The Centre’s much-debated Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), by which members of religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who settled in the country as refugees after fleeing alleged persecution in their homelands, are to be given permanent Indian residency; could well tip the scales when it comes to deciding the electoral outcome in the Bongaon Lok Sabha constituency of North 24 Parganas district.
Reason? The constituency is largely inhabited by the Matuas, a community of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh, who came to settle in the district after fleeing alleged religious persecution on their native soil.
The constituency, currently held by BJP leader and Union Minister Shantanu Thakur, is considered a Matua stronghold, with the members of the community often ending up as the arbiters of who prevails and who bites the dust.
The Matuas identify themselves as Namashudras, Chamars, and Malis, claiming to be treated once as untouchables by upper-caste Hindus in undivided Bengal. The community migrated to West Bengal to escape religious persecution in the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) over decades, starting from the Partition in 1947.
Wary of attempts by the ruling TMC to wrest the Matua stronghold, the BJP, which is believed to be a resurgent force in the state amid polling for the 18th Lok Sabha, has given a fresh ticket to Shantanu Thakur, a descendent of Harichand Thakur, the founder of the Matua sect.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Thakur trounced his aunt and TMC candidate Mamata Bala Thakur by a margin of 1,11,594 votes.
However, the ruling party in the state won Bongaon in the 2014 polls, with the TMC’s Kapil Krishna Thakur prevailing over his closest rival by a margin of 1,46,601 votes.
Thakur, who holds the portfolio of Union Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, voiced optimism over his prospects of securing a fresh term in the Lok Sabha from Bongaon, adding that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) will give the long-desired citizenship rights to members of the Matua community.
“This decision has overjoyed Matua devotees across the country and West Bengal as they begin a new journey, following the battle being fought since the 20th century,” the Union Minister posted from his official X handle.
This after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notified the rules for implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), days ahead of the announcement of the schedule for the Lok Sabha elections.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while campaigning for Shantanu earlier, accused CM Mamata of ‘spreading lies’ with regard to the Citizenship Amendment Act, while assuring members of the Matua community that they would get permanent residency under the CAA.
Shah said that no power in the world can stop the people of the ‘Matua’ community from becoming bonafide Indian citizens.
“Mamata Banerjee is lying that those applying for citizenship under CAA will face problems. I am here to assure people from the Matua community that no one will face any trouble (applying for citizenship). You will get citizenship and will be able to carry on with dignified living. No power in the world can stop my refugee brothers and sisters from becoming Indian citizens. It is one of PM Modi’s solemn guarantees to the people,” the Union Home Minister said.
However, Mamata, who has been a fierce critic of the Citizenship Amendment Act, described it as a ‘dangerous ploy’ by the BJP to push and peddle their polarising and ‘divisive’ agenda.
The CM also questioned why the Matuas were being allegedly asked to bring their parents’ certificates from Bangladesh for them to be accorded permanent Indian residency.
“If you love the Matuas so much, then why are you not making it (granting of citizenship under the CAA) unconditional? Why are you claiming to have empowered them? Why are you asking them to bring certificates of their mothers and fathers from Bangladesh?” Mamata said while campaigning at Bangaon earlier this week.
Earlier, in February, the CM accused the ruling BJP at the Centre of deactivating the Aadhar Cards of the Matuas in her state.
“How can they deactivate the Aadhaar cards of the Matuas? No one knows why they did it. They struck off their names just so they could be considered foreigners. After five years, the Matuas still have to stomach the insult of being called foreigners. Then they (BJP) will say that cards (attesting to their citizenship of the country) will be given to them. This is a political ploy aimed at mopping up the Matua votes,” the chief minister said.
The TMC has fielded Biswajit Das, a former turncoat of the ruling party who switched over to the BJP, from Bangaon. Das resigned as a BJP MLA in April and returned to the TMC fold. The switchover happened in the run-up to the 2021 assembly elections.
The Congress, which is contesting the Lok Sabha polls in the state in alliance with its INDIA partner CPI(M), has fielded Pradip Biswas from Bangaon.
West Bengal, which sends 42 MPs to Parliament, is voting across all seven phases of the ongoing general elections. Polling for six Lok Sabha seats in the state was held across the first three phases on April 19, April 26, and May 7.
The remaining parliamentary seats will go to polls on May 13, May 20, May 25, and June 1. The counting of votes for all phases is scheduled for June 4.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC bagged the majority of the electoral spoils in the state, winning 34 seats while the BJP had to be content with just 2 seats. The CPI (M) won 2 seats while the Congress bagged 4.
However, the BJP came up with a much-improved showing in the 2019 polls, winning 18 seats against the TMC’s 22. The Congress’s tally dropped to just 2 seats, while the Left scored a blank. (ANI)