India-Bangladesh Border
 
Examining the Indo-Bangla Land Boundary Agreement

This paper is coauthored by Shanmukh Nag and Dikgaj. Introduction The Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) has…

This paper is coauthored by Shanmukh Nag and Dikgaj.

Introduction

The Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) has been recently concluded between the governments of India and Bangladesh, with the Modi government and the Sheikh Hasina governments finally completing the agreements signed in 1974 between the Indira Gandhi government and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman governments.

This agreement is an attempt to rationalise the Indo-Bangladesh border.  The Indo-Bangladesh border agreements finally conclude the century long attempts to settle the problems inherent in the border.  In this article, we shall examine a) the issues outstanding between the two countries b) past attempts at negotiating them. c) the benefits and losses for India through the deal.

It must be emphasised that this is an Indian perspective of the deal.  We shall focus only on Indian interests in the deal, and how they have been affected by the treaty.

First, we shall examine the different issues addressed by the LBA.  Three principal issues were addressed in the LBA.  Quoting from the MEA-issued document [1] on the LBA, they are:

a) The Cooch Behar enclaves

b) Berubari problem

c) Issue of Adverse possession.

We shall address all three issues in this article.

Before we begin examining the Cooch Behar enclaves, we will produce the definition of enclaves.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A portion of territory entirely surrounded by foreign dominions.”  In other words, an enclave of country X is formed when a portion of the territory of country X is entirely surrounded by territory of one or more alien countries.

While enclaves were the norm in medieval era, in the last 100 years or so, the number of enclaves has come down greatly.  Nevertheless, apart from the Cooch Behar enclaves, there are a number of other enclaves that have been functioning properly in the world.  Enclaves exist and do function properly across the world.  Examples include Baarle-Nassau, a Dutch Enclave in Belgium, Baarle-Herzog, a series of Belgian enclaves in Netherlands, Vennbahn enclaves, which are German enclaves in Belgium, Llivia, a Spanish enclave in France, San’kovo-Medvezhe, a Russian enclave in Belarus, etc.  These are all fully functional enclaves, with the owner countries having full access to the enclaves via the host countries.  There has been no move to rationalise them, i.e., hand them over to the host country for a simpler border arrangement.

Cooch Behar Enclaves

Cooch Behar was one of the Princely States in British India that acceeded to India after independence in 1947.  However, the Cooch Behar state had a number of enclaves scattered across the British Jalpaiguri, Dinajpur and Rangpur districts.

When the Radcliffe line was drawn, separating Bengal into Indian and Pakistani Bengals, with most of Jalpaiguri district being granted to India and half of Dinajpur and the entirety of Rangpur districts being granted to Pakistan, the Cooch Behar enclaves got separated, with India losing access to the Cooch Behar enclaves in East Pakistan.

Similarly, there were a number of Bangladeshi enclaves inside India due to Rangpur being granted to Pakistan.  In total, there are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh spanning ~17,000 acres and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India spanning ~7000 acres.  The population of the enclaves was mentioned in p. 12, [1], as “A joint headcount conducted from 14-17 July, 2011 determined the total population in the enclaves to be around 51,549 (37,334 in Indian enclaves within Bangladesh and 14,215 in Bangladesh enclaves within India), in respect of enclaves,”

Cooch Behar Royal Family

Cooch Behar Royal Family (Image Courtesy: Google Image Search)

The formation of Cooch Behar enclaves is a long and complex topic by itself.  We do not propose to examine the formation of the enclaves in this article.

There is a local rumour [3] that the enclaves were created due to pieces of land being wagered in chess.  However, no historical evidence has been adduced for the claim, so there is no reason to believe it.  The formation has been dealt with at length in pp.24-75, [2], and it does not cite any evidence for the chess legend either.  Consequently, we must regard it as a myth.

The historical complexities go deep into the Mughal-Koch war and the treaty it produced in the aftermath in 1713.  The confused nature of the treaty lent itself to troops on both sides grabbing whatever land they could, thus creating the enclaves of Cooch Behar.  This situation was inherited by the British when they took over Bengal after the battles of Plassey and Buxar and the situation persisted, with complexities added, due to British squabbles with Bhutan in the 1800s [3]. 

Berubari Issue

Pakistan, looking to advance its interests and claim more land, raised the Berubari issue in 1952.  In 1950, Pakistan had not contested the Berubari region under the Boundary Tribunal Commission chaired by Algot Bagge, a renowned Swedish judge who had adjudicated on four problems of discrepancies on the boundaries.  Bagge gave his report on the four problems submitted to him in January 1950 [5].

Cyril Radcliffe

Cyril Radcliffe

However, Jawaharlal Nehru decided to humour this post-facto complaint of Pakistan in 1952, saying that `the issue had been raised previously, but rather vaguely’ p.80, [2].  The Pakistani complaint was along the lines that there was a discrepancy between the drawn map, and the description of the map in the Annexure A of the Radcliffe line.  The Radcliffe line was described as “along the boundary between…the thanas of Panchagarh and Jalpaiguri, and shall then continue along the northern corner of the thana Debiganj to the boundary of the State of Cooch Behar. … so much of the district of Jalpaiguri as lies north of this line shall belong to West Bengal, but the thana of Patgram and any other portion of Jalpaiguri district which lies to the east or south shall belong to East Bengal.” p. 169, [4]

The Radcliffe report made it clear, in the preamble of the report, that in case of any discrepancy between the map and the description, the description took precedence p. 82, [2].  Radcliffe Commission report’s preamble reads thus,`The map is annexed for purposes of illustration, and if there should be any divergence between the boundary as described in Annexure A and as delineated on the map in Annexure B, the description in Annexure A is to prevail” p.319, [6].

Nevertheless, Pakistan complained that the language in the Annexure A was ambiguous and consequently, Berubari belonged to Pakistan.  Nehru generously decided to humour Pakistan.  The decision of Nehru was even more incongruous, considering that Berubari block had 90 per cent Hindus in the region, many of them Hindus who had immigrated to the area in the aftermath of the Partition violence p.80, [2].

Issue of Adverse Possession

Adverse possession is the case of the government or citizens of one country having possession of land beyond the boundaries in another country.  In the context of India and Bangladesh, it was found that Indian citizens owned land in Bangladesh, and vice versa.

This has been often seen on  riverine borders, where the shifting nature of the rivers also changes the contours of the riverine islands (chars), cultivation of which by local farmers has resulted in such adverse possessions.  During the survey of the border areas, Indians were found to be in possession of 2777.038 acres of Bangladeshi land and Bangladeshis were found to be in possession of 2267.682 acres of Indian land p.13, [1].  Consequently, resolution of such adverse possession was also targeted in the Indo-Bangladeshi LBA. 

Attempts at Solving the Problems

The first attempt to solve the problem came from the British in the 1910s.  Proposals to exchange the enclaves were mooted during the 1910s. Milligan records that the enclaves made administration “troublesome” although there is no suggestion of them being a haven for criminals as they had been in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. p.49, [2].

But the suggestions for exchanging the enclaves would have resulted in the Kingdom of Cooch Behar losing considerable territory (and consequent revenue); therefore, the Kingdom of Cooch Behar refused the exchange mooted by the British, despite British attempts at sweetening the deal.

After Partition, the Nehru government tried to solve the problem by exchanging the Cooch Behar enclaves in East Bengal for the East Bengal enclaves in India in July, 1953.  In a joint communique in Karachi [7], the following statement was issued “At their meeting in Karachi the Prime Ministers had agreed that the Cooch-Behar enclaves in East Bengal should be exchanged with East Bengal enclaves in Cooch-Behar. It was accordingly decided that a conference should be held in Calcutta as soon as possible to work out the necessary details.” 

Obviously, the Nehru government was quite okay with the fact that they would be ceding around 10,000 acres of Indian land to Pakistan.  However, in West Bengal Congress and other Indian nationalist circles, given the net loss to India due to outright exchange of enclaves, it was suggested that Patgram Thana of Jalpaiguri district, which, though was Hindu majority, had been given to Pakistan for contiguity purposes, should be given to India as compensation for its loss of territory.

This excited the opposition of the local Muslims of Patgram to the proposal. [8].  The residents of Mekhliganj, in a Public Meeting on 21/08/1953  put forward this proposal [9]. `On the eve of the working out of the details of exchange of Indian and Pakistan enclaves on the basis of an understanding between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, at Karachi, this meeting unanimously resolves:-

(a) As the total area of Indian enclaves is much larger than that of the Pakistan enclaves and as the Patgram P.S. in Rangpur district, which is boarded [sic] on almost all sides by Indian Union territory excepting for a narrow corridor, is as good as an enclave and also as Pakistan enclaves together with the Patgram P.S. will constitute an area which will very nearly correspond with the area constituted by the Indian enclaves, the people of Mekhliganj Sub-Division emphatically demand that the Patgram P.S. be ceded to India together with the other Pakistan enclaves in exchange of the Indian enclaves.

