Thursday, 14 November 2019

Time For Inclusive Politics

Updated: September 24, 2011 1:22 pm

If anything, the dastardly terrorist attack inside the premises of Delhi High Court on September 7 vindicated my last column, “The Decadent Security System” in these pages. I have nothing new to add on the subject. As has been happening all these years, the real culprits and their sponsors behind this incident will escape punishment. And as elections are round the corner in Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims, mostly poor, constitute a significant voting block, I bet that the likes of Digvijay Singh, Rahul Gandhi, P Chidambaram and Mulayam Singh Yadav will vitiate the atmosphere of investigation by talking of “saffron terror”. Sooner rather than later, they will discover an RSS hand.

In fact, I am getting increasingly convinced that unless we reform our system of “first past the post” in electing representatives, we will not be able to solve any of the major problems confronting the country, be it corruption or terrorism or communal amity. If by getting around 10 per cent votes in a constituency, one can become an MLA or an MP or even a minister (this has happened many a time), he or she will never care to be accountable. He or she is not going to talk of or work for “ALL”, pandering only to the vested interests of his or her “vote bank”. Therefore, contrary to all our tall claims, the bitter truth is that one does not find “inclusive politics”. On important issues, as a nation we are not used to bipartisan politics. This, in turn, results in bad governance, the mother of all ills afflicting the nation, including terrorism.

Bad governance was fully responsible why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s much publicized and just concluded visit to Bangladesh did not produce the intended results. Let me make it clear at the outset that as a student of foreign policy and international relations, I am all for excellent relations with all our neighbours. As a major global player, India must be little bit more generous to the needs and sensitivities of countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Good relations by small sacrifices will have collateral effects that will not only compensate the losses but also incur overall gains strengthening national objectives. But that is possible if the government of the day takes and tries for bipartisan support and convinces all how small gestures to or neighbours will further our long term national interests.

Unfortunately, before landing in Dhaka, Manmohan Singh did not do his homework properly towards a broad national consensus. After all, the success of visit depended on Indian generosity on sharing the waters of common rivers, settling the border question and facilitating unrestricted entry of Bangladeshi textile products into the Indian markets. And enormity of this task needed the cooperation of other political parties; it could not be managed by the ruling UPA coalition unless of course the Congress believed in the efficacy of its usual arrogance of power.

Assuming that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is always in populist mould and a difficult client at the best of times, the Prime Minister, it now transpires, was highly overconfident that she would fall in line to support the proposed sharing of the Teesta river with Bangladesh, particularly when her Trinamlul Congress had done poorly electorally in north Bengal through which the river flows.

Equal lack of consensus is also going to mark the implementation of the much talked about agreement on exchange of enclaves between the two countries, “protocol” of which he signed with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka. If it goes ahead, India stands to lose over 4,000 hectares of its territory, or about 40 square kilometres. It has 111 enclaves of land within Bangladesh—nearly 70 square kilometres. Bangladesh has 51 enclaves of its own, comprising 28 square kilometres surrounded by India. The transfer proposed would no doubt simplify the messy boundary immeasurably—but entail in the process something like a 10,000-acre net loss for India. Is it acceptable to the people of Assam, Meghalaya and West Bengal whose territories will be lost? Is it even acceptable to 31000 Indian citizens living in 111 enclaves inside Bangladesh? Are they prepared to become Bangladesh citizens?

It may be noted down here that way back in 1958, the then Pakistani Prime Minister (Bangladesh that time was East Pakistan) Feroz Khan Noon and Indian Premier Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to the division of “Berubari Union” and exchange of Cooch-Behar Enclaves, the matter had gone to the Supreme Court. The story is as follows.

