Mamata Banerjee holds anti-CAA rally in Darjeeling, alleges discrimination against Gorkhas
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee held a roadshow in Darjeeling where she questioned the rationale behind implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA in the hill region when it is not applicable in Northeastern states.
“Why this discrimination? Why did you (the Centre) leave out one lakh Gorkhas from the National Register of Citizens in Assam? Why did you leave out 13 lakh Hindus? Indians are now asking whether they have to fight for their freedom 70 years after Independence,” said Banerjee.
This was her first rally against CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) in Darjeeling.
“I want to tell the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that bad-mouthing me all the time will not work. Tell us whether you will withdraw CAA or not. If it is not dubious why have you left out Assam and Tripura? Why are these BJP-ruled states out of the purview of CAA?” asked Banerjee. “NRC, CAA and NPR are the same thing,” she added.
Influencing the people of Darjeeling is a challenge for Banerjee since the TMC has virtually lost control of hill town and adjoining areas ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the Lok Sabha and the Assembly seats. The assembly seat was won by former Gorkha National Liberation Front spokesperson Niraj Zimba, who contested on a BJP ticket. Zimba continues to work for the hill party. BJP’s Raju Bista won the Lok Sabha seat vacated by the party’s former MP and union minister SS Ahluwalia. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, BJP wrested all the Lok Sabha seats in the north Bengal region.
The TMC has influence only on the local municipality since its ally, the Binay Tamang faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), controls it.
“Gorkhas are genuine citizens of India. Nobody can snatch their rights. All ethnic groups in the hills are Indians, no matter which dialect they speak. BJP leaders visit the hills before elections and promise to create Gorkhaland. They flee the hills once polls are over. Do they think people of the hills are fools? Don’t they have self-respect?” said Banerjee.
“In the election, I did not get votes but today I felt that people of Darjeeling need to protect their rights. I will not allow a single Gorkha to be driven out of the hills. If someone visits your home and asks for information or documents do not give it. Use whatever proof of address or identity you use to include your name in voter list. We will not allow any detention camp in Bengal,” said the chief minister.
“Yesterday, I heard India’s home minister making tall speeches. BJP says we are liars. Tell me whether certain conditions are there in the NPR or not. Tell me whether people applying for citizenship will have to live as aliens for five years or not. This means people will lose jobs because aliens cannot work in India. Children will lose their school certificates. Citizens will lose the right to the property they own,” said Banerjee.
“They (the Centre) are asking for the date of birth of your parents. Do you have it? They say something in the morning and something different in the evening. They say it (date of birth) is not mandatory. If it is not mandatory, why is it there?” she added.
More than a thousand people took part in the colourful procession from Bhanu Bhakta Bhawan to Chowk Bazar in the heart Darjeeling town. People thronged the roadside all along the four kilometre route. Banerjee donned an ethnic shawl over a white jacket and played a traditional brass gong and a one-string musical instrument used by minstrels. Women in traditional garments and holding placards, with ‘No NRC’ and ‘No CAA’ written on them, took part in the roadshow.
Banerjee spoke in Hindi and English and even said in the local dialect that people in the hills do not want CAA and NRC.
“Don’t be afraid. People are scared that if CAA and NRC are implemented they will be uprooted. I want to tell the hill people not allow NCC and CAA,” said Banerjee in Nepali as she read out from a note made a few errors in pronunciation. “See I am trying to read Nepali. I will catch up slowly,” she said.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh also led back-to-back rallies in support of CAA at Cooch Behar and Alipurduar districts in north Bengal on Wednesday afternoon where large crowds gathered to listen to him.
Interestingly, on Tuesday, GNLF, which carried out the most violent agitation in the 1980s and 90s in demand for a separate state for Gorkhas in Darjeeling district offered to support Banerjee’s agitation against the amended citizenship law if the region was granted special status under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
Only regions where tribal people are in majority are accorded special status under the Sixth Schedule. In the Darjeeling hills, the population of 8.75 lakh comprise only 32 per cent scheduled tribes. It may be noted that Union Home Minister Amit Shah has clarified that CAA will not be applicable to states where the Inner Line Permit (ILP) is in force and the tribal areas in Northeastern states that are notified under the Sixth Schedule.
“Look at the state of the country. Why don’t you provide jobs for people and set up industries? Why don’t you help farmers and give women the respect they deserve. Ordnance factories are being shut down, Air India will be sold. They are dividing people. They are out to sell the country,” said Banerjee.
“They assault students and teachers. They deploy (probe) agency against those who protest. In future you may not be able to withdraw your own money from banks. They are doing everything stealthily. When we protest they say we are Pakistanis. Why do you talk of Pakistan all the time? In Lucknow, where women were protesting, they stole their blankets and their water. People were left in cold. In Uttar Pradesh, 23 people have died. In West Bengal, 30 people have committed suicide out of fear of NRC,” claimed Banerjee.
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