(b) As most of the Indian enclaves, both in number and extent, fall within the jurisdiction of the Mekhliganj Sub-Division the people of this Sub-Division further demand, in view of the above, that the Patgram P.S. be incorporated in this Sub-Division. 

However, Pakistan rejected the idea of compensation to West Bengal [10].  They were happy to accept the treaty as long as they gained territorially and financially from it, but were unwilling to conclude a treaty where territorially and/or financially, neither country would be a gainer.  There is, perhaps, an abject lesson to leaders about how to safeguard interests.

Nehru-Noon Agreement

The next attempt to resolve the Berubari issue and the Cooch Behar enclaves came in 1958, via the Nehru-Noon agreements.  This agreement was an even worse sellout than the previous ones.  This came directly from the attitude of Nehru, who viewed the Cooch Behar enclaves and Berubari so lightly that he had said, on 4 July 1957, in his monthly press conference that, “the several boundary disputes are minor’‘ and that “any two reasonable persons on behalf of the two Governments could sit together and decide them in a day or two” p.91, [2].

Among many other points, the agreement mentions the aforementioned sentence about Berubari and the Cooch Behar enclaves.  However, there is another little-observed cession of territory in it that will become relevant later.  The government of India donated land belonging to the state of Tripura to Bangladesh.  The relevant parts of the Nehru-Noon treaty have been noted below pp. 345-346, [2]

3) Berubari Union No. 12.

 This will be divided as to give half the area to Pakistan, the other half adjacent to India being retained by India. The division of Berubari Union No. 12 will be horizontal starting from the north-east corner of Debiganj thana. The division should be made in such a manner that the Cooch Behar enclaves between Pachagarh thana of East Pakistan and Berubari Union No. 12 of Jalpaiguri thana of West Bengal will remain connected as at present with Indian territory and will remain in India. The Cooch Behar enclaves lower down between Boda thana of East Pakistan and Berubari No. 12 will be exchanged along with the general exchange of enclaves and will go to Pakistan. 

8) Government of India agrees to give in perpetual right to Pakistan the land belonging to Tripura State to the west of the railway line as well as the land appurtenant to the railway line at Bhagalpur. 

10) Exchange of old Cooch Behar State enclaves in Pakistan and Pakistan enclaves in India without claim to compensation for extra area going to Pakistan, is agreed to. 

This agreement, in addition to conceding around 10,000 acres of the Cooch Behar enclaves, also decided to give away part of the Berubari region, to which Pakistan had foisted its claim post facto, in an attempt to grab more Indian territory.  Besides these, it also decided to give away the some land in Tripura for a Pakistani railway.

When Nehru presented it in Parliament, there was an uproar.  Paraphrasing from p.94, [2], four major issues were raised to the agreement.

1)  Could a PM make an agreement involving cession of Indian territory and just inform the Parliament post-facto Many MPs were incensed that there was no input from the Parliament or the states, let alone a Parliamentary debate on the topic before the conclusion of the agreement.

2)  Could a PM claim the right to unilaterally give away Indian territory without Parliamentary approval, much less oversight? 

3) Did the PM have the power to strip Indian citizens of their citizenship and compel them to become Pakistanis, whether they would or not? 

4)  Around 6000 Hindu refugees from East Bengal had settled in the Berubari region, on which the West Bengal government had spent considerable money to rehabilitate them.  It was obvious that the lives of these people would be jeopardised once more.  The question remained as to how Nehru could compel them to become refugees or Pakistanis again, when they had suffered the fate once already?

 

Response of political parties to the Nehru-Noon agreements

In West Bengal, both the government and the opposition staunchly opposed the agreement.  Representations were made to the government by the MPs from West Bengal Congress, which was worried about having to rehabilitate again 10,000 refugees, many of whom had already fled Pakistan once. p.94, [2].  The state government had already incurred considerable expenditure in rehabilitating refugees at Berubari and was consequently, annoyed that Nehru had given the region away to Pakistan without any reference to the State Government.  A resolution tabled by the opposition favouring the retention of Berubari in the Indian Union was adopted unanimously by the West Bengal Assembly.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

In Parliament, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of the then Jan Sangh, complained about the agreement, “We gave some land to Pakistan in Tripura for a railway passage, but we did not demand some land from Pakistan for going to North Bengal from West Bengal and for going to Assam via East Bengal?” p. 124, [11]. 

The Hindu Mahasabha opposed both the exchange of enclaves and the capitulation over Berubari, pointed out the large number of refugees that would be created by both acts and called on the people of the enclaves and Berubari to organise against the Nehru government. [12].  The Forward Bloc, principally under its Berubari block president, Rama Prasanna Roy, and the local MLA, Hemanta Basu, organised the people of Berubari and they decided to fight for their rights to remain in India.

First Legal Challenges to the Nehru-Noon Agreements and the Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court

When Nehru attempted to operationalise the agreements, he found staunch opposition, both from the opposition parties, West Bengal state, and most vitally, the people of Berubari itself.  Aided by the Forward Bloc (in particular, Amar Roy Pradhan and local MLA, Hemanta Basu), the local people organised themselves and formed the Pratiraksha Samiti under Prof. Nirmal Bose, who filed a writ of Mandamus to prevent the government of West Bengal and the Union government from implementing the Nehru-Noon agreement.

The verdict of the West Bengal HC, delivered on 08 April 1959 ordered the West Bengal government not to cooperate in handing Berubari and the enclaves to Pakistan, but pointed out that it had no jurisdiction over the Ministry of External Affairs and the Union government of India.  It also rejected the contention of the Attorney General that the handover of Berubari and the Cooch Behar enclaves was `An Act of State’ and consequently, beyond the jurisdiction of the courts.  The judgement on the cession of territory and its effects on the citizens in the affected region ran thus,

“But where territory is ceded, not only his property right, but all his rights, including even life and liberty are affected. It seems to me unthinkable that the Constitution contemplated that a citizen should wake up one morning and find that he and all that he possessed have been bodily handed over to a foreign power, without his knowledge and consent. In such matters individual consent may not be necessary, but the democratic process of Parliamentary sanction, which means sanction through his chosen representatives is necessary. In my opinion an ‘Act of State’ does not arise in the case at all.” [13]

With widespread opposition by non-Congress parties and the resistance of the people of Berubari itself, the President decided to refer the decision to transfer part of Berubari to Pakistan and exchange the enclaves to the Supreme Court for a legal opinion.  Three specific questions were asked by the President.

1) Is any legislative action necessary for implementation of the agreement relating to Berubari Union?

(2) If so, is a law of Parliament relatable to Article 3 of the Constitution sufficient for the purpose or is an amendment of the Constitution in accordance with Article 368 of the Constitution necessary, in addition or in the alternative?

(3) Is a law of Parliament relatable to Article 3 of the Constitution sufficient for implementation of the agreement relating to the exchange of Enclaves or is an amendment of the Constitution in accordance with Article 368 of the constitution necessary for the purpose, in addition or in the alternative? [14]

 The Supreme Court heard all arguments and delivered its judgement on 14 March 1960.  Its judgement held that the Berubari Union transfer involved cession of territory and rejected the argument of the Attorney General that the handover of Berubari was merely a case of interpreting the Radcliffe award.  The answers of the Supreme Court to the Presidential questions were:

Q.1. Yes.

Q.2. (a) A law of Parliament relatable to Article 3 of the Constitution would be incompetent;

(b) A law of Parliament relatable to Article 368 of the Constitution is competent and necessary;

(c) A law of Parliament relatable to both Article 368 and Article 3 would be necessary only if Parliament chooses first to pass a law amending Article 3 as indicated above; in that case Parliament may have to pass a law on those lines under Article 368 and then follow it up with a law relatable to the amended Article 3 to implement the agreement.

Q.3. Same as answers (a), (b) and (c) to Question 2.  [14]

Response of the people of Berubari to the Nehru-Noon agreements

There were a number of meetings organised by the Berubari Pratiraksha Samiti, and apart from the Forward Bloc, they attracted the support across a wide spectrum including RSP MP, Dilip Choudhuri, and Hindu Mahasabha MP, Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee.

Hemanta Basu, the MLA of the region covering Berubari, and the people of Berubari took an oath in blood on 14 April 1960 that they would not let Berubari fall into the hands of Pakistan even at the cost of their lives.  A monument to their oath, inscribed, রক্তপ্রাণ্রক্তরক্ত দেবো প্রাণ দেবো বেরুবারী দেবোনাদেবোনাদেবোনা (We will give our blood, we will give our lives, but we will not give up Berubari), was erected at Manikganj Hat.

A petition sent by the people of Berubari to the president may have been a factor in inducing him to seek Supreme Court’s opinion on the cession of Indian territory to Pakistan.  Aided by opposition parties, many hartals were organised, bringing not only Berubari and Jalpaiguri, but also often Calcutta to a standstill.   They had secured the support of almost all non-Congress parties.  Even the Congress, perhaps due just to crass electoral calculations, was forced to mouth sympathies to the people of Berubari.

