Addressing Dhaka

At a time when Bangladesh is in turmoil,Delhi must reach out,do the right thing

Written by The Indian Express | Published: April 20, 2013 2:29 am

At a time when Bangladesh is in turmoil,Delhi must reach out,do the right thing

In a remarkable illustration of how easily a commonsensical policy position is allowed to be upturned by a narrow reading of regional politics,consider the timetable of the BJP’s utterances on Bangladesh. On Thursday,in the course of an Idea Exchange at The Indian Express,BJP president Rajnath Singh endorsed the need to resolve the boundary dispute with Bangladesh. Within hours,however,a meeting of party leaders with representatives of its Bengal and Assam units rolled back the spirit of accommodation in Singh’s comments. They did not exactly oppose moves to operationalise a bilateral agreement to exchange 162 tiny enclaves of one country’s territory in the other’s. But caution was counselled against any urgency in resolving the matter once and for all,given pockets of potential discontent in the two states against cooperation with Bangladesh.

Just a glance at what is at stake in the lives of 50,000 or so residents of these enclaves calls out the irresponsibility in any hesitation to act upon the 2011 agreement with Bangladesh for the long-pending territorial exchange — 111 enclaves are to be transferred from India to Bangladesh and 51 the other way. Having the residents live in territory contiguous with the country of their citizenship is vital to extract them from poverty and provide them rightful access to social and economic infrastructure. In fact,some of these enclaves are not even simple enclaves. They are what are called counter-enclaves — that is,a country’s enclave located within the other’s enclave in the former’s territory. If the mind boggles to imagine what callousness has allowed this state of affairs to persist,it must also turn hollow objections to speedy resolution of the issue. It is not beyond comprehension,therefore,that in Bangladesh there is a widespread feeling that India’s attitude to rationalising the border is a measure of its neighbourly goodwill in improving bilateral relations.

Any policy position by the BJP that is based on considerations other than the national interest would amount to high irresponsibility. Bangladesh’s politics is currently in a crucial,possibly game-changing phase,with the faultline deepening between those who embrace secularism and the rule of law and those who are ambivalent. India must do what it can,and magnanimously so,to reduce sources of xenophobia there. In the case of the enclaves,it would also be the humane thing to do.

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