The United Progressive Alliance government’s efforts to extend a friendly hand to the Sheikh Hasina government in neighbouring Dhaka were thwarted by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee whose party joined hands with the Adom Gana Parishad in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, ensuring that the Constitution Amendment Bill ratifying the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh could not be introduced.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid made several attempts through the day to table the Bill, but stiff opposition by the two regional parties forced the ruling alliance to put off the introduction of this crucial legislation.
Faced with repeated slogan shouting from the opposition benches, Khurshid subsequently called up Mamata to persuade her to allow the introduction of the Bill.
The minister, it is learnt, was at pains to explain that the government did not intend to push for the passage of the Bill but it only wanted to introduce it.
Though Mamata made it abundantly clear that her party would not allow the Bill to be tabled, she eventually set up a three-member panel comprising Trinamool MPs Mukul Roy, Sudeep Bandhopadhyaya and Derek O’Brien to discuss the matter with Khurshid.
This exercise is basically aimed at buying time and delaying matters.
The proposed Bill seeks to amend the Constitution of India to give effect to the acquiring of territories by India and transfer of certain territories to Bangladesh in pursuance of the agreement and its protocol entered into between the governments of India and Bangladesh.
The Statement and Objects and Reasons of the proposed Bill state that India and Bangladesh have a common land boundary of approximately 4096 km.
The issues relating to demarcation of un-demarcated boundary, the territories in adverse possession and exchange of enclaves were identified and resolved by signing a Protocol on September 6, 2011, which forms an integral part of the land Boundary Agreement between India and Bangladesh, 1974.
The Protocol was prepared with the support and concurrence of the concerned state governments of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal.
According to the Protocol to the Land Boundary Agreement of 2011, 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India are proposed to be exchanged without claim to compensation for the additional areas going to Bangladesh.
Although the government is hoping Khurshid will be allowed to table the Bill on Tuesday, it appears unlikely as TMC’s Mukul Roy has said he will be able to meet Khurshid only after August 24.
The show of tokenism by the UPA government in introducing the constitution amendment Bill is essentially aimed at sending out a message to the friendly Sheikh Hasina dispensation that the Indian government is not reneging on its agreement despite strong domestic opposition.
Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League has always enjoyed good relations with the Congress and since Bangladesh is heading into a general election later this year, the UPA government does not her to be pilloried by her opponents.
In fact, the UPA wanted the process to be undertaken before the Bangladesh elections as it believes it could improve Hasina’s chances of retaining prime ministership although she is pitted against arch rival, Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni had visited India last month to persuade India to push ahead with the civilian enclave settlement agreement.
Besides meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who assured her that the UPA government would seek Parliamentary ratification for the agreement, the visiting foreign minister also called on Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley.
The agreement between India and Bangladesh was finalised by the two governments nearly two years ago when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka in 2011 but the ruling alliance here has not been able to keep up its end of the bargain as it ran into stiff opposition from the BJP, the Trinamool and the AGP.
Although the BJP had initially gone along with the government’s proposal for a permanent settlement of the Indo-Bangla border issue, the saffron party was forced to reverse its stand by its Assam unit president Sarbananda Sonowal who opposed the agreement.
The opposition has rejected the agreement on the ground that India stands to lose land in North-east without gaining much in return.
Pushed on the backfoot, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met senior BJP leaders, including L K Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, earlier this month to seek their cooperation.
Khurshid had also held a series of meetings with opposition leaders in this regard.
The BJP refused to facilitate a vote on the Bill but it agreed to allow its introduction.
“We cannot spoil our electoral chances just to help Hasina’s election,” remarked a senior BJP leader.
In fact, the ruling alliance had also attempted to introduce the land agreement bill in the Budget Session, but two AGP MPs, Biren Baishya and Kumar Deepak Das, had snatched copies of the disrupted proceedings.
"We will not give an inch of our land no matter what the Centre tells Bangladesh," said Baishya.
Similar scenes were witnessed in the Rajya Sabha on Monday when Baishya protested in the House by displaying posters against introduction of the Constitution Bill. Not only did he disrupt proceedings but he also tried to confront the Khurshid who was seated in the front row.
Baishya was joined by the five Trinamool MPs.
The BJP members watched the drama in silence.
When there was no let up in the slogan shouting, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien announced that introduction of the Bill had been deferred for now.
Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar later told media persons that the Bill would be introduced in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.