Eastern obligation

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, in his just- concluded visit to Dhaka, renewed India's promise to implement two major bilateral agreements with Bangladesh negotiated by the UPA government one on finalising the land boundary demarcation and the other on sharing the Teesta waters. Delhi's failure to keep its word will undermine those in Bangladesh struggling to reclaim the history of national liberation and bring to justice those who collaborated with the Pakistan army in perpetrating the genocide against the Bengali nation in 1971. The progressive forces have been Delhi's partners in the bold venture to transform relations between Bangladesh and India. But unseemly internal political squabbling might result in Delhi inadvertently helping its sworn adversaries in Dhaka.

The two agreements were ready for signature when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelled to Dhaka in September 2011. Eleventh hour brinkmanship from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, saw the PM hold back on the Teesta agreement. The PM did sign a long overdue land boundary agreement (LBA) that straightens the many tragic wrinkles of Partition and produces a clear separation of territorial sovereignty along the long frontier of over 4,000 kilometres. While Dhaka has ratified this agreement, India needs a constitutional amendment for the LBA, which involves exchange of territories. The passage of this amendment requires support from the BJP. Delhi's inability to move forward on these two agreements has caused deep disappointment among those in Dhaka seeking a stronger relationship with India.

Despite the setbacks, the Sheikh Hasina government has persisted with advancing bilateral ties, by signing a treaty on extradition last month and opening the border for restoring rail links between Tripura and Chittagong. Khurshid, in turn, announced that his government would introduce the constitution amendment bill on the LBA in Parliament during the winter session. He also promised that India would soon sign the Teesta agreement. His assurances have set the stage for President Pranab Mukherjee's official visit to Dhaka next month. Khurshid's trip to Dhaka coincided with the mass protests in Bangladesh demanding severe punishment for those convicted of war crimes in 1971 and against last week's killing of a young blogger who helped organise the protests, apparently by Islamist militants. The Trinamool Congress in Kolkata and the BJP in Delhi will be utterly blind to India's very high stakes in the east if they refuse to see the unfolding war for the political soul of Bangladesh. They need to close ranks with the UPA government and announce support for the LBA and Teesta water-sharing well before President Mukherjee heads to Dhaka.

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