In a rare show of bipartisanship, Parliament unanimously approved The Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill, operationalising the Land Boundary Agreement -- swapping territories between India and Bangladesh -- 41 years after the 1974 Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Mujibur Rehman pact.
The unity of purpose witnessed in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday was repeated in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, when all 331 members present voted for the Bill that became the 100th Constitutional amendment.
If External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who piloted the Bill came in for praise from all sides of the House, Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked across the floor to to thank Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge (Congress), Bhartuhari Mahtab (BJD) , Sudip Bandopadhyay ( Trinamool Congress) and P. Venugopal (AIADMK) for their support. He followed this up later, by phoning Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and chief Ministers of the five States affected by the Bill to thank them for their cooperation.
Earlier, the Centre, announced a package of Rs. 3,008 crore for West Bengal in exchange for the Trinamool Congress' support to the Bill.
In her speech, Ms Swaraj said unity on the Bill sent a very positive message to Bangladesh. Refuting allegations about India’s alleged “big brother” attitude, she said that in English, “big brother” symbolised arrogance, while the “elder brother” was always caring. “Ours is a caring attitude towards our neighbours,”she said.
Parliament's ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement was not just a historic occasion but an emotional one, especially for Bengalis, on both sides of the border. In speeches, ranging from the sentimental to the impassioned, punctuated by snatches of Tagore and Jibananda Das, Sugata Bose ( Trinamool Congress), Bengal-born SS Ahluwalia (BJP) who spoke in Bengali), Adhir Ranjan Choudhury (Congress) and the Mohammad Salim (CPI(M)) were heard with rapt attention.
In the visitors' gallery, members of the Bangladeshi diplomatic corps sat listening intently to the debate: when the Bill was voted in, a visibly pleased Bangladesh High Commissioner was seen shaking hands with his wife.
Most speakers made positive speeches, urging the government to view the LBA as the start of developing better relations not just with Bangladesh but with all neighbours. K. Kavitha (TRS) even said financial investment in neighbours was money better spent than on bullet trains. K.N. Ramachandran (AIADMK) utilised the occasion to make a pitch for getting Katchatheevu island back from Sri Lanka.
But there were discordant moments: Sirajuddin Ajmal (AIUDF), the only MP to oppose the Bill, urged the government to withdraw it, and build a concrete wall around Bangladesh: Muslims in Assam had suffered over the years, he said, as they had been tagged as Bangladeshis. He, however, left the House before the vote. The Shiv Sena’s Vinayak Raut, after describing Ms. Swaraj as a worthy successor to Indira Gandhi, said he wanted the government to repatriate all Bangladeshis. But the most embarrassing moment for the government came when two BJP MPs from Assam, Ram Prasad Sarmah and Rajen Gohain, expressed their unhappiness with the Bill and urged the government to get rid of all Bangladeshi migrants.