Kolkata: The West Bengal BJP, under fire in the state over the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), has found a way to hit back at the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) — with a little help from across the border.
The BJP is citing the remarks of Bangladesh’s top paramilitary officer to claim “moral victory” in the state where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has taken the lead to oppose the CAA and the NRC.
On 2 January, the Director General of the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), Major General Shafeenul Islam, revealed that 445 of the country’s nationals returned from India in November and December.
“About 1,000 people were arrested in 2019 for illegal border crossings from India to Bangladesh, with 445 of them returning home in November and December,” PTI quoted him as having said.
That has BJP leaders in the state elated, with the party’s leadership claiming that the CAA and its continuous campaign for a NRC in West Bengal was being vindicated.
“This is obviously good news for the nation that we have succeeded in driving out the infiltrators,” said Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP national general secretary and the party’s West Bengal in-charge.
“The process has started and we will see the results soon. The economy in all these bordering states will improve slowly and we will have an election free of fake voters.”
BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta said it was a good start for the country.
“I too read in newspapers that DG, BGB, said that some hundreds of Bangladeshis returned to their country,” Dasgupta said. “The statement by BGB clearly demonstrates that CAA would work. We always encourage people to come to India from Bangladesh but with legitimate visas.”
The party’s state president Dilip Ghosh said this would get more people to support the party’s stance. “People will now trust us more. CAA is to provide citizenship to the Hindu refugees from Bangladesh. They have been living in Bengal for ages without any recognition,” he said. “But Didi’s vote-bank is now heading back. She has every reason to get worried. For us, CAA is working.”
The BJP has launched a CAA outreach programme in the state. Over the past three days, it has held at least 11 public meetings and rallies in the state. All of the party’s 18 MPs have also been assigned to hold a ‘door-to-door campaign’ on the controversial legislation and the NRC. The party has also released a booklet on both the issues.
TMC on the backfoot
The BJP politicising Islam’s remarks has put the ruling TMC in a bind. Party supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been the most vocal of opponents of the CAA and the NRC.
Banerjee has not only vowed not to implement the NRC in West Bengal but has also been leading the protests against the CAA.
In the over two weeks since protests began against the controversial legislation on 13 December, Banerjee hit the streets for 10 days holding seven mega rallies and addressing seven public meetings in Kolkata, of which five were held after the ‘mega-rallies’.
In the 16 days until 1 January, the chief minister had also addressed nine protest programmes against the citizenship Act and the NRC.
Even though Banerjee hasn’t reacted publicly to the BJP leaders and the BGB chief’s remarks, she once again tried to allay fears over the CAA and NRC.
Addressing a public meeting at Patharpratima in South 24 Parganas Tuesday, the chief minister reiterated her stance on the controversial legislation.
“Nobody needs to worry. I promise you no NRC and no CAA will be implemented here,” she said. “If anybody wants to force it on you they have to step over my dead body and do it. You can stay in peace in Bengal.”
Trinamool Congress leaders also termed the BGB chief’s remarks as playing into the BJP’s propaganda.
“We do not believe that Muslims are going to Bangladesh. How can they? They have their families, houses and properties here. This is fake propaganda to mislead people,” Abu Taher Khan, the Trinamool Congress MP from largest border constituency of Murshidabad, said.
“The BJP and RSS are experts in this. We are continuously asking people to have faith in Mamata Banerjee. So this is almost a fake news and a lie being peddled by the saffron brigade.”
Muslims were so intimidated and threatened by the ‘BJP goons’ that they preferred to cross over to Bangladesh than staying in the country, said a senior leader of Trinamool Congress. “Didi, however, in all public programmes assured that nobody needs to leave and there is no reason to be scared. We are there for everyone. We will not allow the CAA and NRC to be implemented in Bengal,” he added.
Idrish Ali, a senior TMC leader, however said the BJP was intimidating Muslims. “The BJP tries to instigate and incite violence in the bordering districts. But we believe that they will not succeed in this,” Ali said. “I will appeal to the minority brothers and sisters to have faith in Mamata Banerjee. Hindu or Muslim, nobody needs to be scared of such an Act.”
Nirmal Majhi, a senior leader and MLA from Howrah that also has a considerably high minority population, claimed that ‘people were being misled’ by the BJP.
“We know that there is an effort on to threaten people and get some electoral dividend out of it. This was tried during demonetisation and the Gauraksha campaigns,” Majhi said. “It seems to work initially for the BJP but people are wise enough. The BJP will get an answer soon during the civic elections.”
“Dilip Ghosh did not keep his constituency safe following CAA announcements and we believe that it was the most humiliating bypoll defeat for the party,” he added. “So all these tricks of intimidation will not work and the BJP will not get more than two to three seats in the upcoming assembly elections.”
Even as the top official of the BGB claimed that at least 1,000 Bangladeshi migrants who were living in India illegally crossed over to Bangladesh over the last few months, official records with police agencies and the Border Security Force (BSF) in India reveal that around 2,300 people returned or were pushed back to Bangladesh in 2019.
According to sources in the BSF, the South Bengal Frontier had more than”1900 Bangladeshis returning willingly or sent back” to Bangladesh” in 2019 while North Bengal Frontier recorded around 300 people going back to Bangladesh. A senior BSF official said that most of the immigrants were staying in Bengal while some of them came from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Delhi in small groups of 50 to 60 people.
A senior BGB official said that around 132 people were intercepted in December while around 340 were detained while crossing over from India to Bangladesh in November.