In Assam and Bengal, the BJP’s contrasting approach to CAA-NRC
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s dilemma regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in election-bound West Bengal and Assam became obvious on Tuesday when the party released its manifesto for the Assam elections.
The party’s national president JP Nadda, while releasing the poll manifesto in Assam, said CAA cannot be changed through a state legislation and did not commit to its implementation, two days after home minister Amit Shah, while releasing the manifesto for West Bengal, said the state Cabinet would take a decision on implementing CAA if the BJP comes to power in the state.
The BJP’s manifesto in Assam is silent on implementing CAA, which allows citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains who came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Interestingly, before the 2016 elections in the state, which it won, the party promised implementation of CAA, which in the state would have meant automatic citizenship to minorities from Bangladesh, who came after the 1971 war of liberation, without going through the tedious NRC process.
In 2019, the Parliament approved a bill to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, providing automatic citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from some neighbouring countries who came to India before December 31, 2014. The Assam Accord provides citizenship to migrants after March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date. The difference in the time frame has caused consternation in a state where fear of outsiders resulted in a seven-year-long agitation.
The Centre is yet to notify the rules to implement the amended law. In March, a Parliamentary committee gave the home ministry another six months to notify the rules.
On Monday, at a road show in West Bengal’s Medinipur, Shah said that CAA will be implemented in Bengal. “Once we are in power, the first meeting of our Cabinet will announce the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act,” Shah said.
Interestingly, the party is silent on implementing NRC in West Bengal, fearing that doing so could impact Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, including Dalit Hindu communities, the Rajbanshis of north Bengal and Matuas of south Bengal. The two constitute about 28% of the state’s population. Both the communities have demanded CAA and opposed NRC.
However, in Assam there were widespread and violent agitations in 2019 against CAA . Most people in the state are in support of NRC, though. Assam’s main opposition party, the Congress, has promised that it will not implement CAA in the state if it comes to power.
There is a fear in Assam that CAA would dilute the 1985 Assam Accord and lead to a fresh influx of Bangladeshi Hindus. The accord provided for the deportation of all refugees and migrants, who entered Assam after March 25, 1971. CAA extends the deadline until December 31, 2014.
In Assam, the BJP has announced that it will focus on a corrected NRC after a large number of Hindu migrants were left out of the updated NRC announced on August 31, 2019. NRC for the detection of undocumented foreigners excluded 1.9 million of the nearly 33 million people, who applied for inclusion in NRC. The BJP has rejected NRC as “faulty” saying genuine citizens were left out while foreigners were included. The NRC is yet to be notified.
Nadda said the party, if elected in Assam, would make efforts to correct the NRC to protect genuine citizens. The NRC was conducted in Assam under the Supreme Court directions in 2017-18. In the budget session of Parliament, the home ministry said that no decision has been taken on implementing the NRC nationally.
Tapas Roy, Bengal’s deputy parliamentary affairs minister, said, “The announcement Shah made regarding CAA is nothing but a jumla (false promise). The BJP knows it can never enforce it in Bengal. The same goes with NRC. Shah needs to explain what happened to the 1.2 million Bengalis whose names got delisted in Assam,” he said.
Kolkata-based professor of economics and political analyst Sarthak Roychaudhury said, “If Shah is a seasoned and judicious politician then he should first analyse why such large sections of Bengalis, including Hindus, are opposed to CAA and NRC. Both are double-edged weapons and the BJP needs to be careful about them.”
Akhil Ranjan Dutta, a columnist and professor of political science at Gauhati University, said, “The BJP is talking only about a corrected NRC, but the 10 commitments (in its manifesto) don’t mention CAA, which the party has committed to implement in West Bengal. In the 2019 general election, CAA was a core issue. But this time they have avoided it and are more focussed on highlighting the so-called clash of civilisations and promise to protect Assam’s ‘sanskriti’ from cultural threat. It seems they want to polarise votes as part of a key strategy.”