By Jaideep Mazumdar
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s stringent opposition to the ongoing massive exercise in Assam to update the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) not only reeks of rrow political opportunism and unpatriotism, but is also a direct challenge to the Supreme Court which had ordered the NRC update and had been monitoring the exercise (read all Supreme Court orders on NRC updation in Assam). Moreover, her statement on Wednesday warning that the NRC updating exercise could have a negative fallout in Bengal is a shameless and dangerous attempt to trigger commul strife.
Mamata, addressing a public meeting in Birbhum district, made highly provocative remarks against the NRC updation exercise in Assam. As is her wont, she blamed the BJP-led NDA government at the Center for it when, in reality, the Union Government has nothing to do with the exercise. She not only displayed her wilful ignorance in this regard, but also attempted to play the Bengali card by saying the NRC updation exercise was a “conspiracy by the Centre to drive Bengalis out of Assam”.
This statement is a highly mischievous one and needs to be challenged immediately. The challenge should be mounted by the Assam Government which should, right away, bring Mamata’s insidious statement to the Supreme Court’s notice through a special petition. Mamata has attributed commul motives to the NRC update that has been mandated, and is being monitored, by the Supreme Court. This should not go unchallenged; she is not only patently guilty of contempt of court, but also of trying to trigger commul tensions.
But Mamata is no fool. She has made the statements (against NRC updation in Assam) deliberately with the objective of portraying herself a saviour of not only the minorities — the whole exercise is aimed at detecting illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam — but also one of all Bengali-speaking people. Mamata has played the Bengali card in the past, most notably during the Gorkhaland agitation. But this time, she is playing it with renewed zeal because she is worried about the growing support for the BJP among Bengali Hindus, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas of Bengal. She feels she can put the BJP in Bengal on the backfoot by blaming the party for the likely exclusion of mes of Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims (who entered the State in large numbers after March 24, 1971, the cut-off date as decided under the 1985 Assam Accord).
However, all Hindus who fled Bangladesh after 1971— due to religious, social and economic persecution that is rife in Bangladesh — and have taken refuge in Assam or other parts of India have no cause for concern. The Union Government has already announced its resolve to amend the 1955 Citizenship Act to eble Hindu migrants from neighbouring countries claim Indian citizenship. But, Assam’s concerns about the presence of Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh need to be addressed immediately. Assam should not have to bear the burden of hosting the Hindu refugees — they should be relocated to other States, and the possibility of reviving the Dandakaranya Project or conceiving something on similar lines should be explored.
Also, those Bengali Hindu refugees who migrated from erstwhile East Pakistan and chose to remain in Assam have to integrate themselves with the Assamese. Unfortutely, they have kept themselves away from Assamese society and Assamese cultural milieu in the me of preserving their Bengali identity and this lack of integration has caused social strife in the State. It is perfectly possible for them to preserve their own Bengali identity — speak, read, write and learn in their mother tongue, sing and listen to Rabindra sangeet and celebrate Poila Boisakh — while, at the same time, celebrate Bihu, go to mghars and speak Assamese fluently. After all, they don’t shy away from striving to speak English fluently!
Mamata’s attempts to stoke fears among Bengali Hindus by reviving the painful memories of the 1960s language movement that led to exodus of tens of thousands of Bengali-speaking Hindus from Assam to Bengal is condemble. She said on Wednesday that the NRC updation is an excuse to expel Bengalis from Assam. “Look at Assam. ‘Bongali Khedao’ (expel the Bengalis) is going on there,” she said. She deliberately tried to play commul politics and give a commul angle to a Supreme Court-mandated exercise. She should be made to pay the price for this.
As for the post March 1971 Muslim immigrants, they have genuine cause for concern and are most likely to find their mes, as well as those of their progeny, missing from the fil NRC once it is published by the middle of this year. And Mamata has no business defending them. They have entered India illegally and, as Assam Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal put it bluntly, and rightly so, those whose mes do not figure in the NRC will lose their citizenship and fundamental rights. They will lose their citizenship rights and will only have humanitarian rights — to food, clothing and shelter. What Sonowal said is strictly as per the law of the land and the Constitution of India. What Mamata Banerjee said on Tuesday violates the law of the land and is a challenge to the Constitution of India.
Mamata’s attempts to club Hindu and Muslim migrants from Bangladesh as one has to be resisted, and that resistance has to come from Bengali Hindu migrants. It is up to them to stand up and declare that they do not want, and need Mamata Banerjee to be their spokesperson. Unfortutely, and very strangely, some sections of Bengali Hindu immigrants share an inexplicable sense of kinship (based on linguistic affinity) with Bengali-speaking Muslims despite having fled persecution in East Pakistan and then Bangladesh solely because they were Hindus. Mamata is trying to fish in troubled waters, and Bengali-speaking Hindus in Assam have to stoutly resist and defeat her nefarious designs for their own good. They will lose the sympathy and support of the people of Assam if they allow Mamata to speak for them. Mamata cannot deliver any good to them; and they should remember that Mamata is opposing the amendment to the Citizenship Act to grant them Indian citizenship.
No right-thinking and patriotic Indian who has the interests of his tion at heart can oppose the NRC update in Assam. The updation of the NRC, a long-overdue exercise, is necessary to detect all foreign tiols illegally residing in India. Mamata will, of course, oppose it since she depends on the votes of these illegal immigrants to retain power in Bengal. But she should not go unchallenged. The Assam Government will be doing the country a big favour if it drags Mamata to the Supreme Court and files not only a contempt petition, but also a case for trying to incite commul tensions and violence, against her.
In the fil alysis, the NRC updation exercise will not only sift genuine Indian citizens from foreigners, but also patriotic Indians from the unpatriotic ones. For, those who oppose the NRC updation cannot be called patriotic at all.