During his two-day long West Bengal visit, Union Home Minister Amit Shah kick-started the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) campaign for 2021 West Bengal Assembly election. The contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA 2019), remains one of the principal weapons of the BJP in wooing the aggrieved non-Muslim victims of partition, especially the Matua community. Spread across Bangladesh and West Bengal, the Matuas are a Namasudra––Bengali-speaking Dalits––community. The BJP has been fooling Matuas with the CAA 2019 since the last few years.
In this article, we have shown why the BJP won’t be implementing the CAA 2019 before the 2021 West Bengali Assembly election. But to keep fooling the Matuas with the CAA 2019, the BJP will keep the tempo on over citizenship. However, at the same time, it will delay publicising the Rules of CAA 2019 so that the Matua community and other non-Muslim victims of partition living in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal, along with 13 other states, don’t catch the BJP’s and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lies on citizenship.
During his West Bengal visit, Shah ate lunch at Nabin Biswas’s two-storey house in Gauranganagar of Baguihati, located in the northern part of Kolkata. Biswas, a Matua, has been with the BJP for some time, expecting a redressal to the long-drawn citizenship issue. A few Matuas like Biswas, who migrated to West Bengal from former East Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh, may have assimilated well with the society and have arranged documents that allowed them to become voters, but the majority of the community suffers due to the perennial fear of getting tagged as “illegal migrant” forever, across generations, despite living in India for decades or even being born in India.
Shah, accompanied by the BJP’s national vice president Mukul Roy, national general secretary Kailash Vijayvergiya, state president Dilip Ghosh, etc, ate a plethora of vegetarian Bengali Bhadralok––upper-caste elite Hindu––delicacies at Biswas’s residence on banana leaves to ensure they don’t touch the utensils of the community their Brahminical ideology labels as “untouchable”. Still, the event created an optics, showing the BJP respecting Dalits, when its governments are unleashing atrocities against the ostracised social bloc in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh and other states. This narrative will help the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)––the nucleus of global Hindutva fascism and the BJP’s parent body––to woo Dalits under its saffron banner, to be used as pawns to kill Muslims and Christians.
But despite enjoying the free lunch at Biswas’s place, Shah and the BJP didn’t inform, for obvious reasons, when the community will get citizenship under the CAA 2019. Shah and the BJP have been claiming that the community will get citizenship through the CAA 2019 after it dangled the law, which allows citizenship to only 33,313 people, as a solution to their long-pending issue. Due to the CAA 2003, which was passed by BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government in December 2003, and enacted by the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government in December 2004, the Matua community and millions of other victims of partition have become “illegal migrant” in India. Neither an “illegal migrant” nor their offspring, irrespective of whether they were born in India, can ever qualify for citizenship of India.
To get citizenship and to free themselves from the “illegal migrant” status, the Matuas have been relentlessly fighting against the CAA 2003 since 2004. But their struggle was hijacked by the BJP and the RSS who seized the opportunity to build an inroad to the anti-Brahminical Vaishnav community. Exploiting the prevalent insecurities and panic among the refugees, the BJP has been fooling Matuas with the CAA 2019, calling it a one-stop solution for all citizenship woes, which it’s not.
Now, Shah wants the Matuas, despite their growing disenchantment with the BJP, to wait longer for their citizenship dream until the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election. Until then, while fooling Matuas with the CAA 2019 bait, the BJP wants to use them as pawns against the local Bengali Muslims by provoking their Islamophobic conscience. Despite having its roots in an anti-Brahminical social reform movement of the nineteenth century Bengal, the Matuas are still hoodwinked and tempted by the RSS’s venomous ideology.
Shantanu Thakur, the BJP’s member of the Parliament (MP) from Bongaon constituency who is also one of the descendants of the Matua community’s founders––nineteenth-century social reformers Hari Chand Thakur and his son Guru Chand Thakur––has been visibly upset with the delay in providing citizenship to the Matua community. He has expressed his displeasure within the BJP and outside as he faces a strong challenge posed by West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), which has a good presence in the area and has been able to divide the community on the CAA 2019.
