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India and Bangladesh Sign Enclaves Agreement

Sheshadri Chari

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The first two Constituent Assemblies of Pakistan (1947 and 1955) were elected indirectly by provincial assemblies. The provincial level elections were held on the basis of universal adult franchise in 1951-54. The provincial assemblies in the Punjab and Sindh were elected in March and December 1951 respectively. North-Western Frontier Province, NWFP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) held the provincial election in March 1953 and the East Bengal (East Pakistan) Provincial Assembly was elected in March 1954.
General Ayub Khan, Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, assumed power in October 1958 in a coup against the tottering civilian government. He introduced a new Presidential Constitution in 1962 that provided for indirect elections for the national and provincial assemblies. The electoral-college comprised the elected members of local bodies called the Basic Democracy who were elected directly in 1959 and 1964. Eighty-thousand members of Basic Democracy elected the National Assembly and the two Provincial Assemblies of East and West Pakistan in 1962 and 1965. The same electoral-college reposed confidence in Ayub Khan as the President and Chief Martial Law Administrator in a referendum held in February 1960.
He was elected by the members of Basic Democracy for the second term in January 1965. No direct elections were held at the national/federal level during 1947-1970.
The 1970 elections laid the foundations for the creation of Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and the 2013 elections laid the foundations of a secular democratic Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh’s daughter Sheikh Hasina. India’s role then and now is equally important and significant.

India’s ties with Bangladesh comprise various dimensions—civilisational; cultural/religious; social; and economic. These two countries, like two children born of the same mother, are organically linked—with their common heritage and shared history, common memories of tragic loss and the separation of families in massive scales following epic events in their contemporary histories. The cultural cords that tie them to each other are strong as is their peoples’ passion for music, literature and the arts. These historical ties translate into multi-dimensional—and ever-expanding—bilateral relations between the two nations.

Geographical locations of India and Bangladesh complement each other and present an opportunity for both nations to further strengthen their connectivities and economies. Prior to the partition of India in 1947, the trade and commerce of India’s northeastern regions with the rest of the country used to pass through the territories of what is now Bangladesh. Rail and river transit across the erstwhile East Pakistan continued until March 1965 when, as a consequence of the India-Pakistan War, all transit traffic was suspended. Only river transit was restored in 1972 without much progress however until fairly recently. Enhancing bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh promises to provide exponential benefits for both countries. For India, in particular, transit and transshipment across Bangladesh is important as it is expected to boost the economy of India’s Northeast. Developments in connectivity hold a well of promise for transforming India’s eastern and northeastern states, including the city of Kolkata in West Bengal. India’s northeastern regions are resource-rich: they are home to huge reservoirs of oil and gas, coal, limestone, forest wealth, and fauna and flora. The region is a vibrant source of India’s largest perennial water system, the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries, which can be tapped for energy, irrigation and transportation. India’s Northeast may serve as a gateway for Bangladesh’s enhanced access to India as the country is surrounded by India from three sides and may, in the long run, promote bilateral trade relations. West Bengal is positioned to be a major beneficiary of enhanced India-Bangladesh connectivity. India and Bangladesh share a border of some 4,096 km., of which almost 1,880 km is within India’s Northeast (1,434 km is land border; 446 km is riverine tract). Besides West Bengal, four northeastern states—namely, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram—share international borders with Bangladesh.1 With the exception of Meghalaya, the remaining northeastern states share both land and riverine borders with Bangladesh, and among them, Tripura and Mizoram have the longest land and riverine borders with Bangladesh. India’s Northeast is connected with the rest of India by a 22-km-wide stretch of land called the Chicken’s Neck, which passes through a hilly terrain with steep roads and multiple hairpin bends. Agartala is 1,650 km from Kolkata via Shillong and Guwahati, while the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Bangladesh is just about 350 km. Moreover, the distance between important cities of Bangladesh and northeast India falls within the range of 20 to 200 km.
Both New Delhi and Dhaka have sought to overcome this longstanding distrust in recent years, with reciprocal state visits as well as negotiations for some important agreements to advance trade and commercial ties, resolve long-standing border disputes, and facilitate river-water sharing and land connectivity across Bangladesh. For example, while the Land Border and River Water sharing agreements still face obstacles in India, relations are at present the best that have been in many years: economic ties have improved and counterterrorism cooperation is being strengthened. Still, the question remains: Can the formal ‘bilateral communiqué’ of 2010 be a game-changer for India-Bangladesh relations?

Chari Talks

Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee: A legacy looking for a worthy recipient

Sheshadri Chari

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Dr Mukherjee was elected to the Constituent Assembly by the West Bengal Legislature and was the Industries Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet but resigned on April 15, 1950, protesting the terms of the agreement with Pakistan, popularly known as Nehru-Liaquat Pact.

