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Assam NRC exclusion triggers tremors in Bengal, set to become major Lok Sabha poll issue

The ruling Trinamool Congress is intensifying a campaign to establish itself as the messiah of the Bengalis and the BJP is set to launch an all-out campaign to polarise Hindus in the state.

india Updated: Jul 31, 2018 18:04 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Kolkata, Hindustan Times
Assam citizenship,Assam NRC,Lok Sabha poll
People wait in a queue to check their names on the final draft of the state's National Register of Citizens after it was released, at an NRC Seva Kendra, in Morigaon on Monday. (PTI photo)

The Assam citizenship crisis is snowballing into a major political issue in West Bengal and could possibly become the biggest plank of the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the Lok Sabha elections due next year.

The ruling party is intensifying a campaign to establish itself as the messiah of the Bengalis and the BJP is set to launch an all-out campaign to polarise Hindus in the state.

“Bengal is all set to turn into a communal tinderbox. Politics of communal polarisation will reign Bengal until the next Lok Sabha elections,” Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, the vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University and a political analyst, said.

“In the longer run, the expulsion of this huge number of people from Assam will have a lasting impact on the socio-economic and cultural sphere of the whole of the east and northeast,” Ray Chaudhury added.

For now, the political war of words between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee during 2014 is set to revive.

During his campaign in the state as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) prime ministerial candidate, Modi had said Bangladeshi infiltrators, precisely Muslims, will be thrown out of Bengal. Banerjee lashed out, daring Modi to try to deport a single resident of the state.

Banerjee on Monday condemned the exclusion of more than four million people from the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and said her government will not sit idle when Bengalis in Assam are facing persecution.

The state units of the CPI(M) and Congress, too, condemned this exclusion both in and out of the state assembly.

Dilip Ghosh, the president of the BJP’s West Bengal unit, hit back and said NRC will be applied in Bengal as well once they assume power.

“Shyama Prasad Mookerjee secured West Bengal for Bengali Hindus. Therefore, Bengali Hindus who migrated from East Pakistan or Bangladesh till November 31, 2014, need not fear. They are refugees. But the Muslims who have come since 1948 are all infiltrators and will be pushed back,” Ghosh said on Tuesday.

The BJP still is a minor entity in the state assembly but emerging as the main opposition outside the House.

In 2014, the saffron party won two out of 42 Lok Sabha seats and in 2016 they got three of 294 assembly seats. The BJP, however, is steadily gaining strength since then, standing second in almost all by-elections, though a distant second in most cases.

BJP president Amit Shah has tasked the state unit of his party with winning at least 22 seats in the Lok Sabha election scheduled to be held next year.

The Bengal chapter of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP are long trying to build a base among Hindus who migrated from Bangladesh in the face of persecution from Muslims.

The saffron camp campaigners have been telling these Hindu migrants, predominantly members of the Dalit Namashudra community, that their only safe haven – West Bengal – will go under the influence of Muslims if the Muslims who migrated from Bangladesh are not pushed back.

However, the Assam episode seems likely to jolt the BJP’s increasing grip on Namashudra voters.

“An analysis of the last rural polls clearly shows that the BJP fared well mostly in places dominated by the Namashudras. It is because we as a community supported them,” said Mukul Chandra Bairagya, working president of Sarva Bharatiya Namashudra Vikash Parishad.

“However, in Assam, as many as seven lakh members of Namashudra community have been excluded from citizenship. We do not trust the BJP anymore,” Bairagya added.

The BJP’s West Bengal unit claims there are one crore Muslim infiltrators, however, there is no authentic data on the number of people who migrated from East Pakistan or Bangladesh to West Bengal.

On the other hand, the Namashudra community, which makes the lion’s share of Hindu migrants, put their number around one crore. The state’s total population is 9.1 crore, as per the census of 2011. Muslims make up about 27% of the state’s population.

According to psephologist and political science professor Biswanath Chakraborty, the NRC controversy comes at a difficult time for the BJP.

The party was already battling hard to get rid of the branding of “a north Indian party” in Bengal when the growing murmurs over the possibility of Banerjee becoming the first Bengali prime minister can influence some Bengali voters.

“Mamata Banerjee’s proactive stand to ensure the well being of all Bengalis is likely to polarisation in her favour. Muslim consolidation in favour of the Trinamool Congress will be complete, but the BJP will not be able to consolidate Hindus in favour of them,” Chakraborty said.

The BJP may also have to face opposition from Bengal’s prominent intellectuals, most of who have strongly reacted to the NRC list.

“The country is being pushed towards a national crisis. After the conflict between religions, now it will be the turn of conflict between states,” Jnanpith award-winning poet Shankha Ghosh said in a statement.

Amra Bangali and Bangla Pokkho, two fringe groups championing the rights of Bengalis, on Tuesday demonstrated in front of Assam Bhavan. Both have announced a series of agitations.

First Published: Jul 31, 2018 18:03 IST