The BJP is staring at a Matua backlash over the delay in implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), forcing the party’s tallest leader from the community to seek urgent intervention from the Centre.
The promise of the CAA was one of the major factors in the BJP’s rise among the electorally influential Namasudras, a Scheduled Caste Hindu refugee community who have migrated to West Bengal from Bangladesh, or erstwhile East Pakistan. The Matuas are the second largest SC community in the state, constituting 17.4 per cent of the total SC population.
The failure of the BJP-led government at the Centre to implement the Act almost a year after it was enacted with much pomp is creating resentment among the Matuas who had backed the BJP. Sensing the community’s restlessness over the delay, BJP’s most prominent Matua leader Santanu Thakur cautioned that if the citizenship promise was not fulfilled immediately, the community would be forced to take a fresh call.
Thakur is the youngest grandson of Matua community matriarch late Binapani Devi, popularly known as ‘Boro ma’ among her followers.
Expressing his dissatisfaction over the delay, Thakur said he was facing questions from the community on implementation of the Act. “I am not able to give any answer to their query. I am forced to keep silent,” he told a gathering of the community at Thakurnagar, the stronghold of the Matuas, on Sunday (November 29).
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The BJP has hard-sold the CAA as a permanent solution to the community’s citizenship fear. Most Matuas have assimilated with the society and have also acquired voting and other citizenship rights. But the fear about their citizenship was triggered by the citizenship law enacted by the previous BJP government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003. It created the provision for nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Their concern deepened after many Bengali Hindus could not make it to the NRC prepared in Assam. To allay the fear of the community, the present BJP government brought another amendment to the citizenship act in 2019.
The amendment triggered massive protests in various parts of the country and also diplomatic snub from neighbouring Bangladesh, pushing the BJP government on the back foot on the issue.
As the assembly elections draw near, Matua leaders of the BJP, including Thakur, have started putting pressure on the Centre to implement the CAA as the community started feeling being cheated after they overwhelmingly voted for the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP-backed faction of the All-India Matua Mahasangha, earlier this month, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a timeframe for the CAA implementation. The BJP’s Matua leaders and members also raised the issue with party national president JP Nadda and Union home minister Amit Shah during their visits to the state. Both assured that the CAA would soon be implemented.
“How long will we have to wait for its implementation? The delay is only accentuating the TMC’s allegation that the BJP is a party of false promises,” said a BJP district leader from North 24 Parganas.
The Trinamool Congress, which is likely to gain from the Matua community’s disillusionment with the BJP, is quick to allege that the BJP is misleading the community.
Citing a fake message being circulated in the social media claiming that the central government has notified rules of the CAA, chairman of the West Bengal Namasudra Welfare Board and TMC leader Mukul Chandra Bairagya said the BJP was only “fooling the community”.
The PIB had debunked the message as fake, clarifying that no such rules were notified.
Much to the BJP’s dismay when it’s facing pressure from a section of its leaders in Bengal to implement the Act, in neighbouring Assam the pressure is for binning the law.
The Coordination Committee Against Citizenship Amendment Act (CCACAC), a joint anti-CAA forum of civil societies of Assam, has threatened to renewed their movement from December 12, the first anniversary of the enactment of the act.
The movement would put pressure on the BJP-led government scrap the contentious citizenship law before next year’s assembly elections.
Already the state’s BJP government is facing heat over the CAA, which is being viewed as detrimental to the interest of “indigenous people” of Assam. To protect the interest of the state’s indigenous people, two powerful student bodies — the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) — helped form a regional party christened Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) to take on the BJP.
The two student organisations were instrumental in forming the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in 1985 after the signing of the historic Assam Accord that capped the six-year-long anti-foreigner agitations in the state.