Monday, March 20, 2023
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Why Congress is walking tightrope on CAA: Fiercely against it in Assam but muted in Bengal

Congress has promised to build an anti-CAA memorial if it comes to power in Assam but is not raking up the issue in Bengal, which is also due for polls this year.

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New Delhi: The Congress party is vocally opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in its poll campaign in Assam, where it has even spoken of building an anti-CAA memorial if it comes to power after the assembly elections in May.  

But in West Bengal, another state slated for polls this year, the party has maintained a relatively muted and toned-down approach on the issue. 

Party leaders and analysts say the difference is primarily due to two reasons: One, opposition to CAA is bound to pay greater political dividends in Assam, and second, the party doesn’t want to end up alienating the Hindu voter base, especially the Matua community, which has been demanding the CAA in West Bengal.  

While former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has attended rallies in Assam, he is yet to make an appearance in West Bengal, where the party is yet to start campaigning in full swing.  

Gandhi addressed a rally in Assam’s Sivasagar last Sunday wearing a gamosa with ‘No CAA’ inscribed on it, as he spoke at length about how his party would “never implement CAA” if it assumes power in the state.     

Subsequently, the Congress party announced that it will be building an anti-CAA memorial in Guwahati if it is voted to power in the state.

“The memorial shall remember the people’s struggles and sacrifices, protest songs and paintings,” MP and Congress campaign committee member Pradyut Bordoloi said. 

Also read: ‘Loyalist, self-made’ — Why Congress picked Kharge as Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha

‘Primary concern to oppose TMC’s corruption’

In West Bengal, however, the Congress party hasn’t had the same approach; it has instead largely limited itself to attacking the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government, and protecting Bengali identity from “attack by the BJP”.

Speaking to ThePrint, West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said his party’s primary issue is highlighting  corruption allegations against the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government.

“In West Bengal, the first issue we have to fight on is against the present incumbent and the failures of the government… Those have to be highlighted,” Chowdhury told ThePrint. “Then, we will fight the communal forces trying to divide the state.” 

Chowdhury, however, said the party has cleared its position on the CAA, but doesn’t think it will hurt its electoral prospects in the state.

“We have already spelt out our stand — we are totally opposed to the CAA,” Chowdhury said. “But this time, the BJP is not whipping up the CAA issue in Bengal because they know that it will have an adverse impact on elections in Assam.”

While the Modi government passed the amendment in December 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs informed the Lok Sabha early this month that it has been given time until July 2021 to frame and notify the rules to implement the CAA. 

Chowdhury said that this limbo is affecting the Matua community. 

“The Matua community has been put in a confused state by the BJP. The CAA was passed a year-and-a-half ago but the BJP keeps using delaying tactics and tries to allay the fears of the community, without actually caring for them,” Chowdhury said.

Leaders in the West Bengal Congress, however, said that the party is deliberately taking a more mellow stand on the issue in the state. “The party is being careful in West Bengal as the more strongly we oppose CAA here, the easier we make it for BJP to exploit the issue and make it seem like Congress is against the Matua community’s interests,” a Bengal Congress leader said. 

Also read: Why PM Modi referred to Assam’s ‘mool niwasi’ 7 times in his speech but skipped CAA

‘Yet to take call on ISF’

Earlier this week, influential Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui and his Indian Secular Front (ISF) showed interest in becoming a partner of the Left-Congress alliance in West Bengal. 

Siddiqui, who met with AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi some time back, is keen on getting at least 70 of the 294 seats and also have the AIMIM as part of the alliance. 

But the Congress is yet to decide on the specifics of the alliance, especially given that the party has spoken against Owaisi in the past, accusing him of playing the role of  a “vote-cutter”.

“So far, only the Congress and Left parties have forged an alliance in totality,” Chowdhury said. “The rest is in the making. The ISF has proposed joining hands and has shown interest, we are yet to make a final call.” 

Leaders in Assam Congress say that if the ISF joins the Congress-Left alliance, it is “bound to make the anti-CAA campaign by the alliance only fiercer in the West Bengal”.  

“But we will have to be cautious of how much we let that become a part of our campaign, without it backfiring,” the leader quoted above said. 

Congress’ duality within Assam over CAA 

In Assam, too, there are signs of a certain duality in the Congress’ approach with regard to CAA. While the party fiercely opposes the CAA in the Brahmaputra valley, it has largely remained silent on the issue in the Bengali-dominated Barak Valley. 

Last week, when Gandhi and other Congress leaders wore the ‘no CAA’ gamosa in Sivasagar, Sushmita Dev, former Congress MP from Silchar, opted out of wearing it. 

When this was flagged on social media, Dev merely reacted to it by tweeting, “I always wonder why did BJP sweep upper Assam in 2019 Lok Sabha after CAB? What does that mean? I want a peaceful and inclusive Assam. Assam is a multilingual, multi cultural & multi religious state.”

‘Wouldn’t want to give fodder to BJP in Bengal’

Political analysts say Congress’ disparate approach isn’t surprising and aligns with the party’s history. 

“Congress has a long history of duality. There is a delusion among many that Congress is a party that is fighting an ideological battle, that isn’t the case,” said Mujibur Rehman, a professor of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia. 

“The Congress, for instance, has adopted a different face on the Hindutva issue in say Gujarat versus in Maharashtra, where it likes to present itself as the more ‘secular’ option,” Rehman added.

He further said that the Congress’ mellow approach on CAA in West Bengal may be a means to not help the BJP in its campaign. “If they speak up against CAA more forcefully in West Bengal, it will just end up giving more fodder to BJP, which the party is trying to avoid,” he said.

Also read: Capt Satish Sharma, the Gandhi family loyalist who wasn’t apologetic about luxuries in life


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  1. congress, dynasty is another name for hypocrisy. they oppose one policy claiming it based on principles in state state and support it in another. that’s how congress created all issues including this one in last 70 years. dynasty politics is worst politics

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