Thakur heads the All India Matua Mahasangha, which is tilting towards the RSS since years. Thakur defeated his aunt, TMC’s Mamata Bala Thakur to become a BJP MP but is now in a quagmire. He can’t leave the BJP, as it will be a setback to his political ambitions and aspirations. At the same time, he can’t keep fooling the Matuas with the CAA 2019 bait for long, as the community is becoming restless.
The incessant campaigning by a group of activists running a platform called Dalit Adivasi Minority Andolan League (DAMAL) has played the role of a catalyst to incite the Matuas against the BJP, as a section of them understood, from the critical analysis of the 2019 law, that none will get citizenship through the CAA 2019. The Namasudra Matua community and other people, especially from the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, are understanding the fallacy of CAA 2019. Thakur and other vociferous advocates of Hindutva fascism have been trying to demean the efforts to ensure the Matua vote bank remains intact till 2021 polls. However, Thakur unsuccessfully tried to use the Matua discontent to bargain with the BJP’s leadership.
While Shah’s visit had the mission of resolving the BJP’s internal feud over the booty, he also ensured Thakur remains silent on the issue of citizenship so that the Party can continue fooling Matuas with the CAA 2019. Thakur, who on October 20th met the DAMAL representatives and assured them of taking up the matters like the lacuna in the law that prohibits the Matuas from applying for citizenship and the non-publicising of Rules of the CAA 2019 with Shah, remained mum during the Union home minister’s visit and stayed out of the limelight.
Though each of DAMAL’s assertion on the CAA 2019 came out true during Shah’s visit, yet Thakur didn’t say a word. He rather fired a salvo at the TMC after it declared that 125,000 land pattas (regularisation document of land ownership) will be provided to refugee colony residents. Though mostly these pattas will be provided to those living in the upscale, upper-caste Hindu-majority former refugee colonies of Kolkata and its outskirts, a few Matuas may get them as well. Thakur said the Matuas won’t settle for anything less than citizenship and demanded that the TMC-led State government implement the CAA 2019.
Matuas are indeed crucial for both BJP and the TMC, but the CAA 2019 can’t be implemented or stopped from implementation by the West Bengal Government. Citizenship is a Union subject and the state can’t interfere in it. However, unless the Rules of the CAA 2019 isn’t publicised by the Modi regime, the law––with no provision for new citizenship for millions of Matuas––can’t be implemented. Thakur’s ranting against the TMC in West Bengal is an integral part of the BJP’s strategy of fooling the Matuas with the CAA 2019.
Recently, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP’s chieftain in India’s North East, informed that the BJP-led government in the state can revise the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise conducted in the state, under the Supreme Court’s observation, which is going to disenfranchise 1.9m people, including 1.2m Bengali Hindus in Assam. Though the Assam Government can’t revise the NRC now, Sarma’s claim suggests that the BJP is still dangling the CAA 2019 bait before the Bengali Hindus in Assam, as the party face strong opposition in the state since December 2019.
Following the same Assam model, the Bengal BJP is fooling Matuas with the CAA 2019, claiming the citizenship impasse will be fixed following the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election. The people, especially the victims of partition like the Matua community, are realising that they have been fooled. However, many more should be politically-equipped on the hollow CAA 2019. The demand for a “humane CAA”, placed by DAMAL, shows a comprehensive solution to the perennial citizenship issue; but unless the demand is popularised and the government of the day is forced to enact it, there can’t be any respite for the people.
To safeguard the Matua community and other victims of partition, it’s essential to build up a well-planned movement for comprehensive citizenship solution by placing the positive demand for citizenship for all residents of India, who call this land their home. Without it, the BJP’s NRC agenda will roll out for the whole country and many will find themselves outside the list, disenfranchised. It’s time to resist the BJP from fooling Matuas with the CAA 2019 by arousing the community with the help of facts to expose the BJP and the RSS.