Kolkata: Muslim organisations and political parties in West Bengal are preparing to mount a pushback — on the streets and in courts — against the Narendra Modi government’s contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill even as Northeast states like Assam and Tripura witness turbulent scenes.
At least 16 Muslim organisations in West Bengal — a state with over 30 per cent Muslim population and another 5-8 per cent Muslim migrants from Bangladesh — are planning to hit the streets in a week-long protest starting Friday against the citizenship bill.
The bill provides for giving Indian citizenship to non-Muslim illegal migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Rajya Sabha passed the Bill Wednesday, two days after it was cleared by the Lok Sabha.
While the Mamata Banerjee government has already announced that it won’t implement provisions of the citizenship bill as well as the proposed National Register of Citizens for the country, Congress and CPI(M) told ThePrint they will challenge the bill in courts.
Even the minority wing of the BJP is in a bind over explaining the party’s stand to Muslims amid fears that in conjunction with NRC, the bill could result in disenfranchisement of the community. Home Minister Amit Shah has already denied this in Rajya Sabha, looking to assuage such fears.
But West Bengal is still on the edge.
‘Muslims are with Mamata Banerjee’
In south Kolkata, at least 16 Muslim organisations, regardless of their political affiliation, held a closed-door meeting Wednesday to finalise their week-long protest programme in the city, beginning Friday.
The move came even as mosques and Sharia help centres are working round the clock to address queries and confusions about the new Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and its fallout for the community.
Kolkata has already seen at least five protest rallies and meetings in the last week against the tabling of the bill in Parliament.
Speaking to ThePrint, former Trinamool Congress MP Idris Ali highlighted the “consecutive assaults” on the Muslim community over last four years under the Modi government, saying Muslims have been bearing with the whims and fancies of the ‘saffron’ forces for long.
“It started with the Triple Talaq Bill, and, then, there is a running debate on Uniform Civil Code. We patiently waited for years and accepted the Ayodhya verdict. Every day, we hear of lynching incidents over cow slaughter and transporting of beef.
“Now they are trying to question our ‘Indian-ness’. So, it is time that we get united and build a strong Opposition against them. Muslims are with Mamata Banerjee. She has always shielded the democratic and secular values of the country,” he said.
As president of the All India Minority Forum, backed by several Muslim groups, Ali said he will write to the West Bengal chief minister urging her to stand strong against the BJP and ensure that the democratic rights of Muslims living in the state are protected.
After the bill was passed, Trinamool MP Derek O’ Brien said in Rajya Sabha, “Mamata Baneree (has) clearly stated that CAB and NRC will not be implemented in Bengal.”
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) also thanked Banerjee and opposition parties for fighting against the Modi government on the issue.
“We are grateful to Mamata ji, senior Congress leaders and all other parties who are opposing this bill not to protect minority, but the Constitution of India. If there is no Rahim, how can Ram stay? Ram and Rahim have always coexisted here and that is India,” said AIMPLB member Maulana Abu Talib Rahmani, after attending a meeting over the bill in Kolkata.
However, AIMPLB won’t file a petition against the bill. Its members can seek legal intervention individually, Rahmani added.
‘Bengal protests are different’
Rahmani also sought to differentiate the nature of peaceful protest rallies in West Bengal from the violent agitation going on in Assam and Tripura.
The Northeastern states are witnessing turbulence as protests against the bill have turned violent. People in the two states are fighting over the issue of ethnicity, seeking denial of citizenship to any non-ethnic migrant.
However, the protests in Bengal are over the exclusion of Muslims under the bill.
“The type of protests is distinctively different from each other. Is there any minority involved in Assam and Tripura protests? But both the states are on fire. So the primary issue is the bill and its nature. The bill is against the Constitution of India,” Rahmani said.
There is a blatant attempt being made to accuse only Muslims of holding such protests which is not true, he said.
As tension simmers in Bengal, the state police directorate has been instructed to maintain a vigil in sensitive areas and monitor social media so that rumours don’t spread.
‘Will take legal route’
With the Rajya Sabha passing the citizenship bill Wednesday, Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury called it a “black day” for the country as he termed the bill “unnecessary”.
“This will foment trouble for Bengalis. The protests in Assam are against Bengalis. Assam is going back to that age-old issue. This was completely unnecessary. I was there in the joint parliamentary committee. There were only 31,300 applications seeking citizenship, but BJP keeps mentioning an absurd figure of crores,” he said.
“Our party and several others will approach court. But Bengalis will suffer. In fact, the Hindus from Bangladesh will also have to face huge difficulty there,” Chowdhury said.
Apart from Congress leaders, the CPI(M) too said it would file a petition against this bill. CPI(M)’s state secretary and politburo member Suryakanta Mishra said, “We will appeal in the apex court, but we also need to reach the people’s court. People will judge this. We will not allow NPR (National Population Register or census) in Bengal.”
CPI(M) believes NPR will be the first step toward NRC.
‘Difficult for us to explain’
Even as BJP’s state unit leaders celebrated the passage of the citizenship bill, the party’s minority unit in West Bengal is in a spot of bother.
With the NRC and this bill playing an important role in Bengal politics, Muslim members in BJP’s Minority Morcha have now started questioning the intent of BJP.
“It is becoming very difficult for us to make people believe that BJP will not act against Muslims. From beef lynching to Babri Masjid, from Triple Talaq to Uniform Civil Code, every time, our people are being targeted,” said a BJP Minority Morcha Muslim leader, who didn’t wish to be named.
Senior leaders, however, are trying hard to quell such anger.
Minority Morcha president Ali Hossain said, “We know that we have to face hundreds of questions from our community people. They were misinformed by Trinamool Congress and others. We, the Indian Muslims will never be affected by this bill. We are urging everyone to be patient and see. We can assure that BJP is not against Muslims.”
Basir Alam, a senior leader of the unit, also said, “This is true that people are asking questions. But this is because of the ruling party that has been systematically spreading lies and misleading people. They used us as a vote bank.
“We are taking Amit Shah ji’s speech to people in which he said that the Indian Muslims had nothing to fear. We are legal citizens of the country and we are not scared of CAB and NRC,” said Alam.
These statements came even as BJP headquarters in Kolkata burst crackers and distributed sweets after the passage of the bill in Rajya Sabha. BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya was part of the celebrations.
Speaking to ThePrint, Vijayvargiya called the bill a major setback for TMC and a huge victory for BJP.
“Despite its efforts, Trinamool Congress failed in stalling the bill. This is a huge victory for us and for all such refugees including the Matua community in Bengal who have been waiting for this for decades,” he said.
About the apprehensions of the state’s Muslim community, he said, “The Indian Muslims have nothing to fear. They will not be touched. It is our promise.
“This bill is aimed at the infiltrators only. Meanwhile, Muslim migrants who already had got citizenship under the earlier provision will not be affected. This is a defeat of the appeasement politics,” he added.