‘I’m your paharadar, nobody can displace you from Bengal’: Mamata on NRC

Taking this battle of exclusion and inclusion to the streets, the feisty chief minister of the state said, “We will not allow any division among the people of the state.” She also said that the people of this state have earned their right to be called an Indian citizen through their participation in the freedom struggle and contribution to Bengal renaissance.

mamata banerjee
Image courtesy: PTI

Meanwhile, in an unprecedented show of solidarity last month, all the major political parties in the State, except the BJP, joined hands to pass a resolution in the Assembly on September 6 opposing the NRC exercise in Assam and resolved not to allow it to take place in West Bengal. No other state in the country has taken such sharp and immediate steps as Bengal

Even as India’s political opposition from the Congress at an all India level to the CPI(M) make sporadic noises on the exclusivist thrust of the entire updation of the National Register of Citizens(NRC) process, it is the Trinamool Congress led by the feisty Mamata Bnaerjee that is taking the issue head on! Not only has the Bengal Assembly passed a resolution rejecting the NRC in the state but yesterday, a fiery speech Mamata said that “ we will not allow any division among the people of the state.”

Google NRC and say, Indian National Congress(INC), Dravidian Munnetra Kazaghan (DMK), National Congress Party (NCP), Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) and you will not get too many results. As the date for the publishing of the final NRC list (August 31, 2019) somewhat muted statements by the grand old party –stating that all ‘genuine Indian citizens would be protected’ –appeared. Typically, the Congress has played a vacillating role.

Maharashtra and Karnataka, both states presently ruled by the BJP have detention camps coming up. The Opposition in these states has been quiet on the issue.

The CPI(M) Polit Bureau issued a statement urging inclusion but on the ground, in Assam, its foot soldiers are wary to dabble in this issue. Until 2016, the Congress ruled the state of Assam and the Tarun Gogoi-led government had spearheaded formulating the Standard Operating Proecdures(SOPs) and Modalities in 2005 and then again in 2003 with the main player in Assam that had led the Assam movement, the All Assam Students Union (AASU). Sarbanda Sonowal, earlier with the AASU –who spearheaded the challenge to the IMDT Act of 1983 –is now the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first chief minister in the north eastern state.

However, again, on October 21, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday compared herself to a paharadar (security guard) and said that nobody can displace the people of West Bengal under her watch. “I am your paharadar (security guard). So, do not worry, no one here, in Bengal, can bring National Register of Citizens (NRC) here,” she said, while attending a Bijoya Sammilani at Siliguri in North Bengal on Monday. This is Chief Minister Banerjee’s first visit to North Bengal after Lok Sabha elections, in which her party Trinamool Congress lost all the seats here earlier this year. The BJP that is making an aggressive bid for the state that goes to the polls in 2021, has been using its planl of ‘illegal migrants”  and “threats to national security” to not just garner votes but also create s sharp communal divide and polarise the state. The NRC driven panic has already officially claimed 11 lives in Bengal though unofficial figures put the deaths through trauma and suicide at 20.

“There may be NRC, Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, but nothing can displace anybody from Bengal. We are here to protect you. Every person living in this state is a citizen of India. Those who have turned 18 should immediately enroll themselves in voters’ list,” she added.

Banerjee reiterated there will be no NRC implementation in West Bengal. “We will not allow any division among the people of the state.”

She also said that the people of this state have earned their right to be called an Indian citizen through their participation in freedom struggle and contribution to Bengal renaissance.

“This right was given to us by Raja Rammohan Roy, (Iswar Chandra) Vidyasagar, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and several patriots who sacrificed their lives fighting for the independence of the nation,” she said.

Ever since the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published in Assam there have been rumours of a similar exercise in West Bengal. Though the Mamata Banerjee administration has repeatedly and vehemently denied this, a toxic cocktail of fear and anxiety has claimed 11 lives in the state. What’s worse, right wing supremacist groups are using the opportunity to add fuel to fire.

For the past two months, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) crisis brewing for the past three years (or thirty!!) in Assam has now cast its shadow over West Bengal. As a sense of fear and foreboding grips the State, the ruling TMC is clearly taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the issue.

Resolution in Assembly on September 6
Speaking on the September 6 resolution, which was tabled under Rule 185 of the Rules of Procedures of Conduct of Business of the House, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said: “We do not accept the NRC. What has happened in Assam can never happen in Bengal.” She pointed out that the reason behind the NRC exercise in Assam was the Assam Accord of 1985 signed by the Centre and the leaders of the Assam Movement. But in West Bengal no such agreement exists, and hence there is no basis for carrying out an NRC. “The NRC implementation is nothing but an attempt to divert the attention of the common people from the economic crisis in the country,” she said. She also thanked Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for opposing an “NRC-like exercise” in Bihar.
While the Left parties and the Congress also spoke out against the NRC during the debate, their political response on the streets and the rest of India has been extremely muted. “This is not a Hindu-Muslim issue. Many Hindus have been left out in Assam. This is about victimising poor people who cannot produce the necessary documents,” said Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sujan Chakraborty. All India Forward Bloc MLA Ali Imran Ramz called the resolution “historic” and said that the State had sent a message to the country that “West Bengal is, was and will remain secular”.

The BJP opposed the resolution, with the leader of the BJP Legislature Party, Manoj Tigga, bringing up Mamata Banerjee’s earlier stand on the issue of infiltrators. He reminded the House that on July 21, 1993, Mamata Banerjee, the then leader of the State Youth Congress, led a rally demanding “no voter card, no vote”; 13 Youth Congress activists were killed in police firing at the rally. He also recalled how on August 4, 2005, she stormed out of the Lok Sabha when she was not allowed to raise the issue of “illegal infiltration from Bangladesh” for debate in the House.

On September 12, Mamata Banerjee led a procession in protest against the NRC. Referring to State BJP president Dilip Ghosh’s claim that there were two crore infiltrators in the State, she said: “Try touching even two citizens of Bengal…. It has been 72 years since Independence, and still we have to provide proof of our identity. Why?” Mamata Banerjee was back to her combative, street-fighting ways for the first time after receiving a jolt in the Lok Sabha election earlier this year. The camaraderie of a few days before with the Left and the Congress was also abandoned as she lashed out at both her old adversaries in order to consolidate support against her new one. “The CPI(M) and the Congress have no support in Bengal. Trinamool is the only party that can take on the BJP,” she said.

This is not the first time the Trinamool and the BJP have crossed swords over the NRC issue. Ever since the exercise started in Assam in 2018, the two parties have been going back and forth over it, and it was an important issue in the 2019 Lok Sabha election in West Bengal where the BJP emerged as the principal opposition to the Trinamool. Mamata Banerjee tried to project the NRC in Assam as an anti-Bengali issue, alleging that Bengali-speaking people of Assam were the primary targets. She called it a “Bangali khedao movement” in the guise of an NRC, referring to the violent “Bongal kheda” movement to drive out Bengalis from Assam in the 1960s.

The BJP accused Mamata Banerjee of playing communal politics by supporting infiltrators, who it claimed accounted for a substantial portion of her support base. During an election rally in Alipurduar in March this year, BJP president Amit Shah focussed on the implementation of the NRC in West Bengal. “Mamataji is under the impression that the infiltrators will see her through in this election…. The Narendra Modi government will return to power, and we will bring the NRC. Each and every infiltrator will be ousted from the State,” he said. At the same time, he said non-Muslim “refugees” will be allowed to stay.

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