The title may be misleading. I am not going to talk about the complex issue of land allocation and land policy, but about a recent bill placed in the Rajya Sabha, amidst the celebration of the Lokpal Bill getting passed.
The Land Boundary Agreement that affects the boundaries of India and Bangladesh.
The history of the Indo-Bangladesh enclaves ( ছিটমহল or chhitmahal ) are old and quite complex. These pieces of land of the two countries enclosed completely within the land of other countries are a result of alleged triflings on the part of the kings of Coochbehar and Rangpur. These kings of neighbouring kingdoms used to bet their villages in games of chess and hence gain control of territory within the rival kingdoms. Hell broke loose when Coochbehar decided to accede to India and Rangpur to Pakistan ( then East Pakistan and now Bangladesh ) after Independence.
This led to a large number of people left surrounded by an alien land and bereft of all civic amenities. Technically they are citizens of the ‘other’ country, which is not able to reach her children. We have generations of people, to whom religion and patriotism is confined to the rice they struggle to eat, the medicine, sanitation and electricity that they illegally acquire (in absence of any help from a ‘foreign’ country they are surrounded by and their ‘own’ country not being able to reach them) and the identity they lack.
For many years, right from the establishment of Bangladesh, in 1972, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi first signed an agreement, to 2011, when Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina signed one, little has changed for the people. I cannot possibly imagine what it might be like to live in an enclave, or a counter-enclave ( enclave within enclave ) or a counter-counter enclave ! ( that’s Indian territory surrounded by Bangladeshi territory, surrounded by Indian territory within the Bangladeshi mainland!! )
Yet, our elected representatives echo age-hold misplaced patriotic lines – “We are not accepting, not accepting and not accepting… Not an inch of land of our state should be given away” (by the CM of West Bengal, on her official Facebook page). Most of the arguments by the main opposition party at the Centre and the AGP are along these lines. Protecting the ‘territorial integrity’ of the nation by not ‘giving away land’ to a foreign nation and not ‘stimulating secessionist movements all over the country’ are the arguments given against the exchange of land.
That is so obvious. Since when do people in power care about other people? Especially if they have no right to vote, cannot be accessed through Indian territory, the so-called Indian citizens landlocked within Bangladesh territory. Same goes for the people who are technically citizens of Bangladesh, are living within Indian territory, who have no facilities whatsoever offered by the Indian side. Pot-bellied people in Parliament, blinded by false patriotism pattering over the plight of poor souls in a cess-pool of borders. ( I must admit I liked my created example of alliteration here )
Need I state the reasons why the Land Boundary Agreement needs to be passed? Although I know normal people are aware of what is good for the country and not, I still wish to enumerate some reasons:
This will give an identity and amenities to a number of nameless people who live as refugees within their own land. India will lose about 10,000 acres (that’s about 9 IIT Kanpur’s), that is neither ‘strategically important land’ as in Aksai Chin and trans-Karakoram or Arunachal, nor land politicians care about that much, that land has lived untouched by Indian feet other than those living there for many years. It will gain people, as it is almost a hundred percent sure that people will choose to live in their parent lands and thus exchange citizenship rather than move across borders yet again in this unfortunate border-ridden land of Bengal.Our cursed world considers land as a more important asset than people.
- This will give a proper border and, unlike the fears of people of Bengal and Assam, will make sure the border is consolidated and better protected.
- It would be a great stretch of imagination to believe that such a land exchange can give rise to calls for secession in other parts of India. Somebody explain this to me.
- This will consolidate the relationship with Bangladesh. Not only will this bring the two unfortunate halves of Bengal closer, but also it is imperative to have better relations with Bangladesh and get transit rights to India’s North-East. But then again, the power house in Delhi hardly cares about the North-East. This will also boost Sheikh Hasina’s image in Bangladesh. India will be much better off with the liberal pro-India Awami League in power in Bangladesh rather than with Khaleda Zia’s anti-India and communal BNP.
- This will boost India’s image internationally and in South Asia. A nation does not become great by mouthing misplaced slogans, but by acting practically and strongly, and for the benefit of human beings.
Will such nicely-named committees as the BBEECC (Bharat Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee) ever cease to exist? I can only hope. Till then, I live in fear. For I seem to remember another person, fictional probably, once saying that he will not give even a সূচাগ্র worth of land ( land that fits on the tip of a needle ) despite pragmatism suggesting otherwise. He was destroyed in war. Hence, I am afraid.