There is now an elephant in chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s room. It’s called Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which Union home minister Amit Shah has said would be implemented as soon as Covid-19 vaccination drive is over. It’s a game-changer in a state which is holding assembly polls in next couple of months.
Citizenship Amendment Act is not just another Indian law. It’s a tool to ameliorate some historical injustices inflicted on a large section of Indians. It’s no exaggeration to say that while drafting the law, the lawmakers must have had the horrible situation of West Bengal in mind. It’s important that the background of CAA is understood in entirety.
West Bengal came into existence as home for Hindus of Undivided Bengal. As Partition of India became inevitable and the whole Undivided Bengal was programmed to be part of Pakistan, existence of 43% Hindus of Undivided Bengal faced gross uncertainty. Dr. Syamaprasad Mookerjee demanded Partition of Bengal too as inexorable for accommodating Hindus of Bengal in India. Nehru couldn’t help agreeing to it albeit reluctantly. Partition claimed larger part of Undivided Bengal for Islamic Pakistan and West Bengal as a State of India for Hindus.
When Partition was inevitable, Babasaheb Ambedkar advocated for a complete population exchange. While West Pakistan and India effected it in bloodshed, it was politically halted due to Nehru-Liaquat Pact in East Pakistan. It nipped in bud any population exchange programme there might have been.
They say the real reason of Nehru-Liaquat Pact was causing occlusion for Hindus’ entry from East Pakistan into India. But why so? One probable cause might be their recognition would have burdened Indian treasury as they were huge in number. There were other probable reasons too which do not fall in the ambit of this article. Nehru signed Delhi Pact with Liaquat Ali, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, to ensure both India and Pakistan would protect their minorities who would stay put where they were. Formation of Minority Commission of India was a direct outcome of Nehru-Liaquat Pact. In a way, Delhi Pact was the point of commencement of minorityism of Indian politics.
A Pact which smoked out millions of lives
Political gravity of Nehru-Liaquat Pact was immense as it immediately “delegitimatized” Hindus of East Pakistan in India. Those Hindus who traversed across the border to West Bengal from East Pakistan before Delhi Pact was signed was accepted as legitimate Indians in post-Partition India. But, after Delhi Pact came to existence, it implied that Hindus of East Pakistan was being protected. Crossing over to India made them infiltrators, and illegal.
One single pact snatched away the identity of Hindu Bengalis as Indians and converted them into Pakistanis. Though Nehru politically could keep Hindus of East Pakistan out of post-Partition India, he couldn’t ensure dignity to their lives. Pakistan didn’t stick to its promise of Delhi Pact.
The Islamic land didn’t protect rather persecuted its minorities. Hindu Bengalis of East Pakistan continued to die, lose properties, women raped and were compelled to flee to West Bengal. (Plight of Hindus in East Pakistan aka Bangladesh is an issue to be enunciated separately).
Though Hindus of East Pakistan arrived, Delhi Pact’s political existence denied official recognition to them. All of them were illegal infiltrators in the eyes of laws. Nehru was stubborn not to admit of pernicious persecution of Hindus in East Pakistan. This was a political stance and motivated rigidity of Jawaharlal Nehru. (Why was he nakedly insensitive to Hindu Bengalis is a separate issue.)
As Syamaprasad Mookerjee passed away in 1953, there was practically none to raise voice for these people. They came to West Bengal and stayed here at the mercy of Nehruvian governmental machinery. They had saved themselves, their women and children but they were refugees at best, and infiltrators at worst in the land of their own ancestors.
So this set of Bengali Hindus, who had no say on their future, became scapegoats of the Partition. They lost their immovable properties overnight. They lost their identity as Indians. They were the sore losers of Partition. It was de-humanizing.
For last 70 years, the land of India is bearing the burden of injustice towards Hindu Bengalis of Undivided India. This injustice is finally being addressed in the form of Citizenship Amendment Act. All those Hindu Bengalis, who had come to India from Bangladesh within December 31, 2014, would be given Indian Citizenship by Naturalization and a Certificate thereof would be issued.
Muslims too poured in–but with a difference
As Hindus poured into West Bengal from East Pakistan aka Bangladesh, Muslims too entered the Indian State for better prospects. While Hindus came after losing lives and properties, Muslims came here for additional material gain. Entering West Bengal, Muslims spread across India as cheap labour in different working sectors. They married girls of India and settled here in addition to their original home across Indo-Bangladesh border. While Hindus came here out of compulsion being persecuted and Muslims came by choice, both these categories who traversed cross-border from East Pakistan aka Bangladesh were illegal immigrants/infiltrators, in the eyes of Indian Law. In spite of not being equals in terms of status and experience of life, these two sets of people got legally treated as equals till Citizenship Amendment Act was passed.
