Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014

What Delhi must say,what Dhaka needs to hear

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Posted: August 19, 2013 3:13 am

Early parliamentary approval of the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh is in India’s interest. If the BJP sees itself as a champion of national security,it must support the bill.

As UPA 2 enters the last lap of its tenure,it is not just the Indian economy that is unravelling. New Delhi’s loss of purpose and direction in the last few years has had an equally damaging impact on the diplomatic front.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bold effort to transform bilateral relations with the US,pursued with equal vigour by his successor Manmohan Singh during UPA 1,is now under a cloud. Vajpayee’s attempt to normalise relations with Pakistan,pushed further by Singh over the last decade,appears to be disintegrating. A more successful outreach to Bangladesh,begun by the NDA,and finalised by UPA 2,is now in danger of being undermined,thanks to Delhi’s dysfunctional politics.

While the levers for economic regeneration are largely in the hands of the government,Delhi needs support from the opposition to bring some of its historic foreign policy moves to a closure. The breakdown of national unity during the nuclear debate in the UPA’s first term had complicated what was in essence a simple and mutually beneficial nuclear accommodation between Delhi and Washington. If the BJP leadership’s tactical temptations and the CPM’s ideological blinkers messed up UPA 1’s historic civil nuclear initiative,UPA 2 has faced unprecedented challenges from state governments in the pursuit of its regional goals. Competitive populism in Tamil Nadu has seen Delhi meekly surrender its responsibility to craft a coherent policy towards Sri Lanka. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s tantrums,in turn,have nearly wrecked India’s historic outreach to Bangladesh. While regional parties have the luxury of irresponsibility on foreign policy issues,national parties can’t abandon their duty to protect India’s security interests. This week in Parliament will show if they are up to it,or if they simply play politics.

After a prolonged delay,the government hopes to table in Parliament this week the bill on a comprehensive land boundary settlement with Bangladesh. In the last session,External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid stepped back as members of the AGP,opposed to the settlement,disrupted the proceedings. One hopes Khurshid will be a little bolder this time and the PM will articulate the strong political case for Parliament to approve the bill. It is even more important for the BJP,which has been playing political hide-and-seek on the bill,to come out explicitly in favour of the legislation,since India’s collective stakes in the agreement are so high.

For one,it resolves a major set of boundary issues that have been hanging fire since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. The British lawyer,Cyril Radcliffe,drew a line through Bengal in a great hurry and saddled India with a messy boundary,first with East Pakistan and,later,with Bangladesh. The Protocol to the Land Boundary Agreement signed by Prime Ministers Singh and Sheikh Hasina completed the negotiations for a comprehensive boundary settlement with Dhaka that began after the liberation of Bangladesh. Delhi and Dhaka found it hard,until recently,to finish what Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Mujibur Rahman continued…

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