Constitutional Amendment to implement Nehru Noon Agreement

In the wake of the Supreme Court judgement on the necessity of a Constitutional Amendment to cede territory, the Nehru government decided to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to cede half of the Berubari region to Pakistan. 

The Nehru government decided to amend Article 1, of the Constitution, and not Article 3.

While Nehru’s purported reason was to make cession of Indian territory require a two thirds majority, the real reason may well have been that amending Article 3 would have required taking West Bengal’s permission to cede the territory (and West Bengal government was unwilling to play ball).

Constitution of India

Constitution of India

 

Dr. BC Roy sent a letter containing twelve points on which he felt that the proposed constitutional amendment was unconstitutional.  On 29 November 1960, the West Bengal government once more, unanimously reaffirmed its resolution to retain the Berubari block in the Indian Union:

“…any adjustment of boundary which may result in the transfer of any part of the territory of Berubari Union in Jalpaiguri to East Pakistan will adversely affect the economic life and security of the people of the area and that the Government of West Bengal has spent large sums of money for the area where a large number of refugees from East Bengal have been settled, the Assembly is of the opinion that the said Berubari Union should remain part of the territory of the Union of India” p. 191, [15]

 While the West Bengal Assembly adopted the resolution, there were limits to which the West Bengal Congress could oppose the will of the central government.  On 12 December 1960, Dr. BC Roy told the house, `It is our Prime Minister who has entered into this international agreement… we on this side of the House cannot possibly take any step which may be regarded in the outside world as lowering his dignity” pp. 106, [2].  

In Parliament, too, the opposition staunchly opposed the Constitutional Amendment.  AC Guha decried amending the Constitution to accommodate the executive and the agreements made by the executive without taking the Parliament into confidence.  Another opposition member made the following speech in the Parliament, “In a democratic country what is more valuable? – the prestige of the Prime Minister or the fortunes of the people? It is true that the prestige of the Prime Minister means the prestige of the country. But what is the prestige of the country at the cost of its people? Is this democracy or a masked dictatorship? Is this not dictatorship masquerading in parliamentary form, the Parliament rubber-stamping whatever the Executive does in the name of the Prime Minister’s prestige?” p. 763, [16], p. 105, [2] 

Nehru’s ignorance and carelessness were manifest in the reply he made to the criticisms during the amendment to grant part of Berubari to Pakistan.  Replying in the Lok Sabha, the Prime Minister admitted the following [16]

  1. The issue was `raised vaguely by Pakistan in 1949′ and had not been submitted to the Bagge tribunal by them.
  2. The division of Berubari (a totally Indian territory) was a Pakistani proposal and Nehru had unstintingly consented to it, without even knowing how much territory it would cede to Pakistan.
  3. Nehru was unaware at the time of the agreement that the region was overwhelmingly Hindu and that there were 5-6000 Hindu refugees there.

Having exhausted the normal means of convincing the Parliament and with no moral authority left on the issue, Nehru issued a plea that is best judged from his own words,

…having agreed to it, we gave our word to the Government of Pakistan and I signed the document. I need not remind the house that if I function it is not in any individual capacity but in the capacity which Parliament has given me as Prime Minister of India… The word of the Prime Minister of India, apart from the individual concerned, is not a light thing… An agreement arrived at on behalf of the Government of India is not only an important matter, but there is a sacredness about it as the word of the Government and the country. I do not want anyone in the wide world to say that we do not honour our pledges and undertakings” p. 105, [2]. 

The hollowness of Nehru’s pleas can be best summed up by quoting a Vigil editorial, which wrote, ``Shri Nehru has not so far spoken even a word of apology. And, then, he has then shown a rather odd attitude regarding his prestige which in his Prime Minister’s capacity he would equate with the prestige of the country.” [16]

Despite the condemnation not only from the Opposition and the people of West Bengal, but also the general press (Times of India, Hindusthan Standard and Vigil) carried stinging rebukes of the Nehru government’s Berubari policy), the brute majority of the Congress helped in carrying the Bills through, in both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha.

While Berubari was the target of most of the debate, there was opposition to the exchange of the Cooch Behar enclaves too.  Anil Chandra, a minister, defended it thus,

having a friendly hinterland, the Muslim citizens of the Pakistan enclaves in our territory could reach to their administration or go over to their mainland. But so far as our enclaves are concerned, the people are all Hindus surrounded by a sea of unfriendly Muslims of Pakistan…we have at least saved these people from the uncertainty of living without any administration” p. 107, [2]. 

In the aftermath of the constitutional amendment to hand over Berubari and the Cooch Behar enclaves, Nehru tried to buy peace from the people of Berubari with the following announcement,

The people who are living there and want to come over to our side, we propose to settle them around that area … Houses will be constructed for them there and land will also be given … in fixing the actual date, the ‘appointed day’ as it is called, we want all these preliminaries to be done before the appointed day comes on.” p. 108, [18].  

However, he found few takers for it.  Despite generous promises by the Nehru government, the people of Berubari continued to resist desperately for their right to remain in India, and be Indian citizens.

Continued Legal Challenges and Resistance

However, many more legal challenges, both involving the implementation and other legal questions about the citizens rights and right to compensation, Pakistani greed to grab too much territory (they insisted on complicated demarcation techniques that would give them larger amounts of land), and stubborn local resistance prevented the implementation of the Nehru-Noon Agreements.

Many other petitions were filed by Nirmal Bose , Balraj Madhok (BJS), and Amar Roy Pradhan (Forward Bloc), but they were all rejected by various courts.  But they had succeeded in winning time for the locals.  With the desperate resistance of the locals, and the continuing tensions between India and Pakistan, the Nehru-Noon agreement could not be operationalised inspite of the constitutional amendment.   It is perhaps worth examining the judgement in one particular case. 

In disposing of the petitions of Ram Kishore Sen and others vs Union of India, the judge gave a judgement that highlighted that though the Union of India was right legally, it was wrong morally.  He sympathised with the plight of the petitioners and wrote in his judgement,

I might add that I have come to this result without any enthusiasm. To uproot one human being from his hearth and home without his consent is bad enough, but to do so in regard to thousands of people borders on the tragic. Some day the united conscience of the civilised world might evolve a better way of solving human problems like these.” [17], p.113, [2]. 

The death of Nehru reduced Indian appetite to hand over Berubari to Pakistan.  The 1965 India Pakistan war further intervened with the demarcation of the border and the exchange of the enclaves and hand over of Berubari.  In 1967, the Congress fell from power in Bengal and was replaced by the Ministry of Ajoy Mukherjee.  Ajoy Mukherjee travelled to Berubari and in the presence of Amar Roy Pradhan (MLA of the region) and Nirmal Bose (MLC) promised to resist the transfer of Berubari to the best of his ability.

In this context, it is perhaps worth pondering whose interests were being served by the transfer of Indian territories to Pakistan.

Indians successfully defending their land upset Nirad C Choudhary so much that he wrote in the Hindusthan Standard  on 26 February 1968.

It is my conviction that Jawarhalal Nehru, if left to his own judgement, would have settled all the frontier disputes on a basis of give and take but was thoroughly frightened by the clamour over Berubari and had no further strength to get the loose ends tied up ” [19]. 

Not content with his fury over Indians successfully defending their lands and their livelihoods, he had the further effrontery to write,

It began with Duryadhana’s famous defiance ‘Not even as much land as can be covered by the point of a needle!’ when the Pandavas said that they would abandon their claim to a share of the kingdom and rest satisfied with five villages. The Hindus venerate the Mahabharata […] Anyone who has anything to do with landed property in India knows this. For a piece of land to be in a Hindu’s possession is virtually to be in mortmain. It will be regarded as inalienable.” [19]

Nirad C Choudhary’s association with the British governments has been well documented. He has been suspected of spying on freedom fighters Subhas Bose and his elder brother Sarat Bose for the British government.

As Sarat Bose’s secretary between 1938 and 1941, Nirad handled Subhas Bose’s correspondence too. It has been suspected that his information to British intelligence about Sarat Bose’s whereabouts eventually led to the latter’s arrest in 1941.   

Nirad C Chaudhuri

Nirad C Chaudhuri

In 1941, a day before Sarat Bose’s arrest by the British, Choudhary quit and joined the All India Radio [45].  At that time, All India Radio was a British instrument for propaganda in India. In early 1941, Subhas Bose had escaped to Germany, which was then at war with England. It was, therefore surprising that Sarat Bose’s former secretary would be employed in the British All India Radio. Several British intelligence files on him are yet to be declassified [45].

After independence, he moved to England, receiving numerous prizes: Duffer Cooper Memorial Award in 1966, and the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1992. While Nirad C Choudhary was generously treated by the British, their hatred for Subhas Bose extended to all his close associates.  Mountbatten had said `I hated Subhas; he brought together the dregs of Indians in his army.’’ p. 576, [46].

