Mamata Banerjee is giving the Centre tense moments on yet another key issue in India-Bangladesh ties — the land border agreement.
The agreement is for mutual exchange of enclaves — 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India.
The government is set to move a cabinet proposal soon — “in two weeks”, say officials — seeking to amend the Constitution to ratify the historic agreement. But the Bengal CM is refusing to speak her mind on the issue, reminiscent of the way she had stalled the Teesta water treaty last year.Then too, Banerjee had played along till the last moment before opting out of Manmohan Singh’s entourage to Bangladesh, causing huge embarrassment to the PM who had hoped to conclude it during his Dhaka visit in September.
The BJP also has reservations about such land and citizen swapping agreement. If the BJP and Trinamool remain adamant, the UPA has remote chances of passing the bill in Parliament where it would require two-third majority with at least 50% MPs voting in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
Trinamool sources said Banerjee’s concern is that the agreement would affect a section of the minorities — a key votebank.
According to the party’s estimate, Bengal would lose more land to Dhaka in the swap deal. Also, more people — mostly minorities — would leave India than the number that would return from across the border.
Most of the enclaves lie in north Bengal — an area where Banerjee is fast trying to gain political ground. Also, panchayat votes are round the corner, making Banerjee even more cautious about the agreement.
The PM and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina had signed a protocol to the agreement in Dhaka last year. Since the agreement involves the swapping of territory, a constitutional amendment is needed.
On Saturday, the PM sent rural development minister Jairam Ramesh on a two-day tour to Bangladesh. Ramesh is seen as New Delhi’s special envoy to the neighbouring country at a time when the regime in Dhaka is faced with criticism of being too close to India without any reciprocal benefits.
Ramesh’s official engagement is to participate at the international conference on ‘People’s Empowerment and Development’. But he has an otherwise heavy schedule of meetings with ministers for foreign affairs, rural development, agriculture and health. A meeting with Sheikh Hasina is also likely to take place.