As a result of the Radcliffe Award dated August 12, 1947, Berubari fell within West Bengal and was treated as such by the Constitution which came into force on January 26, 1950, and has since been governed on that basis. Pakistan raised the question of Berubari for the first time in 1952 alleging that under the Radcliffe Award it should form part of East Bengal and was wrongly included in West Bengal. On August 28, 1949, the Ruler of the State of Cooch-Behar entered into an agreement of merger with the Government of India and that Government took over the administration of Cooch-Behar which was ultimately merged with West Bengal on January 1, 1950, so as to form a part of it. It was found that certain areas which belonged to the State of Cooch- Behar became enclaves in Pakistan after the partition, and similarly certain Pakistan enclaves fell in India.

In order to remove the tension and conflict caused thereby the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan entered into an agreement, called the Indo-Pakistan Agreement on September 10, 1958, and items 3 and 10 of that agreement provided for a division of Berubari Union half and half between India and Pakistan and for an exchange of Cooch-Behar Enclaves in Pakistan and Pakistan Enclaves in India. But, constitutional problems arose over its implementation.

The Indian Constitution, as promulgated in 1950, gives power only to acquire foreign territory and not to cede Indian territory to foreign powers. That is how French colony of Pondicherry, the former Portuguese colony of Goa and Sikkim became parts of India. Of course, under Article 3 of the Constitution, the Parliament, by law, can change the boundaries of states (either expanding or diminishing the area). But, Article 3 merely deals with the internal arrangement of the territories of the States and does not deal with the Indian territory to foreign powers.

Accordingly, Nehru referred the matter to the Supreme Court in 1960 for advice. And the Supreme Court held that the power to diminish the area of a state (under Article 3) does not cover the cessation of territory to a foreign country. It ruled that if any Indian territory has to be ceded to a foreign state then that would be done only by amending the constitution under Article 368. As a result, to implement the Nehru-Noon Accord, the Constitution 9th Amendment Act and Acquired Territories (Merger) Act were adopted in 1960. This legislation was challenged in the courts by a series of writ petitions which prevented the implementation of the Agreement. But, the Supreme Court decision on March 29, 1971, finally cleared the way for the implementation of the Agreement.

In 1974 the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Mujibur Rehman further fine-tuned the Agreement as it was realised that if this exchange had gone through, it would have meant a change of nationality for the population or migration of the population from Dahagram and Angorpota (80 percent Muslims) to India and South Berubari (90 percent Hindus) to Bangladesh and consequent serious rehabilitation problems. There were in any case major agitations by the people of Berubari protesting against the transfer. After 1971, India proposed to Bangladesh that India may continue to retain the southern half of South Berubari and the adjacent enclaves and, in exchange, Dahagram and Angorpota may be retained by Bangladesh. As part of the package a strip of land would be leased in perpetuity by India to Bangladesh, giving her access to Dahagram & Angorpota in order to enable her to exercise sovereignty on these two enclaves.

This was accepted by Bangladesh as part of a carefully constructed Land Boundary Agreement signed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in May 1974. It was agreed that India will lease in perpetuity to Bangladesh an area of 178 metres x 85 metres near ‘Tin Bigha’ to connect Dahagram with Panbari Mouza (P.S. Patgram) of Bangladesh.” However, the fact remains that it has not been exactly implemented, because of some further legal cases, even though they were cleared by the Supreme Court in 1990.

But, the latest agreement, if implemented, will override all this and involve further territorial loss, including those outside West Bengal. That means that this will require further amendments.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court in a judgment in 1969 has ruled that settlement of boundary dispute between India and another country does not require amendments to the constitution. It can be done by executive action as it does not involve secession of Indian territory to a foreign nation. But here, the word “dispute” is to be noted. Except with China, India does not have any border dispute over land-territory as such. The issue with Bangladesh is not the sovereignty over their respective enclaves; it is over the practical difficulty of exercising the sovereignty. Exchange of territories here will be beneficial to both in exercising their sovereignty.

But then, since it will be the additional cessation of territory, the Manmohan Singh government has to go for the amendment to the constitution, which is possible if there is bipartisan support to that in Parliament. And that, in turn, will require its approach to “inclusive politics”, something it has failed in attempting, thanks to “arrogance of power” on the part of the Congress.

By Prakash Nanda

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