He had also excluded Sarat Bose from discussions concerning the partition of Bengal, though Sarat Bose was a prominent leader of Bengal Congress p. 576, [46]. Mountbatten’s predecessor, Wavell, had also objected to Sarat Bose’s presence in 1946 in the Interim Government because of Subhas Bose’s INA and Japanese connections p. 569, [46]. Thus, their generosity for Bose’s secretary is intriguing to say the least.

The resistance of the people and the politicians of West Bengal had a salutary effort and they had prevented the implementation of the grossly unfair Nehru-Noon agreements.  By the time of the 1971 Indo-Pak war over Bangladesh, the border had not yet been resolved fully.  In fact, except in small tracts, the border had not been demarcated in the Berubari sector at all.  And the Indo-Pak war of 1971 changed the entire scenario.

Bangladesh was created a separate state.  Pakistan ceased to be a factor in the eastern boundary.  It then became an issue between India and Bangladesh.  India and Bangladesh signed a new treaty in 1974 between themselves to demarcate the border and resolve all boundary and enclave problems.

India Bangladesh Agreement of 1974

The Indo Bangladesh accord of 1974 removed the main problem of Berubari, more or less.  The bitter lesson of 1950s and 60s had been learnt by the Indira government, but it was replaced by a different problem in the same way.  However, let us study the relevant terms of the India-Bangladesh treaty of 1974.

  1. Enclaves.- The Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh enclaves in India should be exchanged expeditiously, excepting the enclaves mentioned in paragraph 14 without claim to compensation for the additional area going to Bangladesh. 

14 Berubari.- India will retain the southern half of South Berubari Union No.12 and the adjacent enclaves, measuring an area of 2.64 square miles approximately, and in exchange Bangladesh will retain the Dahagram and Angarpota enclaves. 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. pp. 378-379, [2]. 

The agreement gave away the Cooch Behar enclaves, losing India some 10,000 acres and a population of around 25,000 (30,000 if one includes the Dahargram-Angarpota enclaves) people in the Cooch Behar enclaves.  Besides, it exchanged Berubari (to which Pakistan had no real claim) for the Dahargram-Angarpota enclaves.  India gained 18.13 Sq Kms in the Berubari region (without accounting for the adverse possession, where some 500 acres of the land had been given/lost through adverse possession to Pakistan before) and lost 18.68 sq kms in the Dahargram-Angarpota region.

The agreement protected Berubari mostly, but lost more land (and population) than previously and created a problem just as bad.  Besides losing the Dahargram-Angarpota enclaves, India permanently agreed to lease Tin Bigha strip to Bangladesh to connect the Dahargram-Angarpota strip to the mainland of Bangladesh.  This created a virtual enclave in Kuchlibari (a part of West Bengal).

Tin Bigha Issue

In an effort to retain Berubari in the Indian Union, India had offered the Dahargram-Angarpota enclaves to Bangladesh.  The Dahargram-Angarpota enclaves are Bangladeshi enclaves very close to the Indian border (around 500 metres away from the Bangladesh border).  India had offered to let Bangladesh retain these in place of Berubari.  This was accepted, but this created a problem just as bad.

Access to Kuchlibari region of West Bengal is possible only through Tin Bigha corridor and the wide and unpredictable Teesta river makes it impossible to devise another access route to the Kuchlibari region.  Not only did it grant more land to Bangladesh and abandon the Hindus of the enclaves there, it also created worse access problems for parts of India itself.

Consequently, this roused the opposition of the people of Kuchlibari and Tin Bigha to the Land Boundary Agreement.  Two samitis to protect the interests of Kuchlibari were created by the people of the region under the tutelage of two different political groups.  The more moderate and accommodative group was led by the Forward Bloc, and was called the Tin Bigha Sangram Samiti.  The more determined group was created by the people whose interests were desperately threatened – the people of Kuchlibari.  This group operated under the tutelage of the BJP (and a few disgruntled Congressmen) and was called the Kuchlibari Sangram Samiti. p. 83, [20].  In the demonstrations indicating the resistance of the people of the region to the transfer of Tin Bigha, one Sudhir Roy was killed in police firing in 1981.

vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

In response to the protests of Vajpayee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on 02 April 1981, P V Narasimha Rao (the then External Affairs Minister) replied in Parliament that access to Kuchlibari would be protected and that Tin Bigha would remain under the sovereignty of India.  He stated, ``There is thus no question of ‘disconnecting’ any part of Indian territory.” cols. 43-44, [21].

However, the External Affairs Minister did not elucidate how the access to Kuchlibari would be protected, nor how Indian sovereignty would, de facto, be preserved over Tin Bigha, when it was leased to Bangladesh in perpetuity.

Despite the vocal opposition of the BJP and Forward Bloc, the Union government went ahead and made another agreement with Bangladesh in 1982, which we shall quote here.

  1. The lease in perpetuity of the aforementioned area shall be for the purpose of connecting Dahagram and Angarpota with Panbari Mouza (P.S.Patgram) of Bangladesh to enable the Bangladesh Government to exercise her sovereignty over Dahagram and Angarpota.  
  1. Sovereignty over the leased area shall continue to vest in India. The rent for the leased area shall be Bangladesh Tk. 1/- (Bangladesh Taka One) only per annum. Bangladesh shall not, however, be required to pay the said rent and the Government of India hereby waives its right to charge such rent in respect of the leased area. 
  1. For the purposes stated in para. 1 above Bangladesh shall have undisturbed possession and use of the area leased to her in perpetuity. 
  1. Bangladesh citizens including paramilitary and military personnel along with their arms, ammunition, equipment and supplies shall have the right of free and unfettered movement in the leased area and shall not be required to carry passports or travel documents of any kind. Movement of Bangladesh goods through the leased area shall also be free. There shall be no requirement of payment of customs duty, tax or levy of any kind whatsoever or any transit charges. 
  1. Indian citizens including police, paramilitary and military personnel along with their arms, ammunition, equipment and supplies shall continue to have the right of free and unfettered movement in the leased area in either direction. Movement of Indian goods across the leased area shall also be free. For the purposes of such passage the existing road running across it shall continue to be used. India may also build a road above and or below the surface of the leased area in an elevated or subway form for her exclusive use in a manner which will not prejudice free and unfettered movement of Bangladesh citizens and goods as defined in paras 1 and 4 above. p.382, [2].

A reading of the above agreement shows that India turned part of its territory into (essentially) international territory. 

While the agreement technically promised free flow of people and goods across the Tin Bigha strip, the practical difficulties limited Indian movement across the strip and this was greatly resented by the people of Kuchlibari.

Further, the owners of Tin Bigha strip resented their territory being leased to Bangladesh.  Worse, it promised to turn Tin Bigha into leased territory even before the agreement was operationalised, with no conditions placed on Bangladesh to hold up to its side of the bargain.  A legal challenge to the agreements by one Sugandha Roy was dismissed by the Calcutta High court.  However, there was a vast difference between the past West Bengal governments and the case in the 1980s and 1990s.  The West Bengal government, in the past, had been supportive of the rights of the people of Berubari.  However, the Left government of the 1980s was totally unsympathetic to the plight of the people of Kuchlibari,  The West Bengal government, in 1984, started acquiring the Tin Bigha strip issuing a gazette notification on 06/08/1984.  The cries of the people of Kuchlibari had been stifled.

How the Hindu resistance to the transfer of Indian territory to Bangladesh was crushed by Communists and a complicit Congress 

A series of legal battles followed throughout the 80s against the Tin Bigha strip being leased to Bangladesh, where the government finally had the upper hand and the lease of Tin Bigha was set for 1992.  It is interesting to note one anomaly in all this.  The government submitted, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, that no private land was acquired but admitted that private land was acquired for the Tin Bigha corridor in a gazette notification.  The BJP correctly pointed out this point in its opposition to the deal. [22].

Both the Forward Bloc and the BJP opposed the deal, but on different grounds.  Amar Roy Pradhan (Forward Bloc) opposed the transfer of Tin Bigha because he feared that Bangladesh would back away from the exchange of enclaves once Tin Bigha transfer was accomplished.  It was the exchange of the enclaves which he was most interested in.  He wanted the exchange of enclaves and the transfer of Tin Bigha to be accomplished in one stroke p.141, [2].  He complained in Parliament, “The Central Government did nothing for these people [of the enclaves] but on the other hand, the Indian Government is very much eager to give a passage to Bangladesh enclaves.” [23]

Jyoti Basu

Jyoti Basu

On the other hand, the BJP opposed the agreement on nationalist lines.  It pointed out that the Nehru-Noon agreements had been rammed down by the Congress government by a brutal majority in Parliament, and that the agreement had only been prevented from being accomplished by the people themselves.  The BJP alleged that the government was trying to cede land by means of tortuous devices to avoid having to secure confidence of the Parliament.  It further pointed out that the predicament of Kuchlibari was not addressed and that they might be rendered refugees in future.  The BJP ended with a call to “all the Indians, all its valiant fighters for national integrity to stand up, face the situation squarely and remove the danger of 50,000 people of Kuchlibari becoming Refugees at some point of time in the future.” [24].

