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Explained: Why is the Bengal BJP facing a revolt from its Matua leaders?

Following the party’s electoral debacle in West Bengal last year, many leaders including several MLAs had left the saffron camp.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: January 18, 2022 7:52:00 am
Hoarding against BJP leader Amitava Chakraborty by 'BJP Banchao Karmibrinda' seen in several places in Kolkata | Express photo

Disgruntled BJP MLAs in West Bengal and the Union Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Shantanu Thakur, who belong to the Matua community, on Sunday (January 16) renewed their demand for immediate implementation of The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019.

During a meeting chaired by the Union Minister at Thakurnagar in North 24-Parganas district, the headquarters of the Matua community, the leaders decided to hit the streets to protest against the delay in the implementation of the CAA. The meeting was attended by nearly 40 leaders of the Matua community.

Here are some of the reasons why such a demand has resurfaced.

The central government is yet to frame rules for CAA.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was enacted by the BJP-led central government in 2019 to grant citizenship to religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan who had to flee those countries in the face of religious persecution.

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The Bill was passed by Parliament on December 11, 2019, and received Presidential assent the following day. Subsequently, the Act was notified by the Home Ministry.

However, the law is yet to be implemented, as the Rules under the CAA are yet to be framed.

The Home Ministry could not frame the Rules within six months of the enactment of the CAA, and sought more time for the parliamentary committees — first in June 2020, and then on four occasions subsequently.

The fifth extension came to an end on January 10 this year, and the Home Ministry made separate requests for another extension to the committees in the two Houses.

Meanwhile, there is war in the BJP’s West Bengal unit.

Following the party’s electoral debacle in West Bengal last year, many leaders including several MLAs had left the saffron camp. The fissures in the state unit, and the growing rift between the two camps in the party came out in the open after the announcement of a new state committee in December last year.

Irked by the exclusion of several party leaders from the new state committee, five MLAs belonging to the Matua community — Mukutmoni Adhikari, Subrata Thakur, Ambica Roy, Asok Kirtania, and Asim Sarkar — left several WhatsApp groups of the BJP on December 25 to give vent to their displeasure. Union minister Thakur is also the head of the Matua Mahasangha.

The Matua leaders accused the state leadership of the party of not appointing any member from the community to the state committee, and of ignoring the contribution of leaders who had helped the BJP grow in West Bengal.

A day later, four MLAs from Bankura district — Amarnath Sakha, Dibakar Ghorami, Niladri Sekhar Dana, and Nirmal Dhara — too left the party’s WhatsApp groups. Another MLA, Hiranmoy Chattopadhyay, followed, expressing displeasure at the style of working of Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari.

Over the next few days, a large number of district-level leaders of the BJP expressed their displeasure at general secretary (Organisation) of the state party, Amitava Chakravorty, whom they accused of running the unit according to his own whims and fancies.

“The Vibhishan within the BJP; remove Amitava Chakraborty, save the party”. Hoarding against BJP leader Amitava Chakraborty by ‘BJP Banchao Karmibrinda’ seen in several places in Kolkata | Express photo

As the dissension against the state unit under its president Sukanta Majumdar grew louder and bolder, Thakur took the initiative to hold meetings with the dissident leaders in an attempt to organise them on a single platform and build a pressure group within the party.

He held a first meeting with some of these leaders at his home, and followed it up by another round of meetings at the homes of other senior party leaders who too had been left out of the new state committee.

On Saturday (January 15), all these leaders came out in the open to express their strong discontent against general secretary (Organisation) Chakravorty, and to demand his removal.

Thakur’s meeting with the Matua leaders, to build pressure on the Centre over the implementation of the CAA, followed the next day.

The Matuas are a politically important community.

The Matuas belong to the Scheduled Caste Namasudra community that migrated to India in large numbers during Partition, and after the Bangladesh War of 1971. Getting Indian citizenship has been their long standing demand, which the BJP had promised to implement, had it won the Assembly election in West Bengal.

In 26 Assembly seats in the North 24-Parganas and Nadia districts, where the Matuas have a strong presence, the BJP won 14 in last year’s Assembly polls, while the Trinamool Congress won 12.

In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, the BJP had led in all the 26 Matua-dominated seats in these two districts.

And they are feeling increasingly betrayed by the BJP.

In March last year, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while releasing the BJP’s election manifesto for West Bengal, promised to implement the CAA in the first Cabinet meeting of the (anticipated) BJP government in the state.

In February last year, Shah, during an election rally in Thakurnagar, said that the process of granting citizenship to refugees under the CAA would begin once the Covid-19 vaccination drive ends. One year into the vaccination drive, with 70 per cent of the adult population of the country double-vaccinated, the party is yet to fulfil this promise.

Following the exclusion of its leaders from the state committee of the party, many Matua leaders now feel betrayed by the BJP, and have decided to press their demands aggressively.

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