In fact, Dr Mukherjee’s political thinking was independent of the thought process of the Hindu Mahasabha of which he was the president or that of the Congress. He was unhappy over Nehru’s handling of the Pakistan issue and the first cabinet’s callous attitude towards Hindu minority in Pakistan, especially the then East Pakistan. He discussed the idea of floating a political party with some of his colleagues in Hindu Mahasabha but was firm on his views of a “non-Hindu” party, very much as a parallel to the Congress and not a political party “exclusively for Hindus”. His original idea was to convert Hindu Mahasabha into a broad-based political party which would include non-Hindus as well, as members and desist from appeasement of Muslims under the garb of protecting the religious minorities. An independent India with a democratic Constitution that adopted adult franchise and rejected the idea of the separate electorate has no place for a Hindu party or Minority Commission, he felt. But his own organisation rejected his appeals and as a result, he quit Hindu Mahasabha in 1948.

Speaking at the founding ceremony of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh on October 21, 1951, Dr. Mukherjee reiterated his views that the Partition on the basis of religion was a grave error and that Partition must be annulled to firmly establish the Indian identity. But he refused to make the annulment of Partition a party agenda saying it should be a national resolve and not merely the agenda of one political party. Long after his martyrdom and the dissolution of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the Parliament of India passed a unanimous resolution on February 22, 1994, resolving to get back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).

The Bharatiya Jan Sangh was formed just a few weeks before the first general elections and had very little time or resources to fight all the seats. Dr. Mukherjee contested and won the South Calcutta seat securing 45 percent of votes against his Congress rival Mriganka Sur. During this brief period, he made his mark as a parliamentarian, brought together MPs from Ganatantra Parishad of Orissa, Akali Dal of Punjab, Hindu Mahasabha, three Jan Sangh members and several independents to form National Democratic Front. In order to strengthen parliamentary democracy, Dr. Mukherjee went many steps ahead and floated the idea of united opposition irrespective of ideological differences eschewing political untouchability. His party, Bharatiya Jan Sangh kept up this tradition. BJS won one third of seats in Delhi Municipal Corporation in 1957 and the next year elected a Leftist Com. Aruna Asaf Ali as Mayor with the help of Communists. BJS member Kedar Nath Sahani became the Deputy Mayor.

Dr. Mukherjee represented the highest form of fundamental Hindu ethos at its best—respect for all forms of worship (sarva panth samadhar), liberalism and humanness. In spite of his serious differences of opinion with Jawaharlal Nehru, it was Dr. Mukherjee, as Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, who invited Nehru to speak on “The discovery of India”. Nehru in his prison diary note of November 26, 1941, writes, “He (Dr. Mukherjee) has written again a very decent letter and I have agreed (to speak at Kamala Lectures). The subject I have suggested—Syama Prasad made a similar suggestion—is The Discovery of India”.  Dr. Mukherjee had written to Nehru that, “…all of us believe that India through her ages contributed an imperishable message of the freedom of the soul of man, which alone can save civilisation from destruction and elevate it to a higher and nobler order. At this critical time, you are one of the limited few who can worthily rise above narrow party considerations, appreciate different standpoints and hold out, amidst the crumbling heaps of modern civilisation the picture of a future India worth living in.”

Two years later Nehru, accompanied by Asaf Ali and Diwan Chaman Lal, went to Kashmir, without a permit, in June 1946 to defend Sheikh Abdulla against a sedition charge and was detained in the Uri Dak Bungalow. The British Viceroy in Delhi brought Nehru back to Delhi to join the negotiations for the transfer of power. Seven years later, after another transfer of power in J&K, Syama Prasad Mukherjee went to Jammu without a permit and was detained by Sheikh Abdulla but unlike British Viceroy, Nehru let Mukherjee meet whatever fate awaited him. Dr. Mukherjee had said at a public meeting in Jammu in August 1952, “I will get you the Indian Constitution or lay down my life for it.” The words proved tragically prophetic.

Can all political parties, especially the BJP and the Congress to ponder over their larger national agenda, bury differences and work as a united force to realise the collective vision of their icons? Sounds like a tall order? Not if someone can inherit the legacy of Syama Prasad Mukherjee.

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Good Drama Bad Governance

Sheshadri Chari

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Delhi chief minister Mr.Arvind Kejriwal seems to be suffering from a pathological condition of confronting with any constitutional authority. His constant theatrics and instant dramatics has ruined his party’s credibility and chance of winning future elections

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Chari Talks

If Terrorism has no Religion what is the logic behind ramzan ceasefire ?

Sheshadri Chari

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If terrorism has no religion, how can ceasefire have religion? Ramzan ceasefire failure. It was a one-sided announcement by the GOI which was not respected by the terrorists. The GOI will have to serious rethinking on its policy towards fighting terrorism. Also, there is an urgent need to infuse fresh blood into teams that are entrusted with the task of taking care of internal security in Jammu and Kashmir or in Naxal-Maoist affected areas or elsewhere.

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