The Congress government was determined to go on, however.  It fixed the date of 26 June 1992 to turn Tin Bigha into an open strip for Bangladeshis.  In West Bengal, CM Jyothi Basu and PM PVN Rao convinced Forward Bloc leader Chitta Basu into dropping his opposition to the deal.  This led to a split in the Forward Bloc, with Amar Roy Pradhan breaking away from the Forward Bloc to form Forward Bloc (S), which opposed the deal.  When the External Affairs Minister Madhav Singh Solanki said in Parliament,

Given time and goodwill, the Tin Bigha corridor which unfortunately generated so much controversy and tension in the past will turn into a crossroads of friendship between India and Bangladesh”, he was interrupted, ``the Honourable Minister has betrayed the people of West Bengal and the West Bengal people will never accept it” pp. 935-936, [18].

With the date of the transfer ever closer, the BJP president Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, went to meet the people of Kuchlibari on 23 June 1992.  While he was prevented from addressing a gathering, he was able to meet them and hear their grievances.  The people of Kuchlibari rallied to his call, and were willing to fight than give up. p.144-145, [2].

Dr. Joshi described the transfer as `a great fraud’ on the people of Kuchlibari and Mekhliganj.  He called on Begum Zia to “take back the 15 million Bangladeshi infiltrators in India and we will give her Tin Bigha”. He stated that all treaties, including that of Tin Bigha, that went against “national interest” would be reviewed if the BJP came to power, and that the BJP was against leasing out any part of India to a foreign country.” p. 145, [2], [29].

The situation is best described in these words of [25],

Bangladeshi banners were visible across the main boundary congratulating Jyoti Basu and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Begum Zia for implementing the transfer. Slogans were also shouted across the border `We have got Tin Bigha, now we will take Kuchlibari”’.

The governments, both state and central, let loose terror on the locals, preventing them from organising against the lease of Tin Bigha.  Further, pp. 119-126, [26] alleges, “Complaints were made of heavy-handed tactics and even looting by the State and Central Police forces. Rations had supposedly been cut and the residents’ freedom to move about curtailed.”

According to [25], several hundred residents ([26] quotes a local official as saying 10,000) had fled to Mekhliganj town and beyond in fear, and  ‘the lack of confidence in the future was mirrored in the price of gold in the local market, down to a third of its price elsewhere” pp. 145-146. [2].

Dr Joshi visited Tin Bigha and laid a wreath at the memorial to Sudhir Roy, killed in the police firing of 1981.

On 24 June 1992, L K Advani visited Kuchlibari, and Mekhliganj, but the CPI(M) government was prepared and had arrested several thousand BJP workers, including the West Bengal state president Tapan Sikdar, to prevent Advani’s visit from achieving anything.

Advani reminded Kuchlibari residents that the date of transfer was the same as the date on which emergency had been imposed and the transfer of Tin Bigha was a similar outrage. p. 146, [2].  When the BJP, FB(S) and SUCI members tried to organise themselves against the transfer of Tin Bigha, they were subjected to firing and other assaults by the police and CPM cadres.  This resulted in the loss of several lives, and according to Amar Roy Pradhan, “hundreds of people were injured and some of them losing their limbs.” p. 16, [27].

The desperation with which the locals resisted can be gauged from the following Times of India report,

The whole scene seems unreal as the placid calm of the morning in the pastoral surrounding was disturbed by sounds of gunfire and bursting of tear gas shells. White clouds of smoke rose from the green jute fields as police fired more than hundred rounds of tear gas shells to disperse knots of several hundred strong demonstrators who sometimes attacked the police with stones and arrows .” [28].

Nevertheless, the government was able to accomplish the lease of Tin Bigha to Bangladesh.  In the West Bengal Assembly, the CPI(M) members greeted the transfer of the Tin Bigha corridor by `thumping their desks in joy’ [30].

The Congress members had boycotted the proceedings, protesting the partisan attitude of the Speaker, and the sole voice raised in the favour of the suffering Kuchlibari residents was Dr. DP Sarkar (SUCI), who condemned the state government for `imposing undeclared emergency‘ [30].

Bangladesh celebrated the transfer of Tin Bigha by India by murdering 67 Indian citizens in Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh, and driving the rest out to India on 31 August 1992.  Dr. Amar Roy Pradhan tried to obtain asylum for them and alleviate their sufferings by taking them to meet the then West Bengal CM Jyothi Basu, but nothing came of the meeting.  The dejected refugees tried to return to Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh, where more were murdered by the Bangladeshis. [27].

BJP rescinds its opposition to the transfer of land to Bangladesh on assuming power 

The enclave problem had remained frozen since 1992.  Bangladesh, having got access to its biggest enclave, had no interest in either facilitating access to Indian enclaves or allowing Indian citizens to access their facilities.  During the remainder of the Narasimha Rao government, nothing more was done by either India or Bangladesh about the enclaves.  The BJP government which replaced the Congress government in 1996 (and later 1998) didn’t revoke the lease as it had promised to do in 1992.

The Tin Bigha residents remained forgotten.

Even the official faction of the Forward Bloc, which had once wholeheartedly supported the lease of Tin Bigha, admitted, that the whole matter had been `appeasement of Bangladesh’ in 1996. [31], p. 164, [2].

Amidst this general abdication of responsibility towards both the Cooch Behar enclaves and the residents of Tin Bigha and Kuchlibari, Forward Bloc’s, Amar Roy Pradhan, and later, Tapan Sikdar of the BJP kept pushing in Parliament to make things better for the people of the enclaves.

Tapan Sikdar

Tapan Sikdar

 

In December 1996, Amar Roy Pradhan urged the government to negotiate a 2.5 acre lease at Daikhata (reciprocal to the Tin Bigha lease to Bangladesh) to connect the Shalbari enclaves to India, which would have allowed India to retain a large enclave within Bangladesh.

The BJP demanded transit facilities at Tetulia in 1997.  On 31 March 1998, Tapan Sikdar, BJP MP from Dum Dum wrote to the PM  AB Vajpayee:

 

 

 

Please look into the issue and solve it once and for all to the satisfaction of Indian citizens living in fear without any protection from India”. Mr Sikdar deplored the 1974 Indira-Mujib Pact handing over Tin Bigha, claiming Kuchlibari was now enclaved. “More than 50,000 Indians there were deprived of any access to the Indian mainland” p. 152, [2], [32]. 

In the same letter, Sikdar pointed out the large number of law and order problems caused by the Tin Bigha corridor, which was giving access to all kinds of criminals.  West Bengal, too, suffered in its attempts to build a tourist resort near Tin Bigha.  The BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) objected to the constructions, and the state government discontinued them, annoying the local people.  Further, the illegal immigration was hugely facilitated by the Dahargram Angarpota enclave – a claim also made by the Forward Bloc MLA, Kamal Guha.

Land Boundary Agreement 2011

In 2011, the Indian PM Dr. Manmohan Singh and the Bangladesh PM. Smt. Sheikh Hasina signed an agreement to rationalise the border, as part of the Land Boundary Agreement 2011.  While it was supported by many parties in India, principally the Congress and the Left, it had been opposed by three parties, mainly, viz, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Asom Gana Parishad and the Trinamool Congress.

When the Bill to amend the Constitution to grant the enclaves to Bangladesh was first considered in August 2013, the Trinamool Congress and the AGP had raised slogans against it in the House.  Dr. Birendra Prasad Baishya had sat on the floor of the House, holding a placard stating that the Bill was an “injustice to Assam” [35].

Justifying his opposition to the Bill in Parliament, the Trinamool Congress spokesperson, Derek O’Brien had said, ``It is not a vanilla ice-cream; it is the country’s precious land that is at stake.” [35].

Similarly, at the prelude to the winter session of Parliament, Arun Jaitley had also opposed the Bill in a letter to the Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha.  Quoting from [36],

`In his letter dated December 5 to Secretary General of the Upper House, Jaitley had sought permission to oppose the Bill, saying it violates the basic structure of the Constitution as it seeks to alter the territory of India on Bangladesh border.  “My objection is based on the fact that after 1973 when the concept of basic structure of the Constitution was evolved in the Kesavanand Bharati case, Parliament has no jurisdiction to alter the territory of India. The territory represents the sovereignty ad are both a part of the basic structure of the Constitution and thus unamenable,” Jaitley said.  He insisted the power to amend the Constitution is restricted by Article 368 which implies that the basic structure cannot be altered. “Territory of India is a part of the Constitution. It cannot be reduced or altered by an amendment to the Constitution. I may be given permission to oppose the introduction of this Bill,” Jaitley said in his letter.

When the Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha on 18 December 2013, Birendra Prasad Baishya had opposed in the presence of Smt. Renuka Chowdhary, the Acting Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, even the introduction of the Bill saying,

Madam, I want to say something.  The way in which you introduced the Bill was not proper. From the Chair, Mr. Deputy Chairman assured the House, before introducing the Bill, that he will take the sense of the House.  Without taking the sense of the House, he is violating his own rules.  This is not the way. I challenge it” [37].

