Catch 22, the BJP CAA and Shah’s Chronology in Bengal ?

Mixed messages do not make for a clear electoral campaign and the aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party, which previously campaigned for the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state, is now seen downplaying both, the implementation of CAA and NRC as Bengal gears into poll mode.

Amit Shah

Arguably, the narratives flowing out neighbouring Assam where the Bengali Hindu is as much a victim of the acute citizenship crisis, have shaken the BJP’s short-sighted assessment of the impact of this policy. Just a few days back, Gopesh  Das died a tragic death after his wife, Amala rotted in the Assam’s Kokhrajhar Detention camp despite the fact that a Foreigner Tribunal had declared her a foreigner. It was the CJP’s team that brought her home for just a day to help perform the last rites. This is the 109th such death in the neighbouring state.

Switch to Bengal.

Union home minister, Amit Shah was ambivalent on the CAA-NPR-NRC “chronology” on his recent visit. On the completion of a two-day visit in West Bengal, Shah brushed over the issue when questioned by the media when he said: “Rules for CAA are yet to be framed. Because of corona virus, the exercise on CAA cannot take place. When the vaccination process starts and we manage to break the cycle of the corona virus, we will think about it.”

When the reporter pressed him on the NRC issue, Shah dodged the question. The idea of offering citizenship based on religious identity paid huge dividends to the BJP in West Bengal in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The majoritarian outfit had snagged 18 of the 42 seats from this eastern state, also gathering more than 41% vote share. A significant part of this vote was that of the Matuas/ Namoshudras (Dalits) who have been politically ignored otherwise.

It is this divisive ‘chornology’ based campaign led by Shah that propelled the BJP to place of the principal opposition to the ruling All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) in Bengal last election. When the BJP is in an all-out drive to snatch Bengal, what is the reason for the ambivalence behind the CAA-NPR-NRC? Mamata Banerjee has ruled for close to 10-years in the state.

An answer could be found in Bengal’s proximity to Assam, the north eastern state that has seen the tragedy and trauma of a Citizenship Crisis hit all sections alike. Bengali Hindu, Muslim, Namoshudra, Santhal, Gorkha and others, no section of society, all marginalized have been spared a wrenching reality –financial ruin and physiological stress of unaimaginable propotions. Citizens for Justice and Peace ( has been working with a formidable band of volunteers in the state that reported 109 citizenship related deaths there.

Besides, the ruling TMC has also exploited the NRC issue cleverly, as it brought fear among Muslims. This strategy of TMC even helped them electorally. In the 2019 by polls held in November in three assembly segments, TMC won all three. Interestingly, five months before the by polls, BJP was leading in the parliamentary election in two of these three segments with over 45,000 votes. Riding on the NRC issue, TMC managed to reverse the Lok Sabha trend.

After the passage of the citizenship bill in the parliament, when protests broke out across the country, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee was seen leading the protest from the front in Bengal.

For consecutive days, Banerjee walked the streets I protest across Kolkatta and adjoining Howrah. “As long as I am alive, I will never implement the citizenship law or NRC in the state. We will continue to protest democratically till this law is scrapped. If they want to implement it in Bengal, they will have to do it over my dead body,” she then said. Students, artists, people from civil society poured in as her rallies swelled up.

West Bengal became the fourth state, after Kerala Rajasthan and Punjab, to have passed a resolution against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The State Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee introduced the resolution in the Assembly on January 27.

The CAA has turned out to be the most contentious law in recent times with so many states taking definitive action against it. Although many from the BJP leadership have time and again said that states do not have the power to defy a central legislation and yet this has not deterred the states from opposing this law tooth and nail and preventing its implementation in their respective states.

Addressing the assembly chief minister Mamata Banerjee said “In Bengal, we will not allow CAA, NRC (National Register of Citizens) and NPR (National Population Register). We will fight peacefully… Today, people are scared that they may have to leave this country. They are queuing up for all kinds of cards.”

She also said that this protest is not only of the minorities, “I thank my Hindu brothers for leading this protest from the forefront….As per the CAA, you have to become a foreigner to become a citizen… this is a terrible game, pushing people towards death. Don’t fall into their trap,” she added.She termed the label of doubtful citizens and detention centres as “unacceptable”. She dubbed the BJP “Brand Ambassadors of Pakistan” saying, “They always talk of Pakistan and less of Hindustan”.

Amit Shah had something different to say before the outbreak of the pandemic. Just before the outbreak of COVID-19, Amit Shah, while speaking at a rally in Rajasthan, said, “We won’t backtrack even an inch on the Citizenship Amendment Act.” “The Congress, Mamata Banerjee, SP, BSP, Arvind Kejriwal, communists, sab iska virodh kar rahe hai (all parties are opposing the CAA). Yeh sab parties ekattha ho jaayen lekin ek inch bhi wapas nahi jaayenge (Let all these parties unite but we will not backtrack even an inch),” Shah then said.

