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TMC Sharpens Attack as Flip Flop on CAA Puts BJP on the Back Foot in Bengal

"The party has done an internal survey on CAA and NRC, and after a critical assessment the leaders decided to not make this an issue for the upcoming polls,” a top BJP leader from Bengal told The Wire.

Kolkata: The central government on Tuesday in response to a question in the Lok Sabha said that framing rules for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) may take at least six more months and hence an extension had been approved by the Committees on Subordinate Legislation for both houses of parliament.

“The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) has been notified on 12.12.2019 and has come into force w.e.f. 10.01.2020. The Rules under The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) are under preparation. The Committees on Subordinate Legislation, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have granted extension of time upto 09.04.2021 and 09.07.2021 respectively to frame these rules under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA),” Union minister of state for the ministry of home affairs (MHA) Nityanand Rai said, while replying to a question.

In another response to a parliamentary standing committee, the MHA said that it has not yet come to a decision regarding the implementation of a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).

So the question arises, why is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which vigorously championed the contentious CAA and NRC, now downplaying the implementation of the CAA and has virtually dropped the issue of the NRC? One possible explanation stems from the crucial upcoming state assembly elections, especially in the states of West Bengal and Assam.

Since the passage of the Bill in parliament on December 10, 2019, three assembly elections have been held – in Jharkhand, Delhi and Bihar. In all the three states, the BJP’s vote share has fallen considerably in comparison to the Lok Sabha election. In Jharkhand, BJP’s vote fell by 22%, in Delhi by 17% and in Bihar by 11%.

The passage of the bill also witnessed large scale protests across the country. States like West Bengal, Kerala, Jharkhand, Rajasthan passed resolutions against the CAA in their respective assemblies.

After the nationwide protests against the CAA-NRC-NPR in late 2019 and early 2020, the Narendra Modi government now appeared to backtrack as stakes are high in the upcoming elections.

Also read: With Polls Imminent in Assam and Bengal, BJP Is Now Dragging Its Feet on the CAA

Impact of CAA in Bengal

The idea of offering citizenship based on religious identity yielded huge dividends for the BJP in West Bengal in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The saffron party bagged 18 of the 42 seats from this eastern state and clocked over 41% vote share.

That election virtually propelled BJP to the status of the principal opposition to the ruling All India Trinamool Congress (TMC). The BJP is currently focused on winning the upcoming state elections and ending Mamata Banerjee’s 10-year-rule in the state.

TMC also exploited the NRC issue, as it induced fear among Muslims in the state. This strategy of TMC helped them electorally as well. In the 2019 by-polls held in November in three assembly segments, TMC won all three. Riding on the NRC issue, TMC managed to reverse the Lok Sabha’s trend.

A taxi drives past a poster of Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal state, in Kolkata, India, February 9, 2019. Picture taken February 9, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

A top BJP leader from Bengal, who didn’t wish to be named, earlier told The Wire, “The party has done an internal survey on CAA and NRC, and after a critical assessment the leaders decided to not make this an issue for the upcoming polls.”

Speaking to The Wire, veteran TMC MP Saugata Roy said, “They (BJP) committed that they will implement CAA. Now it is clear that they won’t. BJP has misled the people of Bengal. We have been calling their bluff for a long time. It only shows that they want this issue to gain political dividends. But that won’t happen in Bengal. People now understand their tricks.”

Seizing the opportunity, Mamata Banerjee recently visited the 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.”

Matua factor

During the 2019 parliamentary election, key BJP leaders committed to the implementation of NRC and offset non-Muslims with the CAA in the state.

The Matuas are a closely-knit group in the state belonging to the Namashudra (Dalit) community, who migrated from Bangladesh during and after Partition.  They are heavily dependent on the CAA. The community sided with the BJP in the last Lok Sabha elections which resulted in a win for the saffron party in the seats of in Bongaon and Ranaghat – which have the highest concentration of Matuas.

Also read: Bengal is Paying the Price for Identity-Based Politics, First by Trinamool and Now BJP

The community has a presence in five parliamentary seats in West Bengal, making it one of the biggest vote banks in the state. Although no official count exists, it is estimated that there are about two crore Namasudra voters.

When the home minister Amit Shah visited Bengal last, while answering a question on the implementation of the CAA, he said, “Rules for CAA are yet to be framed. Because of coronavirus, the exercise on CAA cannot take place. When the vaccination process starts and we manage to break the cycle of the coronavirus, we will think about it.”

This has irked Shantanu Thakur, the BJP MP from Bongaon, who belongs to the Matua community. On November 22, Thakur openly expressed his disappointment with the party’s position on the roll-out of the CAA 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.”

BJP’s Bengal unit is certainly fraught with divisions with respect to the implementation of the CAA. When home minister Amit Shah was once again scheduled to visit the Matua stronghold of Thakurnagar during his two-day Bengal tour, a section of Matuas were eagerly anticipating the meeting, hoping for a positive response from him on the CAA. But the visit was cancelled at the last moment, owing to a minor bomb blast near the Israeli consulate in Delhi.

Recently, Thakur and his brother were also not allowed to attend an event organised by a section of Matuas. BJP’s repeated attempts to assure the community on the issue of the citizenship amendment act have been unsuccessful so far and resentment against the party and its leaders has grown.

Reacting fast to the recent developments, the TMC has sharpened its attack against the BJP on the issue. Minister Bratya Basu, while speaking to reporters at the party’s headquarter, said, “Union home minister cancelled his visit Thakurnagar speak on CAA, but he cancelled it. Maybe he has nothing to tell. Maybe he is failing to form an argument while striking a balance between Assam and Bengal. All these while BJP played with the lives of millions of Matuas. They (BJP) have given false promises to Matuas. Mr Home Minister, how will you tell them in Thakurnagar? We are eagerly waiting to hear you.”