In making it clear that his government intends to move quickly on the 2011 Protocol to the existing >1974 Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made an important and necessary correction to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s neighbourhood vision. While in opposition, the BJP had refused to lend support to the constitutional amendment required for implementing the Protocol as it involved ceding territory to another nation. Led by its Assam unit, the BJP was then of the view that it would compromise the country’s territorial integrity as India would cede more land to Bangladesh than it would get. In reality, the exchange involves enclaves that are non-contiguous, and deep inside Indian or Bangladesh territory. There are 111 Indian enclaves totalling about 17,160 acres, or 70 sq km, in Bangladesh; India has 51 Bangladeshi enclaves, totalling 7,110.02 acres, or about 28 sq km. India does not govern the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, and vice versa . As a result, these islands of “alien” populations have had no access to the development, job opportunities, laws or rights of either the country to which they belong or the one that surrounds them. Instead, they have become a law and order and security challenge on either side of the border. A second part of the protocol envisages formalising control of territory in “adverse” possession, that is, Bangladesh land contiguous with the border, inhabited by its citizens and de facto under its control, but falling on the Indian side of the border, and vice versa . Under this, India will get formal control of about 2,777 acres, or 11 sq km, and Bangladesh 2,267 acres, or 9 sq km.
With the BJP now ready for it, the constitutional amendment can be passed quickly. The Cabinet must then ratify the Protocol before implementation can begin. The Protocol is essential to completing an unfinished task left over from history, that of properly demarcating the border between India and Bangladesh. Prime Minister Modi sought to hard-sell the land swap to his party as an instrument of internal security and a means to prevent illegal migration, perceived by the BJP as two sides of the same coin. As important is the humanitarian aspect, as the Protocol can bring a huge improvement in the lives of thousands of people. When it is implemented, the 14,000 or so residents of the Bangladeshi enclaves in India will have the option of becoming Indian citizens. In addition, at least some of the 37,000 or so Indians in the enclaves in Bangladesh are expected to cross over. Both New Delhi and Dhaka must ensure that any population transfers, and consequent changes to the demography on either side, are handled in a just, equitable, even-handed and non-discriminatory manner.