Before CAA got passed in 2019, few specific Amendments were passed in Indian Passport Act and Foreigners Act in September, 2015. These Amendments ensured permanent Refugee status of those Bangladeshi Hindus in India who came here out of religious persecution. After passing of the 2015 Amendments of both the above mentioned Acts, no one can force out Bangladeshi Hindus staying in West Bengal. However, the same is not true for Muslims. Infiltrating Muslims are still called infiltrators, while Hindu entrants are eligible at least for permanent Refugee status.
This is what Mamata Banerjee claims to be divisive politics by BJP. While providing separate legislative treatment towards Hindu and Muslim immigrants appears to be a divisive approach, Hindu Bengalis long deserved this divisive edge over Muslims in the Hindu Homeland especially after facing betrayal by the State of East Pakistan aka Bangladesh. However, mere permanent Refugee status was never enough for these people as they were Citizens of Undivided India and deserved to be citizens of home country. They were deprived of their rightful claim for no fault of theirs. Post-Partition India had a more responsibility to hand over their identity back to them. CAA would deliver Indian citizenship rights to these people at much easier terms.
The CAA impact on Mamata Banerjee’s vote bank could be big. Once Hindu Bengali refugees from Bangladesh, e.g Matuas, receive citizenship of India, they won’t have to dance to the tune of state’s ruling party, Trinamool Congress. They would be eligible for jobs. CAA 2019 has legalised their citizenship rights with retrospective effect. Once they receive the citizenship certificate, police and/or political musclemen won’t be able to arm twist them for their convoluted political agenda. After receiving citizenship certificates, they would be freed from the jaws of political sharks. This would greatly reduce Banerjee’s vote bank. This is why she doesn’t like CAA. She would prefer to keep refugees ever-vulnerable to political sharks.
CAA, the game-changer
There are 100 specific constituencies of West Bengal which could change the fate of forthcoming assembly polls. Out of these 100 seats, 45 fall upon West Bengal-Bangladesh border. The remaining 55, though precisely on border, are quite close to it.
Out of 45 on-border assemblies, 25 constituencies are in North Bengal while 20 are in South Bengal. Out of 55 near-border constituencies, 16 are in North Bengal and 39 in South Bengal.
These constituencies are inhabited by Refugees.
Out of these 100, 32 are reserved for SCs & 5 for STs. Out of total 294 Assemblies of West Bengal, 66 are reserved for SCs & 16 for STs. All through the Left and TMC rule, SC/STs of West Bengal too neither received due regards nor sincere administrative efforts for their genuine upliftment. TMC certainly distributed some dole to SC/STs which didn’t bring in sustainable development for the scheduled sections of people.
These 100 constituencies which constitute 34% of total number of state assembly seats can change the electoral game. There are many other constituencies, including a substantial number of those in Kolkata, which are inhabited by refugees from Bangladesh. Besides various other issues, the main one is of citizenship. Ceaseless frictions on the ground of West Bengal predominantly comprise between infiltrators and refugees. Due to political arm-twisting, the two distinctly separate class of people received apparently similar status in West Bengal. However, as Syamaprasad Mookerjee conceptualized West Bengal as a Hindu Homeland, Refugees here are logically entitled to get citizenship while infiltrators are not. CAA, once implemented, would be that official security-statement from Government of India to the refugees which they longed for ever since they were forced to leave their establishment at East Pakistan/Bangladesh. A permanent line of demarcation would thus be drawn between refugees and infiltrators. Division here is Justice.
Amit Shah stated CAA would be implemented post-vaccination for Covid. This statement makes sense as implementation of CAA would put a huge population into outdoor activities including liaison with government offices, kiosks etc. Vaccine protection of common men is prerequisite to resume such administrative exercises.
Would BJP be able to translate Shah’s promise into electoral faith of West Bengal’s refugees into India’s own fold? Would SC/STs be able to see new possibilities in the State under BJP?
If yes, more than 200 seats in West Bengal, seems an achievable target for the Saffron Party.
Debjani Bhattacharyya is a columnist who’s a keen observer of politics and social changes.. A communication-strategist by profession having special aptitude for analytical jackknifing of information, Debjani is a Pharmaceutical Engineer & a Management Professional by her credentials.
Analysis of data & information for generating insights for policy planning is a passion while her other significant area of interest is the Constitution of India and its interpretations thereof. She’s a voracious reader with enormous affinity towards Classics of Bengali Literature. She is an opinion-maker on social media through her blog, twitter and facebook.