Kolkata: With Article 370 and Ram Mandir ticked off its 2019 Lok Sabha manifesto, the BJP has now turned its focus to another poll promise, bringing a Citizenship Amendment Act to weed out “infiltrators”.
Speaking to ThePrint, BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said the legislation is almost a “necessity in West Bengal”.
“We have delivered what we promised. Kashmir is done, Ayodhya is done, now we will also bring the Citizenship Amendment Bill,” he added. “It is almost a necessity in West Bengal to stop infiltration bids and secure the nation. The party is concentrating on West Bengal and, for the sake of the state, we have to implement the Citizenship Amendment Bill soon.”
The Citizenship Amendment Bill is a controversial BJP initiative to grant citizenship to minority “refugees” — Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Christians — from India’s Muslim-majority neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Clubbed with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which the BJP hopes to implement across the country to identify “illegal immigrants”, the exercise is seen as a bid to expel Muslim immigrants.
In West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh and has a population that is 30 per cent Muslim, the rhetoric is seen as a bid to polarise the electorate amid the BJP’s bid to make inroads into the state.
The BJP, which has never been in office in West Bengal, has been making rapid gains in the state, which is headed for polls in 2021.
Vijayvargiya said the citizenship bill will be tabled in the winter session of Parliament. “If the bill is passed, the Act will be implemented immediately. The work to grant citizenship to the refugees will start soon then. All refugees will be granted citizenship.”
After the refugees are granted citizenship, he added, the government will bring the NRC for the entire country.
“Where will they (the refugees) go if we do not take them as our citizens? So, there is nothing to worry,” he said. “We will only identify the infiltrators through the NRC.”
The BJP’s pitch for the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which has been criticised by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as “divisive”, has also been raised in West Bengal by Home Minister Amit Shah.
Addressing a huge gathering at Kolkata’s Netaji Indoor Stadium last month, he reiterated the Narendra Modi government’s stand on the Citizenship Amendment Bill and NRC. “I have mentioned it earlier and am saying it again. Please note. We will first implement the Citizenship Amendment Bill and, after that, the NRC will be brought,” he said.
“The ruling party in Bengal is trying to mislead people and spreading misinformation about the NRC to intimidate people,” he added.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016 and referred to a joint parliamentary committee. The committee’s report was submitted to Parliament in January 2019 and the bill passed by the Lok Sabha.
Pending for consideration and passage by the Rajya Sabha, the bill lapsed following the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha. It now needs to be re-introduced. However, as reported by ThePrint earlier, there are certain misgivings in the state BJP about the exercise.
Ahead of the winter session, the BJP’s MPs also have another plan to cement its West Bengal push, by raising issues related to law and order in the state in the Lok Sabha. “Expect a stormy winter session and we will mostly focus on Bengal this time,” a BJP MP said.
“There were many incidents that clearly show how challenged Bengal police officials are when it comes to handling the law and order situation here.”
Mamata’s silence on Ayodhya
The BJP’s recent inroads in West Bengal have been attributed to a polarisation strategy that seeks to portray Chief Minister Banerjee as an appeaser of minorities.
While Banerjee has constantly opposed the BJP’s rhetoric on the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill, she has been uncharacteristically silent since the Supreme Court paved the way for a Ram temple in Ayodhya last week.
However, a senior Trinamool Congress leader said a poem she posted on social media, titled “Na Bola (unsaid)”, late Saturday was her “silent” protest against the “deprivation” meted out to Muslims.
The cryptic poem refers to the suffering of people who cannot express their grief or pain. An English translation of the poem has also been posted on Facebook and Twitter.