In both war and peace, borders between countries can be uncomfortable places. They would be even more so if history and politics combined to make them contested areas. For the people living on both sides of the India-Bangladesh border, an end to the 60-odd years of uncertainty is often a matter of life and death. Obviously, not all politicians in India think that it is high time the two countries finally settled the border issues. India and Bangladesh signed a land border agreement during Manmohan Singh’s last visit to Dhaka. But the Indian Parliament needed to pass an amendment to the Constitution in order to endorse the agreement. For some of the political parties, this was an opportunity to settle scores with the United Progressive Alliance government. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the support of which to the amendment is crucial for the passage of the bill, first proposed to oppose it but later changed its mind. Then two small parties — the Trinamul Congress and the Asom Gana Parishad — thwarted the government’s attempt to introduce the bill in the Lok Sabha a few days ago. Both parties claim to have done so in the interest of West Bengal and Assam, respectively. But their specious arguments are clearly aimed at scoring small, partisan points. It could be ominous if irresponsible politics holds important diplomatic initiatives to ransom.
Politicking with the border can have unfortunate consequences for India’s relations with Bangladesh. The latest agreement on the land border between the two countries is actually only a follow-up to the one signed between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1974. It relates to an exchange of enclaves, land in ‘adverse possession’ and other related issues. New Delhi’s failure to honour its commitment to the agreement has always been a sore point with Dhaka. The latest episode in that saga is bound to add to the number of India’s critics in Bangladesh. It will have a particularly negative fallout for the political fortunes of Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who faces a tough national election in a few months. The opposition to the agreement is also unkind to the people living on the border. It is no secret that the enclaves are lawless places and that those living there are practically Stateless people. Leaving the border issues unsettled will pose greater risks to the lives of these people as well as to India’s security. Such issues need to be freed from the shadow of party politics.