Banerjee hits out at BJP over NRC and for bringing outsiders in Bengal
Soon after the incident on Saturday, EC banned all political leaders from entering Cooch Behar district for 72 hours. Later, the poll watchdog banned Banerjee from campaigning for another 24 hours for her remarks against central forces
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the National Register of Citizens (NRC), saying its government in Assam has started issuing notices to send people to detention camps, while also lashing out at it for bringing outsiders and spreading Covid-19 in West Bengal.
Speaking at a public meeting in Jalpaiguri, Banerjee said the moment elections ended in Assam this month, the BJP government started issuing the NRC notices. “...They [are issuing show-cause notices] asking...why people should not be evicted by implementing the NRC,” she said. “There is no need for NPR [National Population Register] or NRC. The BJP should be ousted through NPR and NRC. Only then people would be able to stay in this country.”
The BJP has been silent on implementing NRC in West Bengal, fearing it could impact Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, including Dalit communities, the Rajbanshis, and the Matuas. The two constitute about 28% of the state’s population. The communities have backed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and opposed NRC.
In Assam, the BJP announced it will focus on a corrected NRC. This came after a large number of Hindu migrants were left out of the updated NRC announced on August 31, 2019. The NRC was updated for the detection of undocumented foreigners. It 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.
The BJP has been in a dilemma regarding the CAA and NRC in West Bengal and Assam. In Assam, BJP maintained the CAA cannot be changed through state legislation and did not commit to its implementation. The BJP promised the state Cabinet would take a decision on implementing CAA if the BJP comes to power in the state. Its manifesto in Assam avoided mentioning the implementation of the CAA. In 2019, the Parliament passed the CAA providing automatic citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who came to India before December 31, 2014.
There were protests in Assam against the CAA. Most people in the state support NRC. 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.
Banerjee said they brought the Covid-19 situation under control in the state. She blamed the BJP for bringing people from outside West Bengal to campaign for the assembly polls and spreading the disease. “They fled after spreading the disease here. Had they given vaccines to everyone on time, there would not have been a surge [in Covid-19 cases],” said Banerjee.
Banerjee’s comments came as Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who held three rallies in Bengal last week, tested positive for Covid-19.
Banerjee earlier met families of the five people killed in two separate incidents of violence, including in firing by central forces, at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar during the fourth phase of polling in the state on Saturday. She urged the people to maintain peace and promised a thorough probe into the killings after the elections. The guilty would not be spared, Banerjee added.
“I met all five families, including that of Anand Burman...,” she said, referring to the 18-year-old first-time voter, who was shot dead as he had queued up to vote on Saturday hours before the four others were killed in the firing.
Banerjee said the widow of one of the four men is pregnant, while others have small children. “One was less than a month old.” She said she wanted to meet the kin of the five the next day, but the Election Commission (EC) banned the entry of political leaders into Cooch Behar for 72 hours. Later, the poll watchdog banned Banerjee from campaigning for another 24 hours for her alleged remarks against central forces and for appealing against a split in the Muslim votes.
Banerjee said as elections were going on, she cannot make any promises to the families of the five, “...but after the elections, we would do everything to take care of the families,” said Banerjee. She added all five were Rajbanshi. “Some are from Muslim Rajbanshi [language speaking] families. Ananda Burman was also a Rajbanshi. I condemn the killing. The people will give a befitting reply in the coming days,” she said while requesting the people to consider her as their daughter
The Koch-Rajbanshi community of north Bengal is the largest scheduled caste group in the state, which can influence election results of around 20 assembly seats across four districts.
Out of the 45 seats going to the polls in the fifth phase of polling on Saturday, 21 are reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) communities.
West Bengal has India’s second-highest SC population after Uttar Pradesh. The SCs comprise 23.51% of the state’s population and the ST communities 5.8%. Of the state’s 84 seats reserved for SC and ST communities in the 294-member assembly, the BJP led in 46, the TMC in 37, and the Congress in one in the 2019 national polls.
Banerjee urged local leaders of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) to build statues in memory of the five victims. “The EC may send me another notice for [announcing] this. They may do so, but we would come up with five statues after the elections,” said Banerjee, who was issued two notices last week before she was barred from campaigning.
The fifth of the eight-phase polling in the state is scheduled on Saturday before the results are declared on May 2.
The fourth phase of the elections was marred by the killing of the five. The TMC alleged Saturday’s violence was proof that forces on poll duty were acting at the behest of the central government. The BJP, which hopes to wrest power in the state after emerging as the second biggest party in the state in 2019 national polls, blamed TMC “goons” for the violence.
Police and EC said the four, Jobed Ali, Chhalmu Mia, Amzad Hossain, and Nameed Mia, were killed when Central Armed Police Forces personnel on election duty allegedly fired in self-defence after coming under attack from a mob.
On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “It is being openly said that TMC workers will gherao central forces and didi’s [Banerjee] remaining supporters would cast false votes…In the last 10 years, Mamata Banerjee has conspired to deny the scheduled castes, the poor and the deprived sections their rights through chappa vote [rigging]. What happened in Cooch Behar was the consequence of this master plan.”
Hitting back at the BJP, Banerjee said: “I have all the names of those who opened fire. I got it from CISF. I have all details. I still believe that [Union home minister] Amit Shah planned the entire thing, and the PM knew about it.”