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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Matuas angry, state unit cracking, why Amit Shah pulled CAA out of the bag in West Bengal

The BJP's promise of citizenship to the Matuas, originally from East Pakistan, was one of the reasons they swung behind the NDA in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury | Kolkata |
Updated: May 6, 2022 11:23:59 pm
Union Home Minister Amit Shah being garlanded during a public rally, in Siliguri. (PTI Photo)

Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s assertion Thursday that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will be implemented once the Covid-19 situation is over comes at a time when the BJP is on the downslide in West Bengal, with growing anger among its own leaders of the Matua community, whom the party had promised citizenship following the legislation.

While the Act had been passed by Parliament in December 2019, and was followed by protests across the country, the government is yet to formulate its rules. Last month, in the fifth such application for extension, the Union Home Ministry headed by Shah sought five more months to formulate the rules.

During events on Thursday marking one year of the West Bengal Assembly elections, that returned the Trinamool Congress to power, if Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attacked the Centre over its empty promises on the CAA, Shah asserted that the legislation would very much be implemented and accused the TMC of “spreading rumours” on the matter.

Addressing a public meeting in North Bengal’s Siliguri, Shah said: “Mamata didi only wants to see infiltration (into Bengal) and that our refugee brothers do not get citizenship. But the Trinamool must listen to this clearly, that the CAA was a reality, is a reality and will remain a reality.”

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In her speech, Banerjee said she will continue to oppose the CAA and NRC, and reiterated that the issue of citizenship was the BJP’s ploy to fool the masses. “They (the BJP) are not winning in 2024. The CAA is their plan. Why are they not bringing it?… After one year, he (Amit Shah) has come here. He should hide his face,” she said.

The CAA aims to ease citizenship for those who have migrated to India from neighbouring countries fearing religious persecution. In West Bengal, with lakhs of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan or Bangladesh, the issue has great resonance.

The BJP’s promise of citizenship to the Matuas, originally from East Pakistan, was one of the reasons they swung behind the NDA in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In the elections, in which it won 18 seats, the BJP led in 33 of the 68 SC-reserved Assembly segments in the state. Of these 33 seats, 26 are Matua-dominated.

In the 2021 West Bengal Assembly polls too, of the 26 seats in North 24 Parganas and Nadia districts where Matuas have a strong presence, the BJP won 14. In the manifesto for the Assembly elections, the BJP had promised to implement the CAA in the very first Cabinet meeting if voted to power in the state.

While the BJP lost, the CAA, which had drawn a lot of criticism for specifically leaving out Muslims from its provision of citizenship for refugees, has been hanging.

Shah incidentally had made the same promise of implementing the CAA after Covid was over, during the 2021 Assembly election campaign.

In January this year, at a meeting attended by nearly 40 leaders of the Matua community, including Union Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Shantanu Thakur, a decision was taken to hit the streets if the CAA was not implemented immediately.

After several of them were left out of the new state committee formed by the BJP in December last year, five MLAs belonging to the Matua community had left several party WhatsApp groups in protest. Shantanu Thakur had also left several groups.

The Matua anger comes on top of other problems in the state BJP unit, with many prominent faces, especially those who moved to it from the TMC, leaving since the Assembly poll loss.

Shantanu Thakur, who incidentally accompanied Shah to a BSF event in North 24 Parganas on Thursday, told The Indian Express that Shah’s latest promise on the CAA was welcome. “The CAA will become a reality. We feel that it will be implemented before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The minister also had a discussion with us over this matter… We cannot pinpoint a date when the Act will be implemented, but we are hopeful it will be done,” he said.

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