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Making history at midnight: India-Bangladesh end decades-long land dispute

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina/AP Photo
The Indo-Bangladesh border. Photo credit:
The Indo-Bangladesh border. Photo credit:

By Aishwarya Nag Choudhury

Marking the end of a seven-decade long land dispute, India and Bangladesh exchanged tiny enclaves of land at the stroke of midnight on Friday. 51 Bangladeshi border enclaves became a part of India while 111 Indian enclaves became a part of Bangladesh. It was a celebrated event and national flags were hoisted on both sides of the border in all the enclaves.

Relief to locals

The agreement gave identity to over 50,000 people who were stuck in a state-less limbo.

The celebrations kicked off post midnight. Many people lit 68 candles to mark the end of ‘68 years of endless pain and indignity.’ “We were facing lots of problems as we were trapped between India and Bangladesh. We never had any identity proof, we neither belonged to India nor Bangladesh. We faced problems in getting admission to schools, we faced problems going to hospitals. We are very happy now, we are happier than Eid or Durga Puja festivals,” said Ibrahim Sheikh of Coochbehar.

“We are happy that both the governments have solved the problems. Now, we will be able to get our identity cards, Aadhar cards and all that. We will get nationality. We are going to celebrate today,” opined Alamgir Hussain, also living in Coochbehar.

Land, divided

These small pockets of land survived the 1947 partition at the end of the British rule. They also survived the War of Independence against Pakistan in 1971. Bangladesh had deliberated over the Land Boundary agreement with India first in 1974 in order to diffuse the pockets, but India signed the final agreement only in June this year after the September 2011 protocol. The final agreement was signed by PM Narendra Modi.

According to the agreement, the governments of the two countries had let the citizens decide which of the two nationalities they want to be a part of. The 51 enclaves of Bangladesh that are to become a part of India cover an area of 7,110.02 acres of land and range over 6.1 kilometres that are to be demarcated as strict border areas. On the other hand, the 111 enclaves that are being transferred from India to Bangladesh cover an area of 17,160.63.

Officials of both the countries conducted a survey asking the residents to choose the nationality they would want. Nearly 1,000 people on the Bangladeshi side wanted to retain their Indian identity. Thus, the former residents of Bangladesh with their new found identity will leave their homes in November to return and get settled in West Bengal.

The relocation is to end on July 20, 2016. Reports say that 37,000 people are staying in the Indian enclaves of Bangladesh while 14,000 people are staying in the Bangladeshi enclaves of India. This historical Land Boundary Agreement was actualised at midnight on July 31st.

“This is nothing less than our independence day,” said 26-year-old Altaf Biswas. The people expect that the merger with India will lessen infrastructural gaps. They would have electricity and no one would have to go to India to charge their mobile phones.

The Bangladeshi students will also benefit from the merger. From now onwards, they would be saved from the hassle of acquiring fake certificates in order to apply to Indian schools. Residents are also looking forward to the government schemes that they wound be entitled to.

Apprehensions abound

However, the story is not all hunky dory. The celebrations are being dulled because of apprehensions about new neighbours.

Photo credit: Getty imahes
Photo credit: Getty images

“We have definite information that at least 16 persons, among the 979 who have applied for relocating to India, have criminal cases against them in Bangladesh. Four of the applicants are hardcore Jamaat-e-Islami members,” Diptiman Sengupta, chief coordinator of Bharat-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee, told the media while supervising the nightlong celebrations on Friday.

Furthermore, the villagers said that everything was not fair about the numbers being allowed to relocate. “Many games are being played in Bangladesh to manipulate the list of people who intend to cross over to India with an Indian citizenship,” said 18-year-old Alamgir Hussain.

“Of the 270 persons, who want to come to India from the Indian enclave of Dasiar Char in Bangladesh, many have known links with various smuggling rackets,” added his friend Joynal Abedin.

The story on the Bangladeshi side doesn’t seem to be less complicated either. Among the villagers in Mashal Danga, the landless ones have readily opted to come to India. However, the propertied class is facing problems in getting right prices for their plots and are being forced to stay back. Local land sharks are using this opportunity to acquire properties at meagre prices.

Congress MP and a member of the Rajya Sabha, Pradip Bhattacharya revealed that he had received many complaints about people wanting to relocate being bothered by the local goons. He was of the opinion that this complication will take some time to get solved.

New beginnings

India and Bangladesh have outlined the broad structure of the complex process of re-settlement of movable and immovable property. Both the governments are dedicated to facilitate “orderly, safe and secure passage” along with “personal belongings and movable property.”

The details will be posted in the public domain by the respective administrations.

Despite such problems, the mood in the enclaves of both India and Bangladesh remained largely celebratory on Friday night. The locals were in their best attires, all set to welcome each other at the official ceremony at Madha Mashal Danga. Local children and youth were seen running in open fields with the tri-colour – something they had longed to make their own for decades.

