In her bid to checkmate the BJP in West Bengal on the new citizenship law and proposed NRC (National Register of Citizens), TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, who has hit the streets nine times in the last fortnight, is also trying to emerge as the central political pivot of the anti-CAA, NRC protest on the national level.
Besides promising to give Rs 5 lakh to the families of the two men killed in the protests in Mangaluru after the BJP government in Karnataka, withheld the announced compensation, her party leaders also met the families of those arrested in Lucknow in connection with the violent protests there and expressed full support to them.
Banerjee’s protest marches and rallies, which have become a recurrent event in the state, in their sights and sounds highlight Bengali cultural traits with a message of secularism and unity. Even choices of starting points and endpoints of her street marches are strategically chosen — like Swami Vivekananda’s ancestral house, Rabindranath Tagore’s Jorasanko Thakurbari among others.
In the protest marches or padayatra, besides “intellectuals”, representatives of religious bodies — Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists — walk with her. Symbols of Bengali culture, such as women in sarees blowing conch shells and playing ‘kasor ghonta’ (brass bells), are a regular feature. In her Purulia march on Monday, traditional tribal drummers were also brought in.
In her speeches, Banerjee invokes freedom fighters from Mahatma Gandhi to Jawaharlal Nehru and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to Bengali icons. “People who voted for past Prime Ministers of the country such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, IK Gujral, Manmohan Singh and others are being asked to prove their citizenship. Now, the Centre is asking people to show their documents or else you will be driven out of this country. Let me tell you clearly, a state government implements policies of the central government. We are saying it clearly that there will be no CAA and NRC in Bengal. We have also stopped NPR (National Population Register) process for now. We will not allow a single citizen to be driven out of this country. We all are citizens,” Banerjee said in Purulia.
Besides targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, she, in all of her speeches, expresses solidarity with protesting students and minorities throughout the country.
Bypoll victory boost for Mamata
According to some political observers, the TMC's victory in the recent Assembly bypolls in three seats gave Mamata Banerjee confidence to take on the BJP on the issue of NRC and the new citizenship law. Even the losing BJP candidates in the bypoll had blamed their defeat on the fear of NRC among the people following its implementation in neighbouring Assam, where over 19 lakh people were left out of the citizenship roll.
“Once you attain the age of 18 you are entitled to cast your votes. Now, if you protest, which is also your right, why should the government use force to stop you? We are fully supporting students who have led protests across the country as it is their democratic right to do so,” she had said in one of her rallies in Kolkata last week.
While the BJP has taken out a counter-rally in Kolkata in support of the amended citizenship law and has been wooing refugee communities, including Matuas, the party is yet to make its stand clear on NRC.
“Mamata Banerjee is trying to mislead people regarding the CAA (new citizenship law). The law does not take away citizenship from anyone. It will only offer citizenship to religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The TMC is also supporting those who carried out protests across the state after the passage of the Bill in Parliament. This clearly shows how desperate the TMC has become to take political mileage out of CAA protests,” said West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh.
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