corporation elections. Second, the sudden slow-down in media reports on the Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the Saradha chit fund scam. Clearly, the heat seems to be off Mamata, for now. 

But, the other critical achievement of Modi’s visit has been the opening of transit routes to India. The launch of bus services linking some north eastern cities with Dhaka through Bangladesh as well as the opening of two ports in Bangladesh for Indian ships could well lead to improved trade not just with Bangladesh but also other countries in that region.

There is also another aspect that diplomacy is all about. It is about improving the people-to-people contact by the opening of these routes. It would not only benefit Bangladesh but also India’s northeastern region. That is why this Bangladesh visit of the Prime Minister has an important message to other neighbours, with some of whom India’s relationship ranges from bad, cold to uneasy.  

It also means that India treats its friends on an even keel. It may be a wee bit late but it does not forget their contribution to friendship. But the most successful of foreign trips of Modi does not mean it is a happily-ever-after story with Bangladesh. The two countries still have a water dispute to sort out that is going to be much tougher to negotiate. The LBA is just one solid foundation that has been laid to even settle down to talking a positive language to resolve one of the toughest challenges to the people of this region, water sharing. The latest boost is bound to get the necessary traction with the opening of transit routes. This by itself should be encouraging enough for the negotiators to understand the immense possibilities of economic development of the entire region.

A little give and take on both sides could well be setting yet another example for other neighbours. There are distinct advantages of doing business with India. 

 

Lalu for Nitish 

India’s eastern state of Bihar has a political history that is unique not only because it is the second largest in the country. It has produced a political class that is different from the rest of the country. So, when the redoubtable Lalu Prasad Yadav comes up with a statement that he was ready to ‘consume all types of poison’, it means quite something. For him, poison is a metaphor to accepting his arch rival and current Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, as the chief ministerial candidate of the secular coalition that consists of the Janata Dal (U) (Nitish’s party), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) (Yadav’s party) as well as the Congress to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Lalu is not known to mince words. It took him quite some time to make up his mind about backing Nitish. It is quite clear that the most critical message has come from the Congress’ Rahul Gandhi who has had reservations about his party’s alliance with Lalu. His clear preference for Nitish has also made Lalu realise that he can wait another day to fight the friends in the secular alliance for the coveted post of chief minister which he lost long ago after being

involved in the fodder scam.

Nitish, on the other hand, has gone from being the most diligent Chief Minister of one of the most backward of states in the country to the one who has committed the most unnecessary of political mistakes during the last two years.

On paper, Lalu’s announcement for the sake of fighting the communal BJP makes the secular alliance quite formidable. The Bihar elections, due at the end of the year, will decide whether the BJP will continue to be on a roller coaster ride, electorally speaking, with the sole exception of the Delhi assembly elections. Without doubt, the election results from Bihar will have an impact on the way the BJP functions at the national level. 

Tailpiece

Hard to believe but those who have been defrauded online can breathe easy. They are not the only ones to be cheated. An officer of the rank of a director general of police (DGP) has fallen prey to a trick which his own department as well as the banks keep repeatedly telling or messaging on a daily basis. DGP of Karnataka, Om Prakash, received a call sometime in mid-April from a person who claimed to be from a bank seeking details of the card etc. The ostensible reason for seeking such details was that it was time to renew the card.

The officer promptly gave away all the details including the PIN. Soon he received an SMS about the transaction of R12,000. That’s when he realised that he had become a victim of phishing. Moral of the story: ‘Do not reveal your account, card or other details to anyone,’ whatever be the position you may hold!

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]