Buoyed by the success in the recent by-polls, which the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) fought campaigning against the NRC, Mamata Banerjee’s party has now eyed the Citizenship Amendment Bill to reach out to voters ahead of the 2021 assembly polls, to corner the BJP.
Termed by Ms Banerjee “second war of independence”, the campaign against the contentious bill will be at the centre of the party’s poll pitch, said senior TMC leaders, who feel that 120 seats that have significant minority and refugee population will be a deciding factor in next elections.
Members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who come from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan facing persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship when the proposed amendments to the six-decade-old Citizenship Act come into effect with the passage of the bill.
Addressing a rally in Kolkata, Ms Banerjee said she would support the bill if citizenship is given to each and every refugee, irrespective of their religion.
“We could not take part in the first freedom struggle which gave us our Independence. But we will take part in the second freedom movement. We will resist NRC and CAB,” said Ms Banerjee, who has time and again taken shots at the BJP over the issue.
TMC leaders, who spoke to news agency PTI on condition of anonymity, said the party’s top brass is of the opinion that after National Register of Citizens (NRC), the bill would act as “nail in the coffin of the BJP in Bengal”.
“We all have witnessed how the tide has changed against the BJP in Bengal in just six months after Lok Sabha polls. It was the NRC in Assam that went against them. Now, this CAB would cause more damage to the BJP. They have failed to gauge people’s mood on these two issues. We too have regularised refugee colonies, but we didn’t see religion in it. They (BJP government) can set criteria for granting citizenship but religion can never be that criteria. Just like NRC, CAB too would be a blunder, if not on a bigger scale. It will act as a political trump card for us in Bengal against the BJP.” a TMC leader said.
He exuded confidence that campaigning against the bill would reap benefits for the party in the run-up to the elections in the state where civic body polls are scheduled next year.
Bengal is a bordering state, has housed a large number of refugees who came during Partition and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Left parties have always bagged most of the seats having a large number of the refugee population, but after 2011, with regime change in the state, they switched loyalties to the TMC.
However, in the Lok Sabha elections held earlier this year, BJP won a large number of seats in these refugee belts of the state. But after the NRC was published in Assam, in which large numbers of Hindus were left out, the scales seem to have tilted in favour of the TMC in West Bengal as it wrestled Kaliaganj and Karimpur assembly seats, where it was a major issue, in by-polls.
According to sources in the TMC’s parliamentary unit, it along with other opposition parties have decided on an eight-point agenda to counter the BJP on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which is likely to be tabled in Parliament next week.
“If the government is talking about one nation, one election, one law, then how come they are setting different criteria for Northeastern states by using the Sixth Schedule and Inner Line Permit. This itself is a double standard,” a senior TMC MP said.
The opposition to this bill, which is not only divisive and against the principles of the Constitution, will take place both inside and outside Parliament, he said.
According to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the new law, however, will not be applicable in the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime areas and those tribal regions which are governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
The TMC has issued a whip to all its members for being present in Parliament on all four days from Monday, in anticipation of the Citizenship Amendment Bill being introduced by the Centre. The BJP’s West Bengal unit, however, thinks that the bill would do wonders for the party in the state as it will further lead to consolidation of Hindu votes in the bordering districts.
“If TMC opposes the bill then it means they are anti-Hindus. The bill is being brought to give citizenship to all Hindu refugees and non-Muslims. The TMC is just worried that it might lose its minority vote bank,” state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said.