Land Boundary Agreement 2015 and how most parties went back on their stand on land bill 

Although the BJP staunchly opposed the handover of Indian territory to Bangladesh while in opposition, it reversed its stand soon after assuming office, and likely ensured that the earlier opponents of the bill came on board with them.

The current BJP government has issued via the Ministry of External Affairs, a document that described the handover of Indian territory to Bangladesh thus,

In the exchange of enclaves, India will transfer 111 enclaves with a total area of 17,160.63 acres to Bangladesh, while Bangladesh would transfer 51 enclaves with an area of 7,110.02 acres to India. While on paper, the exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh may seem like a loss of Indian land to Bangladesh, the actual scenario is quite different as the enclaves are located deep inside the territory of both countries and there has been no physical access to them from either country. In reality, the exchange of enclaves denotes only a notional exchange of land as the Protocol converts a de facto reality into a de jure situation.” p.4, [1].

Thus, from `territory that represents sovereignty of India’ as Arun Jaitley had once termed the Cooch Behar enclaves, it now became `loss only on paper’.

We note the views of the different parties based on the debates in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.  The principal actors are the Congress, the BJP, the Left Parties, the Trinamool Congress and the AGP.  The AGP has been completely eliminated from the Parliament, but expressed its opposition to the Bill by organising an Assam-wide bandh.

We will review the stance of the other prime players on the current Bill.  It is also noteworthy that the honourable MP of Cooch Behar, Smt. Renuka Sinha (TMC), did not speak on a matter that concerned her own constituency.

Tabling the bill in the Lok Sabha, Honourable Minister for External Affairs, Smt. Sushma Swaraj (BJP) said,

The Rajya Sabha passed this Bill unanimously yesterday. I am saying this because it sent a positive message to Bangladesh that as far as the good relations between India and Bangladesh are concerned, all the parties in India are united and there is no question of any difference. Therefore, I am requesting all the members of this House to show the same spirit in the passage of this Bill as was shown by Rajya Sabha yesterday.” [33]. 

Thus, the BJP, one of the prime opponents of the Bill in the past, has itself moved for the same agreements that it had chosen to oppose for more than fifty years.

Trinamool Congress, Prof. Sugata Bose,

I would like to say that let us gift this historic piece of legislation to the people of the two Bengals.  Let the message go out to the whole of South Asia that we want peace and development for the poor and obscure, who live all across this great Subcontinent.” [33].

While it is quite clear that significant benefits will be accrued by people of one Bengal, to adopt Prof Bose’s words, but it’s equally fuzzy how those of the other Bengal would gain from it.  The opposition of the Trinamool Congress was on two fronts:  a) The loss of land to West Bengal, and b) the lack of a central package to help absorb any new migrants from the enclaves.

The present central government has promised a central package to redress the loss to the state’s exchequer.  Consequently, the loss of land seems to have been overlooked by the Trinamool Congress.

Mohammad Salim of the CPI(M) also supported the Bill saying,

This is only a beginning not an end. It is a reality that India had a partition. There is not point of return on it. But we can live as good neighbours with other countries.” [33] 

While the Left parties had opposed the Nehru-Noon agreements, they have been in favour of the exchange of the enclaves and the gifting of the Tin Bigha corridor from the early ’80s at least. 

In the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress,

Sir, this is a very important Constitutional Amendment Bill and a very important legislation which my party, 100 per cent, supports and which the entire House, the entire Opposition, supports.” [37]. 

The Congress’ support to the Bill that it had been trying to push for more than fifty years against the opposition’s desperate resistance, was unsurprising. 

Impact on the Hindus

The only formal investigation into the religious demographics of the enclaves has been done (presumably, since the investigation is silent on this point) in 2011.  We quote their statement verbatim.

A joint headcount conducted from 14-17 July, 2011 determined the total population in the enclaves to be around 51,549 (37,334 in Indian enclaves within Bangladesh and 14,215 in angladesh enclaves within India).” p. 34, [1].

This document does not separate the residents of the enclaves by religions.  Consequently, we are forced to rely on the older census and guesstimates for our determination.  In an estimate in 2000, Dr. Amar Roy Pradhan estimated that the percentage of Hindus was 20, and the percentage of Muslims was 80 in the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh. p. 152, [2].

The percentage of Hindus in Dahargram-Angarpota is of similar nature.  The only census prior to this latest headcount in 2011 is the 1951 census (the last census in the enclaves).  The 1951 census show a much greater percentage of Hindus in the enclaves (Appendix 3, [2]), but they are surely too old and have changed much, due to various factors in the last fifty years.

If we assume that the estimate of Dr. Amar Roy Pradhan is correct, we have a total of 37,334 residents in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, and roughly 8,000 residents in the enclave of Dahargram-Angarpota, for a total of nearly 45,000 residents in total.  A 20 per cent Hindu population of this number gives us a population of roughly 9,000 Hindus who have been abandoned in the various Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh.

Sushma Swaraj

Sushma Swaraj

Quite apart from the abandoned Hindus in Bangladesh, the Bill gives the right to the enclave dwellers to choose the country of their choice for their citizenship.  If this issue is not handled carefully, there may be an influx of more illegal Bangladeshis to India under the guise of enclave dwellers. 

Indeed, the total influx seems to be vague with estimates varying from 3,500 to 35,000 [33] according to a speech in Parliament by the Hon. Minister for External Affairs, Smt. Sushma Swaraj.  The PM has announced a package to West Bengal to rehabilitate any refugees from the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, but judging from the speeches given in Parliament, the mechanism for oversight of the policy concerning these potential immigrants seems woefully lacking.

There seems to be little clarity on how they are to be identified, or how they are to be re-housed.  Mismanaged, this might trigger another wave of illegal immigrants into the already flooded Assam and West Bengal. 

It was interesting to note that in the Lok Sabha debate, only Rabindra Kumar Jena of the BJD, Rajen Gohain, Ram Prasad Sarma and SS Ahluwalia of the BJP cautioned against this contingency.  SS Ahluwalia also demanded that India retain Dahargram-Angarpota and obtain transit rights in exchange for the handing over enclaves inside Bangladesh.

It is to be hoped that their warnings are taken heed of. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Will the Land Boundary Agreement enhance border security and/or facilitate fencing?

No.  This suggestion has been pushed, particularly by unofficial channels that are favourable to the current government.  We will examine this question in detail, using records from both the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs.

Out of the land boundary (excluding riverine boundaries), 300kms of the land boundary needs to be fenced.  Of this, 90kms of the total border needs to be fenced in West Bengal [38].  In West Bengal, all the enclaves involve either Jalpaiguri or Cooch Behar districts.  From [39], which lists the problems for Cooch Behar district, it is clear that the obstacles include people’s problems of transiting to the other side of the fence (the fences often divide people from their fields, since the fences are about 300-500 metres inside the Indian side), people’s protests, delays in acquisition of land, natural obstacles, etc.  The website [39], which deals with the problems of the enclaves (chhit mahals), clearly does not specify its causing the border fencing problems.

In fact, even the document issued by the Ministry of External Affairs [1] mentions that the enclaves lie deep within the other country and make access to them difficult.  In listing the various benefits of rationalising the border, it does not list ease of border fencing as one such advantage.  Consequently, it may be concluded that ease of border fencing is clearly not an advantage accruing from the current Land Boundary Agreement.

Is the Land Boundary Agreement in Indian Interests?

This is a judgement that has to be made by the readers.  The agreement loses India around ten thousand acres, rewards bad behaviour and land grabbing by accepting the validity of the oft condemned and totally immoral Nehru-Noon agreements. 

Further, it makes Kuchlibari a virtual enclave inside India (for the present, at least), by granting the Tin Bigha corridor to Bangladesh on a lease and isolating 50,000 Indian citizens from the remaining West Bengal.  Also, it leaves around 9,000 Hindus at Bangladesh’s mercy, and given Bangladesh’s horrid record of treating Hindus, it is unconscionable.

We briefly review the treatment that Bangladesh has meted out to Hindus in this connection [43], [44].

From nearly 30 per cent of East Pakistan’s (currently Bangladesh’s) population as per Pakistan’s 1951 census, by 1971, when Bangladesh was born out of East Pakistan, Hindus were already reduced to less than a fifth of its population. Hindus made up around 10 per cent the populace there thirty years later; and constitute as little as 8 p3r cent today according to reliable estimates p. 30, [41]. The peril for the Hindus is now so dire that even Amnesty points out the extreme risk to the Hindu community in Bangladesh and notes that Hindus are being targeted simply for their religion p. 24, [40].

During the barbarities let loose by the Pakistani army and security forces in 1971 alone, 10 million ethnic Bengalis, mostly Hindus, fled to India and 2 lakh women were subjected to sexual violence p. 26, [40]. From 1975 onwards Hindus, have been the target of discriminatory property laws, restrictions on religious freedom and violence perpetrated by both state agencies and other criminal entities p. 30, [40]..

Hindus are attacked nearly every year during the celebration of their most important festival for Bengali Hindus, the Durga Puja [42].

