The Telegraph
Thursday , July 3 , 2014
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BJP dilutes tone on land pact

- Move after Bangla visit
Sushma Swaraj

New Delhi, July 2: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s goodwill visit to Dhaka has compelled the BJP’s Assam unit to dilute its stand on the land boundary agreement.

Before the elections and even immediately after the Modi government took over, the BJP’s Assam unit had adopted a hard stand on the agreement. However, the rhetoric seemed to have disappeared after an 18-member BJP delegation from Assam called on Swaraj today.

“The minister told us that India will not lose any land,” Gauhati MP Bijoya Chakravarty told reporters after a meeting with Swaraj.

“It is the Assam government that has been spreading misinformation,” she said, switching track to chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s recent remarks on the NDA government’s proposal on visa relaxation for Bangladeshis.

Gogoi had said he was not in favour of “visa-free” entry for Bangladeshis, a line usually adopted by the BJP. With the BJP in government at the Centre, the party’s state unit might be compelled to toe the line Modi would take.

Instead of the strident opposition to ratification of the land boundary agreement, the state BJP members today highlighted other issues the party is identified with. They said the foreign minister had raised the issue of illegal immigrants with Bangladesh authorities.

The delegation, led by Chakravarty and sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal, spoke to Swaraj after her return from a three-day goodwill visit to Dhaka. The group included six of the seven BJP MPs from Assam.

India’s stand on the agreement with Bangladesh has “not changed”, Swaraj is understood to have told the delegation, indicating that the Modi government will honour the commitment by ratifying the agreement in Parliament. The Centre’s stand dilutes the position of the Assam BJP, which had opposed the ratification tooth and nail.

It was because of the Assam unit that the BJP had acted ambivalently in Parliament when former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid tried to introduce the Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill last year. This year, too, the BJP had only tacitly supported the introduction of the bill amid noisy scenes by Trinamul Congress and the lone AGP MP in Rajya Sabha.

India needs to ratify the agreement, whose process was commenced in September 2011 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka. Assam’s BJP unit had taken a hard line on demarcation of the Lathitila-Dumabari sector in Assam, based on fears that India will lose land.

Chakravarty and Sonowal today iterated that India would not lose land, a point the UPA government had repeatedly tried to make.

If the agreement is implemented, India will receive 2,777 acres of land and transfer 2,267 acres to Bangladesh after adjustment of adverse possessions. Adverse possessions are lands along the border belonging to one country but in possession of the other.

The government has, however, iterated that exchange of enclaves and adverse possessions denotes only a “notional exchange of land”. Enclaves are virtual islands of one country deep inside the territory of the neighbouring country. Exchange of enclaves will widen the chicken’s neck, a sliver of land that connects the Northeast with the rest of India.