New Delhi: A most perverse argument is being advanced for an immediate, thoughtless parliamentary ratification of the India-Bangladesh land-border agreement in which this country will lose 10,000 acres, 7000 of it in West Bengal, which naturally has been flatly rejected by its chief minister, Mamata Bannerjee. The argument put forward by the Manmohan Singh government and faithfully parroted by a section of the media which knows as much about foreign policy as Adolf Hitler about high art is that without the border agreement, the pro-India Sheikh Hasina government will fall in Bangladesh and Islamists led by Khalida Zia will come to power in the impending election. Which leads to the question: Even with a ratified land-border agreement, what is the guarantee that Sheikh Hasina will return, since Bangladesh exhibits marked strains of anti-incumbency in its election results since long? And even if her victory is clearly tied to the agreement, isn’t giving up large parcels of land too high a price to pay? Ceded land is not a regenerative asset like trade concessions. Is this any way to run foreign policy, on anxiety and desperation?

The land border agreement inasmuch as it includes the exchange of enclaves in adverse possession of India and Bangladesh is a matter left over from Partition. There could be no settlement of the dispute with Pakistan before 1971 or with independent Bangladesh thereafter because of Indian sensitivities until Manmohan Singh, in an unseemly rush, reached a border accord with Sheikh Hasina in 2011. Stuck for parliamentary ratification, the Bharatiya Janata Party insisted upon the consent of the states that would lose land, and Mamata Bannerjee in consequence, directly and forthrightly, has refused her assent. She has sought a referendum in the disputed enclaves knowing it will vitiate the agreement. Faced with her intractability and that of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the government and its confederates in the press are raising a bogey of an anti-India government likely taking power in the Bangladesh election. So what is new? When has India had friends in the neighbourhood to be frightened of more inimicality?

Does it mean a land border agreement with Bangladesh can never be concluded? Not true. Oughtn’t the hardship and privations of the trapped residents of the 173 enclaves be mitigated? Surely. But nations cannot be stampeded on a delicate matter like surrender of land assets. The Indian defence policy, as reiterated by the minister, Arackaparambil Kurien Antony, recently, lays down that “not an inch of our land (will be allowed) to be taken away”. Soldiers are dying on the border or being daily intimidated in the dogged exercise and execution of this policy. How can they be explained that the prime minister, in a flash of romantic liberalism, surrendered 10,000 acres? And what is the pressing necessity for Parliament to ratify the agreement? To save the Sheikh Hasina regime. This would be risible if it were not so perverse. What happens after she is saved once? What will be her new demand? Assam? West Bengal?

Land for peace is a tottery principle. In its original application with Israel, the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states as a forward interpretation of United Nations’ Security Council Resolution 242, it has had limited viability. The principle does not even apply in its original conception with regard to the India/ Bangladesh border issue but it has nevertheless crept in in the manner of the advocacy of the land-border agreement by its proponents and backers. The backers and proponents say India must make concessions as the biggest country in the region. But why, and why land, the most precious commodity, which once ceded can never be repossessed except through armed hostility? India is struggling as it is with the crisis posed by Kachchatheevu, whose separation and ownership transfer to Sri Lanka in 1974, creating enormous challenges for Indian fishermen, has been disputed in the Supreme Court. The 1974 quitclaim is not ratified by Parliament.

Till there was one-party rule in the Centre, the government lorded over foreign policy issues. Still, because the Central government drew its strength from elected representatives of border states, their interests had to be kept in mind apropos frontier settlements, water-sharing, etc. Why wasn’t the sharing of Teesta waters settled with Bangladesh all these decades, or even the land-border agreement? On the other hand, the government pushing for these controversial measures is in a minority in the Centre, and its prime minister is not even directly elected to be able to claim legitimacy for his actions, which are malign and unilateral. He implicated India in the Baluchistan troubles where there is absolutely no involvement. On Sri Lanka, there is a hands-off policy that affects India’s Tamil interests. Foreign policy can no longer be fashioned by perfumed durbaris ensconced in Lutyen’s Delhi and stuffed down the throat of peripheral India that they know little about and care still less. The Centre has never been weaker than now. In everything from internal security issues to foreign policy matters, it must adopt a federal approach, especially where the states’ consent is critical. This may appear unorthodox to the extreme, but orthodoxies are being shattered.

Meanwhile, it reflects poorly on Sheikh Hasina that she needs Indian props to win. With or without her, India has the capacity to deal with Bangladesh. Those who doubt that should ship out.