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Here’s how Diplomats can Improve Diplomacy in India

Diplomats can do with better home connectivity

Diplomacy India
Diplomacy can be helpful to advance and develop India. Pixabay


Diplomacy primarily is an instrument for advancing the cause of the nation’s economic and security policy — foreign policy quite simply is the product of the country’s economic and security concerns. The government of the day formulates a policy accordingly and our envoys implement it with all the suavity they can bring to bear in the handling of foreign entities. Sometimes a doctrinaire approach could override the national security angle — Prime Minister I.K. Gujral adopted a Pak policy that ignored the available Intelligence to the effect that Pak ISI had planned to replicate the success of Afghan Jehad in Kashmir by pumping in Mujahideen into the Valley. The ‘covert’ offensive of Pakistan later developed into the Kargil invasion.

Normally speaking, however, our foreign policy — even though it has inputs from abroad — is formulated at home taking into account what is good or adverse for the nation. Our diplomats also, therefore, would do well not only to have a total picture of India’s security threat scenario but also a well grounded knowledge of domestic developments that impinged on India’s national integration, internal security and domestic stability in a strategic sense. The course of events in sensitive areas like Kashmir, North East and Sikkim — apart from happenings on our borders — that could attract international attention have to be closely tracked by them in an ongoing fashion. Diplomacy has to fully grasp the wider bearings of these domestic episodes to be able to measure up to the task of handling the perceptions of the world community on them — wherever it became necessary.

India Diplomats
The foreign policy of India is formulated at home taking into account what is good or adverse for the nation. Pixabay

‘Mission and delivery’ — the words used by Prime Minister Modi in his recent address to the Probationers of Indian Civil Services including the IFS, at Kevadia in Gujarat on the National Unity Day, are significant both for the members of the foreign policy establishment as well as the bureaucracy working on the home turf. A correct understanding of the objective that a diplomat or a bureaucrat was to serve in any position and do it in the best possible way, is crucial for success.

The system of updating our diplomats on the readings of our external and internal situation is already in existence and it includes, among other things, regular briefings provided to them by our National Security set-up and the ministries concerned. It is in this context that the reported remarks of a senior Indian diplomat at Washington on the situation in Kashmir — as it prevailed after the abrogation of Art 370 of the Constitution by Parliament — have raised eyebrows within and outside the government. At a dinner meeting with people connected with a forthcoming Indian film on Kashmir that focused on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, he is said to have held out an assurance that the latter could return to the Valley soon adding that ‘if the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it’ and that ‘it has happened in the Middle East’. The audience had many Kashmiri Pandits who complemented Prime Minister Modi for showing the courage to declare that ‘we don’t need Art 370 and 35A’.

Now, by no stretch of imagination, can Jammu and Kashmir, which is a state of India, invite comparison with Israel and Palestine — two countries carved out of a common land. Even if the Valley is preponderantly Muslim and Jammu is dominated by Hindus, they are parts of the same integral state that belongs to India. The ouster of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley is known to have been caused by the Pak ISI-controlled militants at a time when Pakistan had called for Jehad in Kashmir. The democratic leadership elected to rule the state of J&K was complicit with the Pak agents and separatists in permitting the atrocities on the Kashmiri Pandits who had to migrate to another part of the state for shelter — not to another country across the borders. They became refugees in their own state because of the government’s failure to give them protection — they were not like the Jews ousted by the Palestinian authority from its country. In the case of Kashmiri Pandits, it is now a question of the government of J&K as well as the Centre correcting a grave wrong of the past and ensuring — in the post-370 environ — that they felt free to come back to the Valley and resettle there in total protection. This, in turn, is connected with the success of counter-terror operations and elimination of Pak agents from the state. The sovereign Indian State has to do this — regardless of whatever it takes to accomplish the task.

India is a member of BRICS. Pixabay

The Indian diplomat probably intended to only convey that strongest measures will be taken to resettle the Kashmiri Pandits in the face of a continuing threat of terrorism in the Valley. The unintended parallel with the Israel-Palestine scenario that he drew tended to give an international dimension to Kashmir — this is the whole point about understanding the strategic import of an issue at home. The democratic world led by US had already accepted the integration of J&K with the rest of the country as an internal matter of India. J&K is not divided in a Hindu part and a Muslim territory and is an integral state housing many faiths. A communally-based outcome of the ‘Kashmir issue’ as propagated by Pakistan can never be accepted by democratic India.

There is no damage done but the takeaway from all of this is that Indian diplomats have to remain constantly grounded in what was happening within the country. It is a matter of great satisfaction that the Centre has enriched the content of the Foundation Course at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) at Mussoorie in terms of the inclusion of presentations on strategic affairs and India’s national security.

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This course is the common initial phase of training for all Civil Services, including the IFS, and gives them a lasting base of knowledge of all that was happening in the country as well as the outside world, in these spheres. Subsequent interactions between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs, if held in a more organised way — possibly under the aegis of National Security Council Secretariat(NSCS) — should help to keep our diplomatic establishment abreast of all the internal developments here that could have a bearing on our foreign policy. (IANS)