The TMC chief’s vocal criticism of the process has only generated displeasure among the Bengali-origin community in Assam.
Guwahati, Kamrup: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is perhaps the most aggressive political critic of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which she has described as an exercise to drive out Bengalis from Assam, but her stance has not really endeared her to the Bengali-origin community in the north-eastern state.
Many of Bengali-origin here find Mamata’s politics on the issue “problematic” and believe it could end up “provoking” the indigenous Assamese against them. There are also others, who believe that she may be using the issue to gain political capital.
“It is not the West Bengal chief minister but the Assam government that comes to our rescue during floods,” says Paritosh Pal of Lal Ganesh, a Bengali-dominated area in Guwahati. “She (Mamata) does not utter a word then. Why is she speaking about this? We have not asked her to. We do not support her,” he says.
Banerjee has, in fact, even faced internal rebellion over the issue with the Assam unit of the Trinamool Congress, led by its president Dwipen Pathak, quitting in protest Thursday.
‘Not her business’
On a particularly humid Friday morning, Bijoy Sarkar is busy attending to customers at his shop in Guwahati’s bustling Dhirenpara area — known to be dominated by those of Bengali origin. Sarkar, who claims his father moved to Nagaon in Assam from West Bengal in 1948, says “the politics Banerjee is playing is just not right”.
“Mamata’s politics is problematic. With all that she is saying, it will destroy our peace and harm us instead. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and her claiming Bengalis are being targeted will just provoke the indigenous Assamese against us,” says Sarkar, whose wife is the only one of his 12-member family left out of the final NRC draft.
“She had found a mention in the first draft (released in December) but has been left out this time. We are trying to find out why. I am sure that eventually she will be included,” he adds.
A few lanes away, Pintu Das has the same view. In his family, only three of the eight names have appeared on the list but he too believes that those left out will find mention later.
“This is a very wrong thing. There is no need for her to speak on issues related to Assam. She should focus on her own state. There are more Bangladeshis there,” Das says. “Our government (of Assam) will take care of us and whoever has the documents will find their names in the list. This is Assam, and she is from West Bengal, we have nothing to do with her,” he adds.
‘Bengal government the problem’
As per the NRC rules, applicants have to submit documents to prove that their names appeared on the register of 1951, or in any of the electoral rolls of Assam till 1971, or in any of 12 other documents, which had to have been issued before 1971.
Some of those of Bengali-origin say their documents have not been verified by the West Bengal government, which has led to them being excluded from the NRC draft.
“It is the government led by her in West Bengal that has actually made our life miserable. We came from Cooch Behar in the 1980s. So, all our legacy documents are from there. When we submitted these documents, they were sent to West Bengal for verification. Her government did not verify and revert to officials here in time, which is why names of all four of my family members have been left out. If she is so concerned about us, why didn’t she do so? This is nothing but vote-bank politics, and the TMC is causing the problem,” says Kabir Debnath of Lal Ganesh.
“I faced so much trouble in even trying to get my documents out from the West Bengal government to submit here. They are playing dirty tricks,” says Saroj Roy of Kamrup.
The religious divide
Besides indignation over the TMC’s politics, some Bengali Hindus in Assam have another complaint. They feel that the “Bangladeshi Muslims” are finding mention on the list, while the Bengali Hindus are not.
“It is very strange. The real infiltrators are getting into the list. Around 85 per cent of them have, while Bengali Hindus, who are actually from India, are being left out. We have all the papers and still, this is happening. Mamata, meanwhile, is only making matters worse by politicising the issue,” says Nirmal Roy of Odalbakra, a locality in Guwahati.
NRC officials, meanwhile, claim there aren’t any “real fears” among the linguistic minority.
“There is no real fear or insecurity. People are just a bit confused as to why some of their family members’ names have appeared, while those of others have not. We are explaining everything to them patiently. But politicians should refrain from spreading this false narrative that Bengalis or any minorities are being specifically targeted,” said Akhendra Kalita, an official in the NRC’s verification team at the Odalbakra centre, as a stream of those of Bengali-origin in the neighbourhood pours in to seek clarifications.
Indigenous Assamese versus the ‘outsider’
It hasn’t just been about Bangladeshi immigrants. Assam had seen a strong anti-outsider sentiment and widespread resentment against even against the influx of Bengalis, Marwaris and Biharis in the state. The opposition among ethnic Assamese has been against all ‘outsiders’, irrespective of religion or nationality. This divide remains as sharp till date. Banerjee’s vehement opposition to NRC is, thus, irking the indigenous people of Assam even more.
“I have always supported the RSS and BJP, but I am strictly against their plan to give citizenship to Hindu immigrants. For us, it is not about Hindu or Muslim, it is about Axomiya versus those from outside. Why should any non-Assamese have the same access to the state’s resources as us? Mamata Banerjee is trying to incite the Bengalis in Assam so they can demand a separate state,” says Malati Baruah, a school teacher in Kamrup.