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BJP silent on Bangla plea

New Delhi, July 26: The BJP continues to hold back support for the Land Boundary Agreement signed by India and Bangladesh to swap each country’s enclaves in the territory of the other, despite a direct plea from Dhaka.

Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni today met BJP leader Arun Jaitley and “requested” him to support the agreement, which has to be ratified by Parliament before it is implemented.

Although Moni said Jaitley had responded “positively”, he offered her no commitment. “I requested him so that his party also supports the Land Boundary Agreement when it comes before the Indian Parliament,” Moni said. “He said he would discuss this with his party and get back to us.”

Jaitley’s reply could suggest openness to consider the land swap deal, but the intransigence of the party’s Assam unit makes it hard for the BJP to withdraw its opposition to the pact that is critical for bilateral relations and to the Awami League, the ruling party in Dhaka.

India has 102 enclaves in its eastern neighbour’s territory and Bangladesh 71 on Indian soil. The pact, signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in September 2011, effectively swaps the tracts, allowing people living on them the option of staying where they are, changing their nationality or moving to their current country.

The pact, along with the Teesta water-sharing agreement, are key planks for the Awami League as it heads for elections in Bangladesh likely to be announced before the year-end. Delhi too sees these treaties as important to continue building on its relations with its neighbour.

But the BJP and some regional parties like the Trinamul Congress and the Asom Gana Parishad have opposed the land swap. They blocked external affairs minister Salman Khurshid from introducing the bill for ratification during the last session.

Parliament’s monsoon session starting August 5 likely represents the last chance for the bill to be ratified before Bangladesh votes for a new government. Singh is believed to have told Moni today that “we intend to take to Parliament” the land swap bill, an official said.

But it is Jaitley — he heads the BJP in the Rajya Sabha where the government will first introduce the bill — more than Singh from whom Moni needs an assurance. The UPA has a smaller fraction of the seats in the Rajya Sabha than in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP’s Assam unit and the Asom Gana Parishad are opposed to the land swap because they see it as India giving up territory. Trinamul said it would support the pact if it has the backing of people from Bengal’s border districts.

But the agreement did get unequivocal support from CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, who said today the party would “support” the deal in Parliament.