Since March last year, however a lot seems to have changed. Now, the BJP is deliberately side-stepping from the CAA issue and dropping the NRC for the time being. Sources have spoke to the media saying that  “The party has done an internal survey on CAA and NRC, and after a critical assessment the leaders decided to make these not an issue for the upcoming poll.”

However this assessment does not sit well with its hard-line representatives who rode high on the divisive vote. The party’s decision has drawn sharp reactions from MP of Bongaon, Shantanu Thakur from the Matua community. On November 22, Thakur openly expressed disappointment against his party’s position on CAA implementation and said, “No political party should play with the Matuas. I am not talking about Mamata Banerjee alone. The Matuas are not begging. The CAA must be implemented at the earliest. No political party can be an opponent of the Matua Mahasangha. No party can be more powerful than the Mahasangha. We are an independent political force of the future. Wherever there is a Matua population, we will not reach out to any political party. We will take part in the elections keeping our rights, our demands in the forefront.”

A week later, while addressing a gathering at Bongaon, Thakur said that no political party had kept its promises and urged the Matuas to be prepared to act independently in future.

BJP’s national general secretary and central observer for Bengal, Kailash Vijayvargiya made an attempt to calm Thakur. Last week, Vijayvargiya visited the latter’s house in Thakurnagar and had a closed-door meeting. Vijayvargiya then told the media, “Rules are being framed to implement CAA in Bengal, soon. Even if the Bengal government opposes the implementation of CAA, we [Centre] will go ahead in implementing it.” When further probed on NRC in Bengal, he said, “No NRC exercise in Bengal now.”

Earlier this month, when BJP national president J.P. Nadda visited Bengal, he said that rules for implementation of the Act were being framed, after which CAA will be implemented in letter and spirit.  The Bengal BJP is sending mixed messages around the implementation of CAA. It is significant that Shah was scheduled to visit the Matua stronghold of Thakurnagar during his two-day Bengal tour, but the visit was put off suddenly.

Sharp to pick up the signs of chinks in the opposition’s armour, Mamata recently visited Matua-dominated Bongaon and met representatives of the community. The TMC supremo held a public meeting there and said, “As the chief minister, I am saying all Matua people are Indian citizens. There’s no need for any new certificate for it.” As part of these moves, state food and supplies minister Jyotipriya Mallick, district president of North 24 Parganas, where majority of Matua reside, gave an open invitation to BJP MP and Matua representative Shantanu Thakur to quit BJP and join the TMC.

The Matuas are a closely-knit group in Bengal belonging to the Namashudra (Dalit) community, who migrated from Bangladesh during and after Partition. The community has a significant presence in six parliamentary seats in West Bengal, making it one of the biggest vote banks in the state. An estimated two crore Namasudra voters are a temptation for any party’s prospects in the state.

Bengal Suicides over threat of NRC

Sabrangindia had first reported on October 22 and November 19, 2019, Bengal Suicide: Panic over NRC is taking lives how a  32-year-old brick kiln worker Kamal Hossain Mondal who was worried about his family’s fate if the NRC is implemented in Bengal,was found hanging from a tree near his house on September 22nd. In the Basirhat area itself, four other persons – including two women – died towards the end of September, allegedly over NRC panic.  With widespread panic all around Bengal and over 11 deaths related to the NRC, the common working class is suffering the most.



Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also led on this issue and said that such a resolution “represents the will of the people” as it comes through their elected representatives. Kerala said the amended version of the law is unconstitutional, and the assembly had a duty to pass a resolution against it. The CAA, which makes, religion as a qualifying factor for grant of citizenship to immigrants has not gone down well with the masses, inviting widespread and unprecedented protests as well as with the non-BJP ruled states which are openly voicing their dissent against the law.

West Bengal has long been a cherished dream for the BJP. The CAA-factor has however, been misread and misused by the party’s leadership to further their agenda in the state. In March this year, Amit Shah had paid Kolkata a visit, and tried to build support for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In his speech he squarely blamed West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for scaring minorities by misleading them about CAA. He accused Banerjee of “triggering riots” and “burning trains”. He also accused Mamata Banerjee of neglecting “Sharanaarthi” (refugees) facing persecution, and caring only about “Ghuspethiye” (infiltrators), thereby demarcating migrants along communal lines.


Amit Shah’s venomous vitriol and political myopia in West Bengal

Was Netaji’s kin dropped from BJP VP post for stand against CAA-NRC?

Bengal Suicide: Panic over NRC is taking lives
Fourth in line, Bengal passes anti-CAA resolution
BJP brings cadres from outside to fight ‘outsiders’ in Bengal
Has the Bengal BJP become self-destructive?



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