Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA 2019) in December 2019 to hoodwink a large number of non-Muslim refugees from former East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh), especially those belonging to the Namasudra (Bengali-speaking Dalits), Matua (a Namasudra sect), etc, communities. But now the same communities have understood that the law is a hollow one and, therefore, the BJP is dillydallying publicising the Rules for the CAA 2019. On the second day of his West Bengal tour, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that the Rules for the CAA 2019 will be finalised “as soon as (COVID-19) vaccination starts and corona cycle breaks” while speaking to the press in Bolpur of Birbhum district.
The Matua community and other Namasudra refugees, who have wholeheartedly supported the BJP during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, have been demanding the fast implementation of the CAA 2019 so that they can free themselves from the tag of “illegal migrant” that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 (CAA 2003) has labelled them with. However, as the CAA 2019 has no real provisions for conferring citizenship to the Bengali-speaking refugees, there is no way the finalisation of the Rules for the CAA 2019 will provide them with any relief. As the people are comprehending this fact, their discontent is growing manifold and the BJP is facing the heat at the grassroots.
The CAA 2019 only frees 31,313 people, who have been exempted under the Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950, and Rules for the Foreigners Act, 1948, through the 2015 and 2016 amendments. In the Report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which went through a cosmetic modification and was reintroduced as the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the representative of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has mentioned that fresh applications for exemption from the “illegal migrant” status have no hope under this law.
Due to extensive propaganda regarding the hollowness of the CAA 2019 and its inability to safeguard any Matua, Namasudra, tribal and minority community members from the draconian National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC or NRIC) exercise provisioned by the CAA 2003, the victims of partition and the aboriginal people are understanding that the BJP has conned them. A newly-founded platform in West Bengal, Dalit Adivasi Minority Andolan League (DAMAL), which has united around 48 organisations representing the Matuas, Namasudras, tribal masses and Muslims against the NRC—an unprecedented optics in communally-polarised West Bengal—by explaining the threat posed by the CAA 2003 and the hollowness of the CAA 2019, has been weaning away the politically-crucial Matua community from the BJP’s fold.
Through extensive campaigning explaining the law, DAMAL has instigated the Matua community and other refugees to strongly demand unconditional citizenship rights from the Modi regime. This has changed the dominant narrative of West Bengal’s anti-NRC movement, from being an “anti-CAA 2019” movement, it has become a movement demanding a “humane CAA” to ensure unconditional citizenship rights for all and to return to the unconditional “citizenship by birth” system that the Citizenship Act, 1955, provisioned.
The discontent among the Matua community members has exerted pressure on Bangaon member of the Parliament (MP) Shantanu Thakur. The MP is under due pressure, as he is a descendant of the founders of the sect, to take an assertive step for citizenship. Despite expressing his displeasure under the community’s pressure, Thakur didn’t quit the BJP, rather used the discontent to pressurise the Modi regime. Recently, Kailash Vijayvargiya, a BJP stalwart in-charge of the state, visited Thakur to pacify him till the crucial 2021 West Bengal Assembly election.
While MP Thakur has been pacified, with some lucrative baits, the Matua community and its folk singers, proselytisers, etc, aren’t. They have been vocally raising the demand for unconditional citizenship, and DAMAL has been showing the BJP’s lacklustre attitude in publicising the Rules for the CAA 2019 as the validity of its claim that none other than the 31,313 people mentioned by the MHA representative in the JPC Report are safe. This has frightened the BJP, whose leaders have been uttering contradictory statements on the CAA 2019. A scared BJP changed Shah’s current West Bengal tour by omitting the Matua areas of North 24 Parganas from his itinerary to save him from the ignominy of facing protests over citizenship. Shah had earlier tried to pacify the Matua community but in vain.
Earlier, the state BJP leaders declared that after the Durge Puja, the CAA 2019 will be implemented, but later said that the Party would educate the people regarding the law during the festive period. However, to prevent any ignominious situation, the BJP dropped the idea. Later, Vijayvargiya said that the CAA 2019 is “likely” to be implemented from January. Thakur claimed at a meeting that the cases against the CAA 2019 in the Supreme Court are preventing its implementation, though the apex court has neither issued a stay order nor the Union MHA ever blamed the Court for not publicising the Rules for the CAA 2019.
The Modi regime has failed to publicise the Rules for the CAA 2019 twice, and now the law is in “coma” as the MHA has been blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for the inability to draft the Rules. DAMAL has claimed that publicising the Rules for the CAA 2019 will expose that the law won’t give citizenship to any refugee but to only 31,313 people, which made the BJP publish fake rules and circulate it through WhatsApp, but when it was caught then the Press Information Bureau tweeted saying no such rules are prepared. The government told the press that the rules are still under preparation.
While the Rules for the CAA 2019 is the executive’s guide to implement the law and will be prepared by the executive, the BJP must table it in the Parliament’s Select Committee, where the YSR Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress party MPs are members. The YSR Congress, the DMK and the Congress have opposed the CAA 2019, albeit on wrong grounds. If the rules don’t conform to the basic outline of the law, then it can suffer legal challenges. The BJP is trying to prolong the publicising of the Rules for the CAA 2019 till the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election.
But if the situation doesn’t permit, it may publicise a set of fake rules and then allow litigations against it as well as vehement opposition in the Parliament, so that it can lay the blame on the Opposition and Muslims, which will titillate the refugees, especially the Matua community. This is the only safe bait for Shah, however, he and Modi are still willing to delay publicising the Rules for the CAA 2019 to ensure that the Matua community and other refugees are cajoled to vote for the BJP in the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election, which will ironically become the last vote they will cast in India.
Shah’s incessant lies and the BJP’s manoeuvring may bamboozle a section of the Matua community, but the plight of their counterparts in Assam, especially the 1.2m non-Muslims out of a total 1.9m people excluded by the Assam NRC has frightened them. Moreover, the death of people like Chandradhar Das, an ardent BJP supporter Hindu Bengali who was declared a foreigner and who waited till the age of 104 for citizenship but died without it, has caused severe trauma in West Bengal’s refugee colonies.
The BJP’s deliberate delay in publicising Rules of the CAA 2019 is making it clearer to these victims of partition that nothing will be helping them but the movement against the NRC and disenfranchisement drive that the CAA 2003 initiated. The realisation of the danger by the Matua community and other victims of partition, as well as the fear of the NRC, are bringing together all these marginalised people, including Muslims, together and support each other.
The demands to repeal the CAA 2003, its predecessor CAA 1986, and the swift enactment of a new law to guarantee unconditional citizenship to all Indian-origin residents of India, indiscriminately, and returning the unconditional right to citizenship by birth have become stronger than ever. No lies peddled over the publicising of the Rules of the CAA 2019 will any more pacify the anger simmering at the grassroots, and this anger and discontent will surely dig the grave of the BJP and its juggernaut in West Bengal.