Elections done, BJP quietly buries NRC promise in West Bengal for now
One of the BJP’s prime poll planks ahead of Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal was the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state. The controversial exercise over citizenship rights is already underway in Assam.
Two months on, however, the party has gone completely quiet on the issue.
The BJP had campaigned extensively in North Bengal and other districts that share a border with Bangladesh, promising to throw out illegal immigrants through an NRC. The border districts are Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Coochbehar, South Dinajpur, North Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia and North 24 Paraganas.
Nearly a third, approximately 13, of West Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha constituencies are located here. Of these, the BJP won in seven out of eight North Bengal constituencies and of the remaining five in South Bengal, the party won in two.
BJP’s Bengal president Dilip Ghosh now says the NRC process is likely to be initiated only after the party comes to power in the state.
“We will definitely bring NRC here. But if you see Assam, it was a court-mandated NRC, not at the behest of the BJP,” Ghosh told ThePrint. “For NRC to happen here, we need to be in power at the state. The BJP as a party cannot initiate such a process in Bengal.”
Ghosh reiterated that the BJP keeps its poll promise and highlighted the abrogation of Article 370 as an example.
The way we abrogated Article 370, we will also bring NRC in Bengal,” he added. “It is only a matter of time. We need to wait for the political situation to change. We also need to have the electorate by our side.”
A BJP MP, who is also a member of the joint parliamentary committee on the citizenship amendment bill, told The Print that there had been no development on the “NRC in Bengal”.
According to Ghosh, a petition, by some organisation or individual, can be made before a court seeking details about the demographic change Bengal has witnessed over the last few decades because of infiltration from Bangladesh.
High stakes for TMC, BJP
For both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP, the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill carry high stakes, especially in West Bengal.
The bordering districts in the state have nearly 20 per cent Hindu refugees from Bangladesh and another 30 per cent Muslims settlers from the neighbouring country. And both these religious identities are vote-banks for the two parties.
The BJP has repeatedly sought to consolidate this Hindu vote-share by reiterating through speeches by party president Amit Shah that “no Hindu, Buddhist or non-Muslim religious minority from another country will be displaced”.
On the other hand, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has opposed the move tooth-and-nail. NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill are regressive steps aimed at “polarisation” and creating a “further divide on religious lines”, she has said.
Opposition from Trinamool
The chief minister went on record, claiming that she won’t allow the BJP to “play with people’s identity”. Banerjee began a campaign trying to evoke Bengali pride and claimed that the saffron brigade, disconnected with Bengali culture and based-out of the Hindi-heartland, was “anti- Bengali”.
“In Assam, the BJP has struck down names of lakhs of Bengalis from NRC,” Banerjee said in one of her election speeches. “They are throwing out Bengali Hindus too. In Bengal, they will do the same if they get a chance.”
According to a Trinamool Congress MP, the BJP might have decided to go slow on NRC considering the fact that they got votes from Muslim dominated constituencies of the state too.
“In Bengal, they are clearly witnessing electoral gains and in some assembly segments across districts like Malda and Murshidabad, BJP got substantial Muslim votes too,” the MP said on the condition of anonymity. “Now they are trying to portray an inclusive face until they come to power in the state. But people will see through it.”