Union minister’s statement on Matua identity card triggers row in Bengal BJP
Asim Sarkar, BJP legislator from North 24 Parganas district’s Haringhata, publicly questioned Mishra’s announcement
Kolkata: Union deputy home minister Ajay Kumar Mishra has triggered a controversy in West Bengal by stating that identity cards issued to the Dalit Matua community members by the All India Matua Mahasangha will be treated as an official identity document across India till the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is enforced.
Asim Sarkar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator from North 24 Parganas district’s Haringhata, has publicly questioned Mishra’s announcement questioning how the identity cards issued by a religious body can be official identity document.
Mishra made the statement on November 26 in Thakurnagar in North 24 Parganas district while attending a festival of the Matua community that wants immediate enforcement of the CAA.
The Matuas are a part of the large Dalit Namasudra community that migrated from East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) during India’s partition in 1947 and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War to escape religious persecution.
Passed by the Parliament in 2020, CAA offers citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 2015. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) insists that CAA is unconstitutional as it links citizenship to faith in a secular country.
“I am assuring that members of the Matua community will not lose their citizenship. According to the latest information I have, the laws for CAA will be framed by March 30, 2024,” Mishra said on November 26.
Continuing his speech, Mishra said identity cards issued by the Mahasangha will be treated as official document across India.
Located close to the Bangladesh border, the Thakurnagar town houses the headquarter of the Mahasangha of which the local BJP Lok Sabha member and union minister of state for shipping, Shantanu Thakur, is the president. Thakur was present on the dais when Mishra made the announcement.
“Members of the Matua community can go to any part of the country and show the card issued by the All India Matua Mahasangha provided it is signed by Shantanu Thakur. They will not face any harassment,” Mishra told the crowd that had gathered for the annual Ras Utsav.
The event was not telecast live by any television channel but videos of the speech, where he mentions the card, surfaced later on social media, triggering a controversy.
“How can a Union minister make such a statement? Can a card issued by any religious organisation be treated as official identity document? These cards are being issued by the Mahasangha for a long time. Enforcement of CAA is what millions of erstwhile refugees living across the country want,” Asim Sarkar, who is associated with the refugee movement, said.
“These cards will help identify a person till the citizenship documents are issued,” Thakur told the local media at Thakurnagar.
His aunt and Former TMC Look Sabha member Mamatabala Thakur, who leads the rival faction of the Mahasangha, alleged that the Centre is trying to hoodwink the Matuas.
“The BJP knows that CAA can never be enforced in a democratic country. Hence, it is trying to woo voters before the Lok Sabha polls,” she said.
During his 2021 assembly election campaign jn Thakurnagar, Union home minister Amit Shah announced that the Centre would enforce CAA once Covid-19 vaccination across the country was over. However, the BJP did not speak on this issue since then and suffered a setback in the Bengal panchayat polls earlier this year.
Support of the Matua and other Dalit communities helped BJP win several seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 state polls.
Thakur was made a minister of state during the Union cabinet reshuffle in 2021. This was seen as a move by the BJP central leadership to keep the Matuas happy.
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