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OpinionsCAA notification can help BJP in fifteen Lok Sabha constituencies in Bengal

CAA notification can help BJP in fifteen Lok Sabha constituencies in Bengal


Fierce battle is likely as Trinamool Congress will fight hard to keep Matua votes

By Girish Linganna

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act seeks to put on a fast-track Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians—but not Muslims—who migrated to on or before December 31, 2014, because of religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The law was passed by the Lok Sabha on December 9, 2019, and Rajya Sabha only two days later…

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has gone on record about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act on Monday (March 11, 2024), saying, “We'll protest against this. Why did they (Centre) announce it just before the Lok Sabha poll? More importantly, why just before Ramadan begins? Everyone should keep their fast, Hindus should celebrate their festival, like Holi… If there's any discrimination, at all…based on religion, caste or language…we won't tolerate it. Why define Indian citizenship in terms of religion? They won't be able to give citizenship to anybody in the two-three days that are left before the polls (sic). If they cancel anyone's citizenship through CAA and NRC, we won't keep silent and protest strongly. We won't accept the NRC at any cost. We won't allow the use of CAA to put people in detention camps.”

Mamata, as usual, is framing her own narrative by mixing up the CAA and NRC issues and mentioning ‘detention camps', which even Asaduddin Salahuddin Owaisi, president of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, has not done. Nowhere in the Amendment Act is there even the slightest hint of ‘detention camps'. Mamata seems to be doing this focusing on the minorities support in the coming Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP counters: “Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan—all of them are Islamic nations… However could a Muslim from an Islamic country face atrocities based on religion? The aim of this Act is to give a home to those fleeing religious persecution in those countries.” However, the question still remains, as posed by celebrated TV anchor Suman Dey in his programme, ‘Ek Ghonta Shonge Suman': ‘Why did the BJP have to defer implementation of an amendment passed in 2019 for four and a half years? Why now?'

Matuas are people who left East Bengal following the Partition of Bengal, after India and Pakistan gained Independence in 1947. An overwhelming majority of these refugees were Bengali Hindus. During the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, roughly 10 million people of East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) fled the country and took refuge in India, particularly in West Bengal and India's North-East, especially Tripura and Assam. Of these, 1.5 million people may have stayed back after Bangladesh became independent.

According to the BSF's new Bengal jurisdiction, of the 23 districts, 10 share a border with Bangladesh, by an October 19, 2021, estimate. The India-Bangladesh enclaves, also called Chhiṭmahals, are, sometimes, called Pasha enclaves since popular legend has it that the enclaves were used as stakes in chess (pasha) games centuries ago between two regional kings—the Raja of Koch Bihar and the Rangpur Maharaja.

The Matua community originally came to Bengal from erstwhile East Pakistan—a weaker section of Hindus fleeing to India during Partition and after the Bangladesh Liberation War. They trace their roots to Bangladesh. The community, with an estimated population of 3 million in the state, can tilt the scales in favour of a political party in more than 30 Assembly seats in Nadia and the North and South 24-Parganas districts bordering Bangladesh.

The two significant refugee communities in Bengal—the Namasudras, or Matuas, and the Rajbanshis—are, in fact, a deciding factor in any polls—Assembly, or Lok Sabha. According to the 2011 Census, there are 23.51% SC community voters in West Bengal. After 10 years, this figure may be closer to 25%. Out of this, about 35.8% are the Matuas and 32% Rajbanshis.

The Matuas are located mainly in the North 24-Parganas and Nadia districts. A large number of them are also in East Burdwan, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri districts and elsewhere. Matuas now hold sway over 6 Lok Sabha constituencies in West Bengal—Bongaon, Barasat, Krishnagar, Ranaghat, parts of Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri. So, their Matuas is crucial for any political party that places their bet on Bengal. Similarly the Rajbanshis are, basically, concentrated in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts and hold sway in 7 Lok Sabha seats out of 8 in North Bengal—roughly 30% of its electorate.

Getting Indian citizenship has been their long-standing demand and CAA means a lot to both. The Matuas, hence, celebrated Monday's announcement by beating drums. This moment was a defining one for them, they said, and expressed happiness at finally being granted citizenship.

The Matuas had once solidly backed Mamata's TMC, but supported the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. However, a Matua TMC supporter from the area claimed that his community had earlier obtained voter's ID, ration and Aadhaar cards, which were deactivated by the BJP a month ago. Mamata says, “If they (BJP) call them citizens only after CAA's implementation, weren't they citizens earlier? Why were their Aadhaar cards cancelled earlier? Does it mean they're going to replace the old laws? The PM was elected through votes from these very people. How can they not be citizens?”

In the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP had promised that CAA would be implemented if they came to power for the second time. The two communities had extended their support to the party, which won 18 Lok Sabha seats from Bengal out of 42 with the TMC winning a neck-breathing 22 and the Congress only two. The CPI(M), which had ruled Bengal for over 34 years went out for a duck.

But protests broke—five trains were set on fire and property was vandalized by hooligan rioters, mainly anti-CAA protesters—and then, the Covid lockdowns were imposed for two years. CAA could not be notified. So, resentment among these two communities in Bengal grew. Before the 2021 Assembly elections, the BJP once again promised to implement CAA if it came to power in West Bengal. They, miserably failed to, as the wizard psephologist, Prashant Kishor, had predicted they would.

So, the Matua votes got divided. They also supported the ruling TMC out of the 26 Matua-dominated Assembly constituencies. The TMC had got their support in 14 of them and the Matua and Rajbanshi votes got split. But, right now, before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the CAA notification means that the BJP will gain an upper hand and is likely to get the support of both these communities. This means that they would get support in at least 15 Lok Sabha constituencies. (IPA Service)

(The author is a , Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru.)





The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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