New Delhi, Sept. 27: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will pledge his government’s intent to bring a key bilateral land pact with Bangladesh to Parliament this December when he meets Sheikh Hasina tomorrow, encouraged by recent signals from the Trinamul Congress which had been opposed to the agreement.
India’s inability to implement the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) has emerged a key source of tension between the neighbours despite long-standing friendship between India and Hasina’s Awami League.
The pact will allow the two nations to swap enclaves of their land embedded in the territory of the other, and is a poll plank for Hasina ahead of national elections expected in Bangladesh within the next six months.
But when Singh meets Hasina in New York, he will tell her that the UPA government is committed to introducing a constitutional amendment in Parliament when it meets for its winter session, senior government officials have said.
That commitment isn’t perfunctory, and derives substance because the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul has in recent negotiations with the UPA government indicated willingness to allow the introduction of the amendment, the officials said.
A three-member Trinamul team led by Mamata aide and Rajya Sabha MP Mukul Roy has told external affairs minister Salman Khurshid that though the party retains its concerns over the land pact, it will not block the introduction of the amendment in Parliament.
Mamata had set up the team at Khurshid’s request after Trinamul prevented the introduction of the amendment in the previous session.
“They’ve made a commitment to the minister,” a senior diplomat said. “That gives us hope that we could finally introduce the amendment this December.”
Singh will meet Hasina late in the afternoon or early evening tomorrow, and the Bangladesh Prime Minister is expected to drive down in her cavalcade to the Indian leader’s hotel in midtown Manhattan, officials said. Singh will earlier in the day address the UN General Assembly.
But the meeting between Singh and Hasina will focus on reassuring each other of their friendship, instead of the high optimism and bonhomie that characterised their meet almost exactly two years back in Dhaka. It was during the visit to Dhaka in September 2011 that Singh had inked the land pact with Hasina, after consulting all border states, including Bengal. Mamata’s Trinamul was a part of the UPA at the time.
The Bengal chief minister subsequently opposed both the land swap and an agreement on sharing the waters of the Teesta, embarrassing the UPA with an about-turn that still haunts India’s foreign policy establishment, and continues to leave officials jittery over any commitment made by Trinamul.
Over the past two years, India has lifted heavy economic weights to assist Bangladesh and boost bilateral trade. It issued a $1-bn line of credit to Bangladesh, then waived $200m of that amount as a grant that it has mostly awarded already.
New Delhi has assured Dhaka of uninterrupted supply of cotton bales critical to Bangladesh’s textile industry. India has also eased visa norms for Bangladeshi students and travellers, and is on the verge of handing over a power supply project that will overnight increase Bangladesh’s power supply by 10 per cent.
But the land boundary agreement remains the key bilateral takeaway Dhaka wants.
Khurshid repeatedly tried to introduce the amendment during the last session of Parliament, but was thwarted by the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Trinamul.