By Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Kolkata, Nov 6 (SocialNews.XYZ) The Union Home Ministry's recent announcement that Indian citizenship would be granted to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians coming from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and currently living in Mehsana and Anand districts in Gujarat has sparked a debate on the fate of the Matua Community in West Bengal.
Matua is a scheduled caste designated refugee community from Bangladesh scattered in certain pockets of the state, mainly in the Bangaon sub-division in North 24 Parganas district.
Currently two points of debates are going in West Bengal over the citizenship for the refugees in the two districts of Gujarat.
On one hand, the anti-BJP forces in the state feel that this Gujarat-related decision is just a political gimmick keeping in mind the forthcoming political decision in West Bengal.
On the other hand, the state BJP leaders are projecting this development as the first step for implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) throughout the country, including West Bengal that will ultimately benefit the Matua refugees in the state.
However, there is a contradiction in the arguments by different state BJP leaders on how effectively CAA can be implemented in West Bengal if the Trinamool Congress government opposes the same.
According to the leader of the opposition in the West Bengal assembly Suvendu Adhikari, this development in Gujarat is an indication of the beginning of implementation of CAA, which has been passed in both the Houses of the Parliament.
"West Bengal is a part of India. This will ultimately benefit the Matuas and the other scheduled tribe refugees, who will no longer be asked to furnish old documents before 1971," Adhikari added.
However, Santanu Thakur, the union minister of port, shipping and highways and BJP Lok Sabha member from Bangaon constituency, where Matua voters are the principal determining factors, did not sound as confident as Adhikari.
According to a federal system of democracy, if the state government does not support the Union government in implementing anything, then that implementation process becomes difficult in a particular state. "This is a negative point for implementing CAA in West Bengal as the state government is opposing it here. But the declaration of the Union home ministry about the refugees in Gujarat is the first step in the right direction. At least what we promised to the Matuas begins with Gujarat," he said.
Former Trinamool Congress from Bangaon Mamata Bala Thakur, who got defeated by Shantanu Thakur in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, feels that in 2019, the Matua voters whole-heartedly supported BJP after being "misled" by the party's citizenship promises.
"However, those voters returned to Trinamool Congress to a great extent in the 2021 West Bengal assembly polls, from which it is clear that the voters' sentiments about the saffron camp is declining fast. The Matua community people understood that CAA is nothing but a political gimmick," she said.
An expert in the matter and the writer of the book 'Mission Bengal: A Saffron Experiment', Snigdhendu Bhattacharya said that Santanu Thakur's logic on difficulties in implementing CAA in West Bengal due to the Mamata government's opposition to it does not sound apt.
"Yes, I agree that the state government can go for total non-cooperation with the Union government in implementing CAA in West Bengal. But finally, CAA is a central act and the Union government can use its own machinery to push it.
"Actually, my reading is that the Matua community people have realised that when there is already an old act under which citizenship status can be granted to anyone residing in the country for 11 years, the requirement of CAA is superfluous. Of course, in CAA the proposed period has been reduced to five years, but somehow there is a feeling that this new act is nothing but an eyewash to reap political benefit," Bhattacharya said.
Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress supremo and the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that she and her party are not against granting citizenship to the refugees, provided it is not done by isolating a particular community.
The CPI(M) central committee member and the former leader of Left legislative parties in West Bengal assembly, Sujan Chakraborty said that CAA is just a "political gimmick" that the BJP floats before any elections.
"But after every election, that issue dies down automatically. The BJP has floated the issue again keeping in mind the forthcoming Gujarat assembly polls. This is nothing but a vote-specific issue," he said.