PM Narendra Modi to address concerns over NRC, Citizenship bill, infiltration in Bengal rally
The corruption issue still remains the soft spot.Updated: Feb 02, 2019 07:57 IST
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands on the dais of the 6.3 acre ground at Thakurnagar in Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district on Saturday, uppermost in his mind will be the vexed issues of citizenship and the Matuas who form a three-million-plus strong community who mostly migrated from neighbouring Bangladesh since the 1950s.
It will be Modi’s first public meeting for the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign in Bengal, a state where his party is targeting at least 22-23 seats out of the total 42.
It’s a Herculean task, considering that the highest number the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ever had is two and the fact that the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has been winning bypolls at all levels – Parliament, Assembly and civic bodies – with more than 50% votes.
BJP’s Bengal unit chief Dilip Ghosh said, to clear confusion among Hindu refugees from Bangladesh living in West Bengal, the Prime Minister will address their worries over National Registrar of Citizenship (NRC, Assam) and Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, from his rally.
Matua, Citizenship and Infiltration
“Since the publication of NRC’s second draft list in Assam, Trinamool Congress (TMC) is concertedly spreading misinformation among Hindu refugees from Bangladesh. Modi-ji will explain how our government is going to kill two birds at the same go by implementing NRC and amending the citizenship law,” Ghosh said.
Santanu Thakur, who heads one faction of the dalit Matua community’s supreme body All India Matua Mahasangha and is the host of Modi’s event at Thakurnagar, echoed Ghosh.
“On January 4, we sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s office, requesting for a date for clearing confusion among Hindu refugees spread by groups with political interests,” said Thakur, who shares close relations with BJP leaders Kailash Vijayvargiya and Mukul Roy.
On January 22, BJP national president Amit Shah told a gathering in Bengal’s Malda district that the issue of giving citizenship to refugees and stripping infiltrators of citizenship will be the key poll issue in the state. BJP has always maintained that Muslims who migrated from Bangladesh and infiltrators and Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians who migrated from India’s eastern neighbour are refugees, arguing that the members of the later group came in the face of religious persecution.
NRC in Assam became a raging controversy in Bengal after nearly 4 million people, predominantly Hindu Bengalis, found their names missing in NRC’s final draft released in July last year.
In November last year, chief minister Mamata Banerjee addressed a rally at Thakurnagar. It was organised by the other faction of Matua Mahasangha led by local TMC MP Mamata Thakur, who happens to be Santanu Thakur’s aunt.
From the dais, Banerjee took digs at BJP and said, “In Assam, Bengalis are being targeted using the NRC. Those who are being thrown out of Assam, let me assure once again that we are with them. They should remember Bengal is their home. We will fully support them. Having Bangla as your mother tongue is not a crime.”
The Matuas are a sect originally belonging to the outcast Namasudra community that was eastern Bengal’s largest caste.
After Partition, a steady flow of migration since the 1950s saw thousands relocating to India and settling down in West Bengal, eventually becoming the state’s second most influential scheduled caste community, with an estimated population of more than three million. Members of the community can influence results in about 5 Lok Sabha seats.
In 2014, Bengal witnessed a high-voltage war of words between Modi and the Bengal chief minister, with the former vowing to throw out ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ and Banerjee promising to protect each one of the ‘refugees’.
This contributed substantially to the BJP-TMC polarisation and marked the rise of BJP as the main opposition party.
Psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University, said that the ground for a rerun of the 2014 duel between Modi and Banerjee looks prepared.
“However, now the TMC is miles ahead of BJP in reaching out to the people with their version of the issues,” said Chakraborty.
According to Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University (RBU) and an expert on issues concerning refugees, the present amendment will provide Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and Jain refugees from Bangladesh with a chance for applying for citizenship and get it legally.
“However, since many of them have already got their voter ID and other documents, and are even in government services, there is confusion and apprehension about the possible impact of a fresh application for citizenship on their already settled life. BJP’s political opponents are trying to encash on these gray areas,” Ray Chaudhury said.
Apart from BJP, other Sangh Parivar outfits (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates), too, have prioritised campaign on the issues of NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill.
“Clearing people’s confusion over NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill tops our agenda in Bengal,” said Sachindranath Singha, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP)’s in-charge for Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Sikkim and Andaman. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and Hindu Jagran Manch, too, are campaigning on this issue.
Corruption: offence is the best defense
Bureaucrats, however, pointed out that on the issue of Matuas and NRC, the BJP leader would be in a defensive position, trying to explain their stand. They also think that Hindutwa, too, won’t sell in Bengal, especially after the Assembly results in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
“But the one issue where Modi may try to corner Mamata Banerjee is corruption, more specifically, Saradha and Narada,” said a bureaucrat on conditions of anonymity.
In fact, though nothing has been proved so far in the courts on the ponzi scam question, this remains perhaps the weakest point in Mamata Banerjee’s armour.
Significantly, on Thursday Central Bureau of Investigation officers questioned Manik Majumdar, a close and soft-spoken aide of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Majumdar has been an associate of the TMC chief for decades and lives within half a km of her house on Harish Chatterjee Street in Kalighat.
“The timing of questioning of Majumdar is significant. It embeds the message that the investigative agency is going for her, something that was not seen since May 2014 when the Supreme Court handed over the investigation to the CBI,” said the bureaucrat.
Senior BJP leaders such as Amit Shah, Kailash Vijayvargiya and even Narendra Modi have always slammed Bengal ruling party and its chief on the ponzi scam issue. Shah and Modi have even stung Mamata personally alleging money from the ponzi schemes was used to buy her paintings.
While Bengal’s political circle is mainly looking for Modi’s speech from Thakurnagar, he will also be addressing another rally in the industrial town of Durgapur that is also close to the coal mining centres of Asansol and Raniganj.
From that rally, he is expected to sharpen his attack on lack of industrialisation effort in Mamata Banerjee regime, hinted several members of BJP’s state unit.
In his two rallies in Malda (January 22) and Contai (January 29) Amit Shah has already lashed out at the Trinamool Congress government’s failure on this front.