Prior to the inception of Bangladesh, Pakistani government had instituted the enemy property act (EPA) in 1965, which officially labelled Hindus as enemies and enabled annexation of their properties. The EPA has continued under different names since the creation of Pakistan: VPA (Vested Property Act), VRPB (Vested Property Return Bill) etc, and has robbed 200,000 Hindu families of 16 X 107 square meters of their land between 2001 to 2007 (estimated by Abul Barakat of Dhaka University) p. 43, [40].

Finally, it does nothing about securing Indian interests, whether it is expulsion of illegal Bangladeshis from India (whom Bangladesh often refuses to accept), or curbing illegal immigration (which is facilitated by free access via the Tin Bigha corridor).

Smt. Sushma Swaraj, Hon. Minister for External affairs cited two reports in her speech in Lok Sabha to say that the expected immigration into India is expected to vary between 3,500 and 35,000 people in total.  [33].

On the positive side, a set of 22 agreements were signed by the Modi and Hasina governments, and some of them offer economic benefits for India [34].  It is very likely that the 22 agreements were a package deal and the Modi government paid a price for the deal by having to agree to the Indira-Mujib agreement of 1974 (with some minor modifications to it).

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

It has also been alleged that Indian actions were aimed to benefit the Sheikh Hasina government, which is viewed as friendly to India.  Consequently, an argument has been made in [34] that the Indian government should sign the Land Boundary agreement to bolster a friendly government.  Whether having a temporary friendly government (Sheikh Hasina may be voted out in the next election) in Dhaka is worth conceding Indian territory in perpetuity is again a judgement that has to be made by the people.

 

 

Is there a case for the Land Boundary Agreement?

Yes, there is a case for the Land Boundary Agreement, not on the plane of Hindu interests or on the plane of greater border security, as explained before, but on the plane of pure humanitarian considerations.

The residents of the enclaves have had no administration worth mentioning since 1947.  The condition of the civic amenities is horrid as has been extensively documented in both [1] and [2].  Electricity, sanitation and other basic amenities have been denied to these areas, often.  Further, with no policing worth the name, many of them are dens of crime.  The rationalisation of the enclaves is expected to alleviate these problems.  Travel, transport, and communication are all huge problems for the inhabitants of the inhabitants of the enclaves.

It is, further, an open question whether better economic, diplomatic and cultural ties with Bangladesh are worth paying the price India has paid for the enclaves.  However, it would be greatly possible to alleviate these problems by providing access to Bangladeshi administrative personnel to Bangladeshi enclaves and seeking similar access for Indian administrative personnel to Indian enclaves.  This path was suggested at one time by Amar Roy Pradhan, who asked Indian governments to negotiate an access to Shalbari enclaves (a 700m strip leased by Bangladesh would give India access to these) in return for leasing the Tin Bigha strip.  However, no Indian government has made an attempt to access the Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh.

Does LBA actually contribute to long term Bangladeshi ambitions for a so-called “lebensraum” in Eastern India for its expanding population on both religious and political grounds? 

Much of the serious discussion on the desire on the part of Bangladesh to look upon eastern states of India and North eastern states in particular as its natural “lebensraum” can be traced formally to the opinion pieces by a few journalists from Bangladesh. One in particular has drawn repeated citations.

In the weekly [47], Sadiq Khan wrote

The question of lebensraum or living space for Bangladesh has not yet been raised as a moot issue. All projections indicate that by the next decade Bangladesh will face a serious crisis of lebensraum. No possible performance of population planning, actual or hypothetical alters that prediction. 

It is said that a borderless world has become the prime requisite for economic growth under the new world order. In fairness, if consumer benefit is considered to be better served by borderless competitive trade of commodities, why not borderless competitive trade of labour? There is no reason why Bangladesh should not insist on a globalized manpower market as consumer markets of nation states are being progressively globalized under the dictates of monetarists. There is no reason why regional and international cooperation could not be worked out to plan and execute population movements and settlements to avoid critical demographic pressures in pockets of high concentration. There is no reason why under-populated regions in the developed world cannot make room for planned colonies to relieve build up of demographic disasters in countries like Bangladesh.

 The natural overflow of population pressure is therefore very much on the cards and will not be restrained by barbed wire or border patrol measures. The natural trend of population overflow from Bangladesh is towards the sparsely populated lands of the southeast in the Arakhans and the northeast of the seven sisters side of the Indian subcontinent.” 

Sadiq Khan’s piece has been excerpted in most criticisms of as well as alleged formal supporting evidence of the Bangladeshi territorial designs to expand at cost of India. To understand the complexity and significance of Sadiq Khan’s piece, we need to briefly look at the personal and professional background of the author and his magazine.

In [48], Sanjay Hazarika writes,

Apart from being a firm presence at the seminar circuit, Mr. Sadeq’s views are taken quite seriously in his country — barring this one on reclaiming the silt deposits in the Bay of Bengal. But even his reclaiming silt idea could have takers as the pressures of global warming and sea level rise begin to be felt in water-logged and land-locked Bangladesh. 

He is often a guest on popular television chat shows (there are dozens of Bangla channels which seem to be doing quite well) and inaugurates events and programmes quite energetically across the country. In one earlier this year, he chaired a meeting addressed by BNP Chairperson Khaleda where she apologized to the people of Bangladesh for the mistakes of her past government, positioning itself for the nationwide polls expected sometime in 2014. 

Holiday, for which he writes every week, is left of Centre, has been seen as pro-BNP and has a small circulation. Its editor also dropped by, to chat and listen.”

It is significant that a supposedly left-of-centre journal with a “small” circulation publishes a piece that subtly introduces the idea of a lebensraum for Bangladeshis at the expense of India, and is at the same time known to be leaning towards the “right of centre” BNP, which in turn is accused by its opponents to be a protector of Islamist parties and personnel during its hold on state power. The author himself seems to get public exposure disproportionate to the supposed small-scale and reach of the publication he writes for.

In modern Islamic states, leftists often seem to anticipate, knowingly or unknowingly, expansionist or imperialist agenda that is taken up later by more militant Islamist movements. This happened in Libya under Gaddafi, in Egypt under Nasser-Sadat transition, in Syria under the Syrian faction of Baathists, in Iran under Iranian Communist party rallying against the Shah to Khomeini transition, in Afghanistan under Tarakki-Najibullah-Taliban transition, and in Bangladesh under the initial leftist spearheaded language movement and militant student movements of 60’s to the Ziaur-Rehman-Jamaat transition.

What the Marxian or “left” in an Islamic society tries is to construct purely economic reasons to explain or justify social and political tendencies or strategies while suppressing any contribution of ideology or religion. But Sadiq Khan might just have been picking up on the same theme of Islamization manifest so openly during the Partition, and expansion of Islam both in population and in area starting from the concentrations of Bengal and Punjab/Sindh at the two ends of the Ganga valley.

That Islamization itself is a possible drive behind looking at Eastern India as “lebensraum” is indicated in Middle Eastern radical Islamic movements deeming Bangladesh an attractive potential jihad hub to spread into “Hindu” India.

Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, in [49] writes:

Intelligence officials in West Bengal have found a purported al Qaeda pamphlet, which talks about establishing an ISIS-style Islamic caliphate in Bangladesh – one that eventually includes several eastern and northeastern Indian states. 

The pamphlet, written in Bangla and being secretly distributed in West Bengal and Assam, says establishing a caliphate in Bangladesh is crucial for intensifying jihad in Indian states on the eastern border. The text, credited to al-Qaeda’s media wing, specifically mentions West Bengal and Assam, though intelligence officials suspect Bihar and Jharkhand also feature in the terror group’s plans. 

“If we manage to establish a Syria-like reign here (in Bangladesh) then Muslims from Assam, Arakan (former name of Burma’s Rakhine State) and West Bengal too would be able to come here for hijrat (migration with religious agenda). Simultaneously, anti-India revolts would intensify in seven eastern Indian states,” says the pamphlet. “This would be a huge blow for India, one of the key non-Muslim states in the changed situation of the world.””

Thus between the “left” and the “right” of Bangladesh, a convergence of interests on territorial expansion formally justified by economic as well as religious drives, can between them, carry a significant portion of Bangladeshi society with itself, where both the self-styled liberal modernist secular and avowed Islamist can each pick the justifications they are comfortable with to seek a “lebensraum” at the cost of India.

Islamization cuts across economic or status lines in Bangladeshi society and hence the Marxist explanation or reassurance that mere economic development or prosperity of Bangladesh will weaken jihad does not cut much ice. For example, [50] notes how the elite next generation of well-to-do professionals are providing the recruits for the most extreme forms of jihadi ideology.

Seeking “lebensraum” therefore will remain endemic in Bangladesh from a sustained religious imperialism and not merely economic drives as seen in the entire pre-independence Muslim League separatism being fostered ideologically and financially by the so-called Nawabs of Dhaka – who remained the spearheads of political Islam on the subcontinent.

