The Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government is committed to implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, Union home minister Amit Shah said on Friday, while also exuding confidence that his party will comfortably register a victory in next year’s assembly elections in the battleground state of West Bengal.
On a two-day visit to the state, Shah sounded the bugle for the 2021 elections, targeted chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s government over “corruption and atrocity and political killings”, had lunch at a Dalit man’s house in a symbolic move, and also appealed to residents to restore Bengal’s “lost glory”.
“The BJP is committed to enforcing the new citizenship law across the nation. The process has been held back because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said at a press conference after a closed-door meeting with BJP leaders at the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre at Rajarhat, on the suburbs of Kolkata.
Senior BJP leaders who attended the meeting with Shah said he spoke at length on the citizenship law — an emotive issue in the state that shares its borders with Bangladesh — and said the BJP has kept the promise it made to the people.
Shah also offered prayers at a temple of the Matua community, a dominant part the Namasudras (or Dalits), at New Town in Kolkata and had lunch at the home of one of the community members there.
Members of the Matua community, who welcomed him, said they needed the citizenship law. “Citizenship right had been a long-standing demand of the Matua community,” said Brajen Majumdar, a lawyer.
A large section of the Matua community migrated to Bengal from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) after 1947 to escape religious persecution. There are about 10 million people from the Namasudra community in Bengal, according to the 2011 Census.
The contentious citizenship law promises to fast-track the citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who entered India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before 2015.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is strongly opposed to the law and citizenship screening on the basis of religion.
Caste politics and Dalit votes will play a crucial role in the assembly polls due in six months, according to experts.
“The lunch Shah had at the home of a Matua family may be seen as a political gimmick, but it is a fact that for millions of people, citizenship is an important issue,” said political observer Suvashis Maitra.
After winning 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 elections, the BJP is gearing up to challenge CM Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in the assembly polls. Dalit communities can influence poll results in over 50 of the state’s 294 assembly seats.
In the evening, Shah launched an all-out offensive on the Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government. “Our aim is to build a strong Bengal in a new era of development. Mamata Banerjee’s aim is to make her nephew (Abhishek Banerjee) the next CM,” he said at the press meet.
“Rest assured, the BJP will come to power in Bengal with more than 200 seats (out of 294)…The anger in people shows that change is imminent. I appeal to the people to give the BJP an opportunity. We will turn this state into sonar Bangla (golden Bengal) in five years.”
When asked if former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly was considered as a probable CM face amidst a buzz, Shah said: “The parliamentary committee of the BJP and the party president will decide whether we need a chief ministerial face for the coming polls in Bengal, and if at all we need one, then who it should be.”
Hitting back, Saugata Roy, a Trinamool Lok Sabha MP and a party spokesperson, said: “The BJP is trying to divide people. Mamata Banerjee makes no discrimination among citizens.”