Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's volte face on the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh and her support to it has brightened the hopes of thousands of enclave dwellers and left the opposition parties frowning.
The opposition is wondering about the sudden "U-turn" by the Trinamool Congress supremo, whose opposition earlier stalled in Parliament the bill ratifying the accord on exchange of enclaves.
With the BJP-led central government eager to approve the agreement before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Dhaka in the new year, and the Standing Committee on External Affairs, headed by Congress parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, too endorsing its ratification by Parliament, Banerjee's nod for the LBA has got the residents of the enclaves, deprived of any legal rights, hoping for a new life.
"A solution is being worked out for border enclaves. I hope the problem will be solved soon. We hope there will be a diplomatic agreement," Banerjee said Dec 4 at Dinhata in Coochbehar district.
Explaining Trinamool's change of stand, party MP from Cooch Behar Renuka Sinha said Banerjee was moved by the pain and struggles of thousands of enclave dwellers who, despite being Indians, cannot avail the rights of a normal citizen.
"We were opposed to the agreement because Bengal will have to cede a large quantum of land to Bangladesh. But the plight of the enclave dwellers, especially people living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh, has moved the chief minister for whom a human life is far more precious than land," Sinha told a news agency.
Once the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) is passed, India will exchange 111 adversely held enclaves measuring 17,160 acres to Bangladesh and receive 51 enclaves covering 7,110 acres. More than 51,000 people reside in these enclaves.
Popular folklore attributes the India-Bangladesh enclaves' existence to a series of chess games between the royals of Cooch Behar and Rangpur, using the villages as currency for their wagers.
The LBA was first signed in 1974, to find a solution to the complex nature of border demarcation.
The additional protocol to the LBA was signed by then prime minister Manmohan Singh in September 2011, but it was not ratified after the government failed to get parliament's backing.
Banerjee's Trinamool, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) all blocked in the Rajya Sabha the passage of the Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill, 2013, that sought to ratify the LBA.
The Bharat-Bangladesh Enclave Exchange Coordination Committee (BBEECC), an organisation fighting for the rights of thousands of "stateless" enclave dwellers, is ecstatic at the latest development.
"We are not concerned with what political motive Banerjee has decided to support the LBA, but her endorsement has come as a boon for thousands of enclave dwellers who have been looking forward to the agreement for years," BBEECC coordinator Diptiman Sengupta told a news agency.
"With both the Centre and the state governments on the same plane, we are hopeful that our decades long fight is likely to bear fruit," he said.
"It surely is a double delight that the parliament committee too has approved its ratification. The developments have come as a big hope for the enclave dwellers, who devoid of any legal identity, are forced to grow up without access to education, electricity and other basic necessities," added Sengupta.
However, Banerjee's political opponents are not impressed.
While the Congress accuses her doing the volte face for political gains, the BJP, which incidentally was earlier opposed to the accord, now charges Banerjee of trying to take credit for the efforts made by the Modi government.
"She had embarrassed the whole country by pulling out of Manmohan Singh-led delegation to Dhaka at the last hour. After jeopardising bilateral relations and thousands of lives by opposing the LBA, she has now made U-turn just for the sake of politics," state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told a news agency.
Echoing a similar view, state BJP president Rahul Sinha said: "Due to efforts of our prime minister, the LBA soon will come into effect but Banerjee, who has been opposing it, now wants to take credit for it. Her move is aimed at trying to woo the minorities who have been steadily joining our party".
Political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty too attributed Banerjee's change of stand to her bid to woo the minorities with an eye to the 2016 assembly polls.
"Her sudden U-turn is aimed at trying to woo the minorities across the border areas who have been recently switching their political allegiance to the BJP," Chakrabarty, a Rabindra Bharati University professor, told a news agency.
He said: "Politically it may benefit her, but it also gives fodder to her political rivals, especially when she had walked out of Manmohan Singh's Dhaka visit at the last hour."