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.
On Tuesday, addressing a meeting at Debra in West Midnapur, Banerjee shot down NRC rumours saying, “NRC will not happen in Bengal… It is shocking that 11 people have committed suicide fearing that NRC will be implemented in the state.”
She also clarified that the current exercise of document digitisation has nothing to do with NRC. “Census happens every 10 years and it is a routine affair. We are undertaking a drive for digitising ration cards. These things have nothing to do with NRC,” said Banerjee. The Chief Minister also encouraged officials within the administration to show compassion to the under privileged who have anxiety about not have adequate documentation.
Rumour doesn’t die, people do
According to the police a 25 year old man hung himself in Dhupguri, while a 50 year old man jumped into a well in Jalpaiguri. While neither left behind a suicide note, family and friends of both say that they had expressed anguish over their inability to gather adequate documents to prove their citizenship. Meanwhile, one suicide was reported from Falta, four had reportedly died while waiting in queue to collect documents from government offices.
Fanning the flames
Meanwhile, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh jumped at the opportunity to score political brownie points by not only taking potshots at Banerjee, but also reiterating the BJP’s commitment to passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).
Ghosh said, “Only TMC will be responsible for the deaths over NRC in the state. We have clearly said all the Hindus who have come from other countries will be given citizenship under Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) and then NRC will be implemented to weed out the infiltrators.”
Provisions of this bill grant citizenship to Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Parsee and Christian people from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The BJP justifies the exclusion of Muslims saying that Muslims do not face persecution on account of their religion in these countries.
West Bengal Assembly rules out NRC
Meanwhile in an unprecedented show of unity, on September 6, 2019, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly on Friday passed a resolution opposing the National Register of Citizens ( NRC) in Assam. The resolution also categorically ruled out the possibility of any such exercise in the State.
The development comes within a week of release of the final list of NRC, in which over 19 lakh people have been left out.
The resolution tabled under Rule 185 of the Rules of Procedures of Conduct of Business of the House was supported by members of the Trinamool Congress from the Treasury beaches and legislators of the Left parties and the Congress from the Opposition benches. Only a handful of BJP members opposed the resolution, which was passed after a three-hour debate.
“We do not accept the NRC. What has happened in Assam can never happen in Bengal,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said during the debate. She thanked Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for opposing a NRC-like exercise in his State.
Ms. Banerjee said the NRC was carried out on the basis of the Assam Accord of 1985 and there was no such agreement in the case of Bengal. “They are making a grand jail where they can keep the detainees from the list.” Issues like this were propped up to divert people’s attention from the economic distress faced by the country, she alleged.
Pointing out that Gorkhas had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in Darejeeling hills, she said that one lakh Gorkha people have been excluded from the NRC.
During the debate, members, supporting the resolution that had called the exercise “inhuman and autocratic”, made repeated references to the partition of Bengal and the influx of refugees from Bangladesh. They said the exercise was “anti-Bengali” and aimed at reaping political dividends for the BJP. “When refugees from Bangladesh came to Bengal, there were no protests here. We, the people of Bengal, have accepted refugees irrespective of their religion,” TMC MLA and Minister Sovandeb Chatterjee said.
Leader of the Left Legislature Party Sujan Chakraborty said the NRC was not against Muslims or those who had come from the other side of Bengal but against the poor people who had no access to documents.
All India Forward Bloc MLA Ali Imran Ramz described the resolution as historic. He said it had proved that “Bengal is secular and will remain secular”.
Leader of the Opposition and Congress MLA Abdul Mannan said the RSS had infiltrated all political parties in the country when they were guided by blind anti-Congress opposition. None of the political parties opposing the Congress realised that the weakening of the Congress would bring such a doom. Leader of the BJP legislature party Manoj Tigga, who spoke against the motion, raised issues like the Chief Minister’s protest in Kolkata on issues such as ‘no voter card no vote’ in July 21, 1993, in which 13 youth Congress people were killed. “Will the souls of those killed rest in peace after hearing the debate in the Assembly,” he said.
Mr. Tigga also raised the issue of Ms. Banerjee, as an MP, raising the issue of illegal infiltration from Bangladesh on August 4, 2005 in Parliament and storming out the house when no debate was allowed on it.Mr. Tigga, along with his colleague Swadhin Sarkar, who participated in the debate, said the NRC needed to be implemented in Bengal.
The Original Resolution in Bengali may be read here:
The translation may be read here:
West Bengal State Assembly (Motion Under Rule 185)
Members are informed that the following motion under rule 185 of the rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly has been admitted by Mr. Speaker:
With deep anxiousness, this committee has been observing that the way the preparation of the National Register for Citizens in Assam has been carried out, where many genuine citizens’ names have been left out due to political reasons, is being done to create a social and political unrest across the state of West Bengal.
As, many genuine Indian citizens have been left out of the NRC.
As, in the name of NRC, many people in Assam have been subjected to practically an imprisoned life.
As, due to these inhuman decisions the citizens are subjected to gross injustice and are being stripped off their human rights.
As, during independence Bengal was divided and many dispossessed people from former Bengal migrated here and have been living here as Indian citizens for years.
As, in spite of the promise of being rehabilitated, the central Government never took appropriate measures to solve the issues of immigrants.
As, in such conditions NRC is being brought upon in Bengal only to harass the people of West Bengal and strip them off of their citizenship.
That is why, this committee is protesting against the arbitrary and inhuman decision of bringing the NRC, which seeks to terminate human rights of genuine Indian citizens. West Bengal does not need NRC. We appeal to the Central Government to stop harassing genuine citizens in the name of NRC. We demand that all immigrants and refugees, irrespective of their religion and caste, should be given their due citizenship rights.
We also demand that in no way can the NRC be brought upon in Bengal.
The Motion was taken up in the house on September 6, 2019.
All eyes are now on October 1, when Union Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah is expected to speak about the NRC and the CAB at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Indore Stadium.