Government confident of passage in the budget session itself as BJP indicates it is willing to rethink its position

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is edging closer to achieving a consensus on the Constitution (119th) Amendment Bill, 2013, that seeks to ratify the contentious land boundary agreement with Bangladesh. Highly placed sources in the government expressed confidence that the Bill would be passed in the second half of the current budget session, now that the principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has indicated that it is not averse to rethinking its position on the pact.

The only glitch now, these sources added, was to convince the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) as there are enclaves on the Assam side of the border as well. The AGP has no presence currently in the Lok Sabha and there are two MPs in the Rajya Sabha. Nevertheless, the government is keen to get the party on board and on the Bill that was circulated in the first half of the budget session, in keeping with the promise the UPA made to the Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh.

Recently, Union External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has been in close touch with BJP and Trinamool Congress leaders to secure support for the Bill. Being a Constitution Amendment Bill, it requires a two-thirds majority in both houses to become a law.

A senior Trinamool MP, confirming that Mr. Khurshid had been in touch with his party to explain the issues, said: “There are not as many contentious issues in Bengal as there are in Assam.” This remark comes in the wake of a recent tweet by the Trinamool: “From the beginning, on matters of external affairs, our policy has been to stand by the Central government.”

After Mr. Khurshid met BJP president Rajnath Singh recently, the hawkish stand the party had taken on the agreement at the BJP national council meeting on March 2 has softened considerably. The BJP has now sought a detailed discussion in Parliament and asked the government to bargain hard with Bangladesh for Indian interests.

“Stability of boundaries”

Earlier, Mr. Khurshid made a presentation to top 16 BJP leaders on December 11 last year. Sources said the government has sought to address BJP’s insistence on concrete gains to “compensate” India’s territorial loss. One of the gains, they said, include the “stability of boundaries” that will help keep a better check on illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

The BJP’s change of heart stems from the fact that it is in agreement that the hands of Ms. Hasina, who is fighting anti-India fundamentalist forces, need to be strengthened. This is especially since Bangladesh is going to the polls later this year. It is also felt that it will help check illegal immigration that has adversely impacted demography of bordering regions.

“Agreement to remove uncertainties”

Indeed, in his reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s speech in Rajya Sabha earlier this month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said: “This is an agreement which would ensure peace and tranquillity on the border… remove uncertainties... I hope that when we bring this Bill before Parliament, Parliament would have the wisdom to approve it with acclamation.”

The Bill, to be moved by Mr. Khurshid, has proposed amending the Constitution to give effect to the acquiring of territories by India and transfer of certain territories to Bangladesh in pursuance of the agreement and its protocol entered into between the governments of India and Bangladesh.

Additional protocols for the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement, signed during Dr. Singh’s visit to Dhaka in September 2011, require a Constitutional Amendment for ratification as these involve exchange of land in 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves on Indian soil. Bangladesh has already ratified the pact. Indian enclaves in Bangladesh are spread over 17,149 acres, while Bangladesh enclaves in India are located in 7,110 acres of land.

More In: National | News