Rewarding land seekers (the slogan `we have taken Tin Bigha, we will take Kuchlibari’ [25] echoed in Bangladesh and West Bengal in 1992, and `শিলহট্ট নিলাম গণভোটে কাছাড় নেবো লাঠির জোরে’ (We have taken Sylhet with the ballot, we will take Silchar by kicking you out) p.107, [51] is routinely mouthed in the Barak valley – on both sides of the border) with more land at the expense of the Indian union may be unwise. 

References:

[1] MEA Executive Summary Document on Land Boundary Agreement

[2] Brendan R. Whyte, “Waiting for the Eskimo: An historical and documentary study of the Cooch Behar  enclaves of India and Bangladesh”, University of Melbourne Publication.

[3] Anand Ranganathan, “The Government of U turns-Part 1: The India Bangladesh Land Swap Deal”, Newslaundry.

[4] Radcliffe Commission Report

[5] Bagge Commission Report, January 1950.

[6] Prescott, J. R. V., “Map of Mainland Asia by Treaty”, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

[7] Hindusthan Standard, “Karachi Talks: Kashmir the main stumbling block; Cooch Behar enclaves to be exchanged”, 29/07/1953, p1.

[8] Hindusthan Standard, “Patgram’s inclusion in India urged; Proposed exchange of enclaves”, 20/08/1953, p9.

[9] Hindusthan Standard, “Transfer of Patgram to India urged; public meeting at Mekhliganj”, 22 August, p5.

[10] Hindusthan Standard, “Calcutta Talks End: visa system to remain in decision on border disputes; no agreement on enclave, trade and finances”, 4 October, pp 1 & 5

[11] MG Chitkara, “Bangladesh: Mujib to Hasina”

[12] Hindisthan Standard, “Proposed Transfer of Chhitmahals; Mahasabha resolution”, 17 /09/1958, p2.

[13] “Nirmal Bose v. Union of India”, Civil Revision No. 3531 of 1958. Judgement 08/04/1959, pp. 506-19.

[14] “Reference by The President of India under Article 143 (I) of the Constitution of India on the implementation of the Indo-Pakistan Agreement relating to Berubari Union and Exchange of Enclaves”, Special Reference No. 1 of 1959. Judgement 14 /03/1960, pp. 845-62.

[15] A. Appadorai, “The Domestic Roots of Indian Foreign Policy. 1947-1972”, Oxford University Press, Delhi

[16] Atindranath Bose, “Berubari – A Prime Ministerial Case”, Vigil, Saturday 31 /12/1960.

[17] Ram Kishore Sen and others, Petitioners v. Union of India and others, Respondents”, Civil Revision No. 849(W) of 1963. Judgement 17/11/1964, pp. 282-94.

[18] Avtar Singh Bhasin, “India-Bangladesh Relations Documents 1971-1994”, 2v., Siba Exim Pvt Ltd, Delhi.

[19] Nirad C Chaudhari, “Thinking Straight on the Rann of Kutch”, Hindusthan Standard, 26/02/1968

[20] Soutik Biswas, “Passage Pains, transfer spells trouble”, India Today, 15/12/1991

[21] Lok Sabha Debates, “7th series, v15, #32-39, Mar 31-Apr 9 1981”, 02/09/1981

[22] Resist Tin Bigha Transfer, published by Tapan Sikdar, President, Dr. Debabrata Singha, Vice-President, Paras Dutta, General Secretary, Smt. Sati Roy, Secretary, “on behalf of BJP West Bengal”, Calcutta.

[23] Speech by Amar Roy Pradhan, MP during Written answers to Questions, 05/09/1991

[24] “Save Tin Bigha, Save Kuchlibari”, published by Dr. A.G.Mitra, Secretary, BJP, West Bengal, Calcutta.

[25] Ashis Chakrabarti, “People not to allow Tin Bigha transfer”, Hindustan Times, 24/06/1992.

[26] Kalyan Chaudhari, “The Tin Bigha link, a new lease of friendship”, Frontline, 17/07/1992

[27] Amar Roy Pradhan, “Rule of Jungle”, published privately by Mrs Sanchayeeta Roy Pradhan, Calcutta.

[28] Times of India, “Tin Bigha leased out”, 26/06/1992.

[29] Ashis Chakrabarti, “Tin Bigha lease a ‘fraud’”, Hindustan Times, 25/06/1992.

[30] “Tin Bigha opens to Bangladeshis”, 27/06/1992.

[31] Interviews with AIFB MP for Cooch Behar, West Bengal, at his home in New Delhi, 17/05/2000, at his home in Haldibari, 06/08/2000; at his home in New Delhi, 24/08/2000 by Brendan Whyte.

[32] Apratim Mukarji, “Atal urged to solve issue of Indian enclaves in Bangladesh”,  Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 01/04/1998.

[33] Sushma Swaraj, Speech in Lok Sabha in reply to questions on the Land Boundary Agreement, 07/05/2015.

[34] Ibu Sanjeeb Garg, “India Bangladesh Land Swap Deal’’, The Diplomat, 03/09/2013 http://www.ibnlive.com/news/india/india-bangladesh-sign-22-agreements-modi-announces-line-of-credit-worth-2-billion-1002615.html

[35] Ateef Ahmed, “India Bangladesh Land Dispute”, Daily Star, 26/08/2013. http://archive.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/india-bangladesh-land-dispute/

[36] “Jaitley opposed to Bill to ratify LBA with Bangladesh”, http://zeenews.india.com/news/nation/jaitley-opposed-bill-to-ratify-lba-with-bangladesh_897787.html

[37] Birendra Prasad Baishya, “Rajya Sabha Debate 18/12/2013 – Introduction of the Land Boundary Agreement”, http://rsdebate.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/627624/2/PD_230_18122013_p431_p432_48.pdf#search=null%202013%2012%2018

[38] “Land acquisition, protests delay border fencing’’, The Hindu, 05/05/2015. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/land-acquisition-protests-delay-fencing-of-indiabangladesh-border/article7171471.ece

[39] “Bordering Profile of Cooch Behar’’, http://coochbehar.nic.in/htmfiles/Dist_Admn3.html

[40]  http://hafsite.org/media/pr/human-rights-report-2013

[41] R. Benkins “A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing – The Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus’’, Akshaya Prakashan, New Delhi

[42] http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2014/09/29/hindus-in-chittagong-fear-hate-attacks-during-durga-puja

[43] Saswati Sarkar, “Discrimination against Hindus in India’s public discourse’’  http://swarajyamag.com/politics/discrimination-against-hindus-in-indian-public-discourse/

[44] Saswati Sarkar, “The Missing Hindus of South Asia and a Conspiracy of Silence’’ http://www.dailyo.in/politics/the-missing-hindus-in-south-asia-and-a-conspiracy-of-silence/story/1/1149.html

[45] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/Netaji-kin-want-Nirad-files/articleshow/19099792.cms

[46] Leonard A. Gordon, Brothers Against the Raj – Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose

[47] Sadiq Khan, “Holiday”, October 18, 1991

[48] Sanjay Hazarika, “Dhaka Migration Mantra’’, 21/09/2013, http://www.c-nes.org/1836/dhakas-migration-mantra

[49] Snighdendu Bhattacharya, “Al Qaeda leaflets talk of Bengal caliphate”,  Hindustan Times, Kolkata, 30/10/2014 http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/al-qaeda-leaflets-talk-of-bengal-caliphate/article1-1280255.aspx

[50] “Military institute student to son of ex-judge, Islamic State taps Dhaka gen-next’’ Indian Express, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/military-institute-student-to-son-of-ex-judge-is-taps-dhaka-gen-next/

[51] Braja Bihari Kumara, “Illegal Migration from Bangladesh’’

  • IndiannotAmused

    Well a game can be played by two sides……everybody concerned knows that Bangabhumi Andolan [Google it] is a justified demand. Time to make Hindu autonomous areas within Bangladesh.Once these are made, we can then protect them with Indian might. Conseqently we can take up such areas as added areas to the Indian union.We need Bengali Hindu militancy……..in West Bengal politically and Bangladesh militarily. Before everything, we need to kick Sheikh Mamata Banerjee out of Bengal power-corridors.

  • varunreddy2

    Thanks for this detailed writeup and elaborate analysis.The ever expanding thirst for land of Islamic rulers and the ever lasting ‘generosity’ of Hindus is quite visible in the whole case.They ask–Our leaders give in the hope of buying peace–They ask more and the vicious cycle continues.

    • maidros78

      Thanks for the praise. As long as our leaders generously give, there is no point blaming them for taking it.

  • Radha Rajan

    Wonderfully written, painstakingly researched article. Very heavy reading and as I kept reading I felt the same familiar sense of despair. Is Modi sarkar only more of the same? And except for this brilliant analysis on IF I have neither seen nor heard a threadbare discussion on the LBA anywhere. Why dont we have a hard-nosed ruthless approach to territory and national interests? As always every festering problem goes back to Nehru and it should be repeated again and again and again, Nehru was foisted upon this nation by Gandhi.

    • maidros78

      Thank you, madam.