'Is Modi afraid of Mamata?': Hurt by CAA delay, Matuas weigh options before Bengal polls
The 1.8 crore-strong Matua community has a direct impact on almost 70 Assembly seats in Bengal. Once with the Trinamool, they shifted their allegiance to the BJP in 2019.
KOLKATA: In December 2019, when India erupted in protests, a community in West Bengal celebrated the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
But, a little over a year after the contentious law was rushed through both the houses of Parliament, the government of India is yet to frame rules for its implementation.
The 1.8 crore-strong Matua community has a direct impact on almost 70 Assembly seats in Bengal. Once with the Trinamool, they shifted their allegiance to the BJP in 2019 banking on the promise of being granted citizenship finally.
This need of these migrant Dalits had helped the BJP win 18 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2019. Now, ahead of the all-important assembly elections, the saffron camp is making no mention of the CAA - at least not till date.
Permanent citizenship has been a long-standing demand of the Matuas, the second-largest Scheduled Caste group in the state, who continue to harbour fears that they will be thrown out of India unless the CAA is implemented. Bongaon MP Shantanu Thakur publicly underlined last month that these Hindu refugees from the neighbouring country are waiting to hear when the CAA will come into force.
"People from the Matua community are waiting to know when the new act will be implemented by the Union Home minister (Amit Shah). I hope he will visit our area and address the issue in a public rally soon," he said.
Thakur had earlier written to Shah twice asking him to announce a deadline for the implementation. He warned there will be consequences otherwise.
Thakur's angst is palpable and can be seen among the common people in North 24 Parganas, where the majority of the Namasudra community reside. The Matuas can also be found scattered in districts such as Cooch Behar, Uttar Dinajpur, Malda and Nadia.
A shopkeeper from Bongaon, Pran Pallab Bagh, who migrated to this side of Bengal during Partition is awaiting his citizenship rights.
"We listened to what our elders said and voted for the BJP when they promised the implementation of CAA. It has been a year since the law was passed. We expected better from them. Is Narendra Modi afraid of Mamata? Isn't he the Prime Minister? Then why can't he implement the law? How long must we wait?" asked the irked shopkeeper who lives with his family four kilometres from the border.
In the run-up to the 2021 Bengal elections, the community has divided their loyalties between the Trinamool and BJP.
Their representative Shantanu Thakur is a descendent of Harichand Thakur, the founder of the Matua sect. The Thakur family has had a long series of political associations, starting with the Congress.
Harichand's great-grandson Pramatha Ranjan Thakur became a member of the state Assembly on a Congress ticket in 1962. Later, his widow Binapani Devi took over as the head of the community.
Ahead of polls, political stalwarts were known to form beelines outside the matriarch's house in a bid to influence voters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too launched his poll blitzkrieg in 2019 with a visit to Boro Maa's house in North 24 Parganas.
Binapani Devi's eldest son Kapil Krishna Thakur was the TMC MP from Bongaon in 2014, while her other son Manjul Krishna was a TMC MLA from Gaighata in 2011.
In 2015, after Kapil Krishna's sudden death, Manjul's son Subrata Thakur contested the Bongaon Lok Sabha bypoll on a BJP ticket. The TMC was quick to pit Kapil's widow Mamata Bala Thakur against him and that helped them retain the seat. But in 2019, Manjul's other son Shantanu became the first BJP MP from the seat.
Almost two years after his victory, voices of discontent can be heard from every village in the bordering areas.
I had high hopes from Shantanu da, says 35-year-old homemaker Sumati.
"They (the BJP) have been saying that they will implement the (CAA) law. But no one wants to say when. There is no timeline. It has been so long for us awaiting our rights," she said.
Shifting his support to the BJP in 2018 was not difficult for Debashish Roy as he had faith in Thakur. Now, Roy and the rest of his family aren't as sure and are weighing their options.
Interestingly, while the community awaits 'citizenship rights', they have been given access to voter IDs as well as Aadhaar cards. Mamata Banerjee, who once shared a cordial relationship with Binapani Devi, announced 1.25 lakh land pattas in the last hour bid to win back their trust.
At a rally, she said, "All Matuas are citizens of this country. Let me say this as the Chief Minister of Bengal. You do not need any more certificates." Mamata went on to term the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) a means to deceive the community.
As the political slugfest heats up, Amit Shah is likely to visit Bongaon on January 30 in a bid to placate the disgruntled community leaders.