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

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

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.

Next Story

U.S. President Donald Proposes Deal To End Shutdown

A spokesperson for Pelosi's office said the trip would have provided "critical national security and intelligence briefings"

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Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks about the partial government shutdown, immigration and border security in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, in Washington, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

In a bid to end the monthlong partial shutdown of the U.S. government, President Donald Trump on Saturday offered Democrats compromises on his hard-line immigration policies, but they were knocked down by the opposition party even before he spoke.

“We hope they will offer their enthusiastic support, and I think many will,” Trump said of the Democrats. “The radical left can never control our borders. I will never let it happen.”

In his remarks, broadcast live from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, Trump called for 2,750 more federal agents for immigration control and $5.7 billion for a steel barrier covering 370 kilometers (230 miles) of the border with Mexico.

“It is time to reclaim our future from the extreme voices who fear compromise and demand open borders,” Trump said. “That is why I am here today to break the logjam.”

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Migrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Central America queue at the Paso del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, to cross the border and request political asylum in the United States, Jan. 9, 2019. VOA

Pair of programs

Trump offered compromises on two programs his administration has targeted for elimination: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants from some Latin American and African nations.

The bipartisan Bridge Act would allow 740,000 immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children, often referred to as Dreamers, to keep their work permits and hold off deportations for three more years if their permits have been revoked.

That plan has been strongly opposed by some prominent conservative commentators.

Shortly before Trump spoke, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the offer a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives that were “unacceptable” and said the president’s proposal was “not a good-faith effort.”

“It is unlikely that any one of these provisions alone would pass the House, and taken together, they are a nonstarter. For one thing, this proposal does not include the permanent solution for the Dreamers and TPS recipients that our country needs and supports,” Pelosi added in her statement.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 17, 2019. VOA

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, tweeted: “We will never allow a shutdown as a negotiating tactic. Need to reopen government first.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, an Alabama Republican, chastised his Democratic Party colleagues in the House for rejecting Trump’s proposal even before the president announced it, saying Trump “keeps trying to negotiate and Democrats just keep saying no.”

Trump said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, would bring his proposed legislation to the floor next week in order to “immediately reopen our federal government.”

The president made his announcement shortly after he attended a naturalization ceremony in the Oval Office for five new American citizens, highlighting his support for legal immigration.

Trump’s proposal reportedly stems from a Thursday night meeting involving his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner; Vice President Mike Pence; and McConnell to craft an outline for legislation that could win sufficient approval from opposition lawmakers.

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is surrounded by reporters as he returns from meeting with President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders at the White House, to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 2, 2019. VOA

McConnell has resisted any immigration-related bills being introduced in the Senate that the president would not agree to sign in advance.

‘Time to make a law’

In a statement released after Trump’s speech, McConnell said, “Everyone has made their point — now it’s time to make a law. I intend to move to this legislation this week.”

There had been speculation Trump might declare the situation on the southern border a national emergency, giving him a face-saving way to end the government shutdown that could prove both politically and economically costly, while maintaining the backing of his core supporters.

Later, several top administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, spoke with a small group of reporters at the White House.

Mulvaney cautioned that while declaring a national emergency “is still a tool that is available to the president,” it is not the preferred route.

USA, Trump
A man looks out at the U.S. border where workers are replacing parts of the U.S. border wall for a higher one, in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 19, 2018. VOA

The president faces pressure from his conservative base not to compromise on immigration issues. Some influential commentators, who are hard-liners on border security, have warned Trump that trading amnesty for wall funding could cost him re-election in 2020 because he would lose support.

Pence denied the criticisms, saying, “This is not an amnesty bill.” He said the proposal was for a three-year reprieve for DACA recipients and would not grant citizenship or permanent residency to any of the immigrants affected.

Trump has repeatedly insisted he needs $5.7 billion in taxpayer funding to extend a wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

The Democrats, who control the House but not the Senate, have offered more than $1 billion in new money for border security, but none specifically for a wall. Democratic sources say the money will be included in a packet of spending bills the House will consider next week — $524 million to improve ports of entry and $563 million to hire more immigration judges.

The impasse over the wall and the record-long government shutdown also led to a dispute between Trump and Pelosi over her plans to travel to Afghanistan.

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An Air Force bus waits on the plaza of the Capitol after President Donald Trump used his executive power to deny military aircraft to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just before she was depart to visit troops abroad, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 17, 2019.. VOA

‘Very irresponsible’

Pelosi accused the White House on Friday of leaking information about her planned trip to fly commercially to Afghanistan after Trump denied Pelosi the use of a military plane for the trip.

Pelosi said it was “very irresponsible on the part of the president” to release details about her sensitive travel plans, which the State Department said significantly increased the security threat on the ground.

The White House denied leaking Pelosi’s flight plans.

Trump on Thursday had revoked the use of a military plane for Pelosi and Democratic members of Congress for their planned trip to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops and to Brussels to take with NATO leaders. In a letter to the speaker, the president said that “in light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay [as a result of the shutdown], I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate.”

Also Read: U.S. President To Address The Nation Regarding The Shutdown

A spokesperson for Pelosi’s office said the trip would have provided “critical national security and intelligence briefings” as well as served as an opportunity for Pelosi to thank the troops.

The president’s letter did not directly address Pelosi’s call Wednesday for Trump to delay his scheduled Jan. 29 State of the Union address until government funding was restored and the shutdown ended. (VOA)