Amidst Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s sweeping victory in the state elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had promised to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the first cabinet meeting should their government come to power, has won most of the seats where members from the Dalit, refugee communities of the Matua and Namasudras dominate the demography.
Mamata Banerjee has been a staunch critic of the legislation and had vowed to prevent its implementation in the state.
The Matua-Namasudras, who are migrants from Bangladesh, have been the most vocal supporters of the CAA. A majority of them in the state live in the Bangladesh-bordering districts of Nadia and North 24-Parganas, especially in two neighbouring Lok Sabha seats –Ranaghat in Nadia and Bongaon in North 24-Parganas. Besides, they live in high concentration in the adjacent Lok Sabha seats of Krishnanagar, Basirhat, and Barasat as well.
Among the assembly constituencies in these two districts where the Matuas play the deciding role, the TMC won only five - Tehatta, Nabadwip, Habra, Ashoknagar, and Sandeshkhali. The BJP won 13 -- Chakdah, Santipur, Ranaghat North East, Ranaghat North West, Ranaghat South, Santipur, Krishnaganj, Kalyani, Haringhata, Bagdah, Bongaon Uttar, Bongaon Dakshin, and Gaighata.
However, the BJP’s winning margin was quite low in several of these seats, considering the lead they enjoyed in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The political orientation of the Matuas is largely influenced by the Thakur family of Thakurnagar - the family of Matua sect founder Harichand Thakur - and it has remained split between the TMC and the BJP since 2014. However, in 2019, the BJP managed to win over the majority of them with the promise of legislation to protect their citizenship status -- a majority of them had migrated to West Bengal illegally over the past seven decades but later got citizenship documents through various illegal means. However, they have been living in India for years.
The citizenship screening drive in Assam through the National Register of Citizens triggered panic among the Matua community members and the BJP’s promise for protection against such probable citizenship screening exercise in West Bengal won them the confidence of the Matuas.
While the TMC had formally opposed the CAA, the party also launched a campaign from the end of 2020 asking why the Centre was not being able to frame the Rules for the CAA even a year after its passage by the Parliament. It was because the Rules would further complicate matters for the Matuas, the TMC alleged, while Union home minister Amit Shah attributed the delay to the government’s preoccupation with handling the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now, after the results, it has become evident that in the district of Nadia and North 24-Parganas, the BJP won mostly those seats which have a significant Matua population.
“Matuas have kept their trust in us and we will fulfill our promise. There is no question of going back on the question of CAA,” said the BJP’s Ranaghat MP Jagannath Sarkar, who also contested this Assembly election from Santipur seat and won.
Another senior leader of the party, however, said that the issue of the CAA will not be revived right at present.
“Right now, our organisers and workers in the state are demoralised. We need some time to help our workers and supporters come to terms with this defeat. The issue will be brought up after the Covid-19 pandemic situation improves and political activities resume,” said another Lok Sabha MP of the BJP.
The TMC, on the other hand, has made sure that they would not allow the implementation of the legislation in the state. Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly said that she will not allow its implementation in the state as long as she is in power.
“This can’t be said that the Matuas did not vote for the TMC. We lost a few seats by narrow margins. In any case, we will not allow its implementation because applying for fresh citizenship will land Matuas in unnecessary trouble. What are we if not citizens? How could Matuas became MLAs and MPs without being bona fide citizens?” said Mamata Thakur, the head of the pro-TMC faction of All India Matua Mahasangha, the supreme body of the community. She was the TMC MP from Bongaon between 2014 and 2019.
The other faction of the Mahasangha is led by Shantanu Thakur, her nephew-in-law who contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket and defeated her. Shantanu’s brother, Subrata, contested from Gaighata seat, where the Thakur family lives, but won by only 9,570 votes, whereas the BJP in 2019 had a lead of over 37,000 votes from this constituency.
Ahead of the assembly elections, Shantanu had mounted pressure on the BJP leadership to frame the Rules for the CAA so that the Matuas could vote for them with confidence. Thakur’s close aides said a day after the election results that the Bongaon MP will start raising the issue before the party leader after a few months. The person, however, sounded doubtful on how far the BJP would go to take on Mamata Banerjee on this issue.