CAA to be enforced after vaccination drive: Amit Shah
The Centre will enforce the Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, after the drive for vaccination against the coronavirus disease gets over in the country, Union home minister Amit Shah said in West Bengal on Thursday, reaching out to an influential refugee community that is credited with helping his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) put up an impressive showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
On a daylong visit to the state, which is headed for assembly elections this summer, Shah sharpened his attack on chief minister Mamata Banerjee, said she would start chanting the “Jai Shri Ram” slogan by the time polls were over, accused her of misleading people on CAA, dismissed criticism that the legislation was meant to target Muslims, and assured the Dalit Matua community of his government’s commitment to implementing the law that fast-tracks citizenship of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis who have arrived in India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh before 2015.
“We promised in 2019 that we will amend the citizenship law and asked the Matua community to support us in the Lok Sabha polls. They did not fail us. We kept our word and passed the law (in December 2019), but the country was hit by the pandemic. Mamata Banerjee campaigned that we were making false promises. She said she will stop the law from being enforced in Bengal. Today, I promise that the law will be enforced once vaccination is done and corona is gone,” Shah said at a rally at Thakurnagar in North 24-Parganas district.
Thakurnagar is part of the Bongaon Lok Sabha seat that the BJP won in 2019 by fielding Matua leader Shantanu Thakur against his aunt and then incumbent Mamata Bala Thakur, who was a candidate of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). In all, the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 seats. Now, it aims to overthrow the TMC government by winning over 200 of the state’s 294 assembly seats in the elections due in April-May.
Originally from East Pakistan, Matuas, who are Hindus, came to India during the Partition and after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Analysts say the Dalit Namasudra community, with an estimated population of three million, can influence poll results in around 80 assembly seats. The Matuas are a part of this community. Shah’s message on CAA is seen an attempt to address an unease that has set in among a section of Matuas due to the delay in the implementation of the legislation.
Shah said CM Banerjee will not be in a position to oppose CAA in future as she will lose her post after the polls. Critics of the law, including Banerjee, argue that CAA is discriminatory against Muslims and links citizenship to religion in a secular country.
“I want to assure our Muslim brothers that they will not lose citizenship because of this law. The law does not take away citizenship rights. Not a single Muslim will be affected. The law has no such provision,” Shah said. “Once in power, we will free Bengal of all infiltrators in five years,” he added in the same breath.
Banerjee hit back. Addressing a large number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social welfare organisations in Kolkata, she said she will not allow CAA as well as the National Register of Citizens, an exercise against illegal citizens.
“My backward class friends include not just the Matuas but people from all groups and sub-castes. I seek your support in this election. Please save Bengal. I do not make promises like the Centre. I deliver. Commitments are my credential. The BJP has stopped the funds of many NGOs that do not follow its policies. I promise to help you implement your programmes,” Banerjee said.
Referring to Shah’s visit, she said: “All are welcome in Bengal. But things he said, the vulgar words he used…do not suit the home minister of a country. You can insult me but you cannot ignore me.”
As sparks flew thick and fast and the political temperature soared, Shah, earlier in the day, branded Banerjee a “failed administrator”, stressing that the upcoming elections will be a contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “development model” and Banerjee’s “destruction model”.
In the north Bengal town of Cooch Behar, Shah targeted Banerjee for objecting to the chanting of the “Jai Sri Ram” slogan at a January 23 government programme on freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present at the event in Kolkata.
“Where else can you raise the Jai Sri Ram slogan? Will you do it in Pakistan? Mamata didi has problems with the slogan because she has to appease a particular community. I can assure you that by the time the polls are over, she will start chanting Jai Shri Ram,” said Shah, referring to Banerjee as didi, or elder sister.
Flagging off the fourth of the five “Parivartan Yatras (Rally for Change)” planned by the BJP, he said the campaign was not for changing a CM, MLA or a minister, but “for ending infiltration…ending violence and building a Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal)”.’
And in Kolkata in the evening, Shah reiterated that the “war” was not just to remove Banerjee from power but to turn the state into “Sonar Bangla”.
“We will not rest before forming the government in West Bengal with a two-thirds majority,” he said, addressing the “social media warriors” of the BJP.
Shah touched upon the issue of poll-related violence in the politically charged state, where the BJP says 130 of its workers have been killed in recent months. “I guarantee you that nobody will be able to touch a single voter on the day of the election…Our cyber warriors have to spread the word. Only enthusiasm cannot win elections. You have to use intelligence,” he said.
Kolkata-based political science professor and election analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay said Shah’s remarks on CAA clearly indicated that the Centre cannot enforce the law in immediate future.
“Even if we talk of vaccinating half of India’s population, it will take years and nobody knows when the pandemic will end. Shah made it clear that the Centre is not in a position to enforce the law. Framing of rules is not as easy it may sound…,” he said.