BJP’s revival of the CAA issue in West Bengal is a multifaceted phenomenon


In a recent declaration at a public meeting in Kolkata, Union Home Minister Amit Shah reaffirmed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) commitment to implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) across the country. This revival of the CAA issue, after taking a backseat for several years, has sparked debates and raised questions about the BJP’s motives, particularly in the politically charged state of West Bengal.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, enacted in 2019, aimed to grant citizenship to persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who arrived in India before 2015. Specifically, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians were eligible for citizenship. However, the rules essential for its implementation have yet to be framed, causing frustration among certain communities, notably the Matua-Namasudra population in West Bengal.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent statement, asserting that no one can stop the implementation of the CAA, has reignited discussions surrounding the controversial legislation. The BJP’s push for the CAA in West Bengal, particularly in the Matua-Namasudra-dominated constituencies, has been met with skepticism. Political observers have questioned the timing of this revival, considering the looming 2024 parliamentary elections.

The Matua-Namasudra community, comprising Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, holds significant electoral sway in West Bengal. The BJP’s success in securing the Bongaon and Ranaghat Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and maintaining support in the 2021 assembly elections indicates the community’s pivotal role in the state’s political landscape.

Ayan Guha, author of “The Curious Trajectory of Caste in West Bengal Politics,” suggests that the BJP’s emphasis on the CAA is directed towards the Namasudra-Matua refugees, who have become increasingly restless due to delays in finalizing the rules for the CAA’s implementation. Guha argues that retaining the Namasudra support base is crucial for the BJP to replicate its electoral success in southern West Bengal.

The BJP’s push for the CAA is not without challenges, particularly concerning regional dynamics and opposition in the northeastern states. The legislation has faced criticism in the northeast, with concerns that it could legitimize illegal immigration. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the North East Students’ Organisation (NESO) have expressed their opposition, anticipating protests in Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura.

Maidul Islam, an assistant professor of political science at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC), suggests that the BJP’s revival of the CAA issue underscores a focus on the numbers game. Islam contends that issues like the CAA are crucial for the BJP’s strategy of polarization, both in Matua-Namasudra-dominated constituencies and for larger electoral gains.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC), led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has been swift in dismissing the BJP’s commitment to the CAA as an election-driven tactic. Shashi Panja, West Bengal’s Industries Minister and TMC spokesperson, reiterates Mamata Banerjee’s promise that the CAA will not be implemented in the state. The TMC has consistently argued that the Matua-Namasudras are already citizens and do not require the CAA.

The TMC’s counter-narrative emphasizes the perceived inconsistency in the BJP’s approach, highlighting delays in framing rules and accusing the party of leveraging the CAA for electoral gains without delivering on its promises.

The complexities surrounding the CAA issue extend beyond electoral calculations. The legislation, seen by some as a precursor to a national-level citizenship screening exercise akin to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, adds another layer of complexity. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had previously clarified that the NRC would be implemented only after ensuring the citizenship rights of migrants through the CAA.

This linkage has triggered diverse reactions in different regions. While the Matua-Namasudra community in West Bengal welcomed the legislation as a partial fulfillment of their demand for flawless citizenship, opposition parties in the northeastern states raised concerns about potential anti-Muslim discrimination and the legalization of illegal immigration.

The BJP’s insistence on the CAA’s implementation, despite potential protests in the sensitive northeastern states, raises questions about the party’s strategic vision. The fear of unrest in the northeast, especially amid ongoing ethnic conflicts in Manipur, adds another layer of complexity to the situation.

Zaad Mahmood, an associate professor of political science at Presidency University in Kolkata, suggests that the BJP’s prioritization of West Bengal over potential northeastern protests may indicate a level of desperation to secure electoral gains in the state.

The BJP’s revival of the CAA issue in West Bengal is a multifaceted phenomenon with political, regional, and electoral dimensions. While the party seeks to consolidate support in Matua-Namasudra-dominated constituencies and maintain its electoral success in southern West Bengal, challenges arise from regional opposition and the potential for protests in the northeast.

Whether the BJP’s emphasis on the CAA reflects a strategic vision or a sense of desperation remains a matter of interpretation. As the political landscape evolves in the lead-up to the 2024 parliamentary elections, the implications of the BJP’s CAA push will undoubtedly shape the electoral dynamics in West Bengal and the broader national narrative on citizenship issues.


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