The WB chief minister has been staunchly anti-NRC for the past year but has, years ago also known to have brought lawmakers’ attention to supposed Bangladeshi infiltration in the state.
On November 19, the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lashed out against the BJP government at the Centre for planning to introduce a revised Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Parliament, and said the proposed legislation is a “trap” like the NRC to exclude Bengalis and Hindus as legal citizens of the country and make them refugees in their own country.
Addressing a meeting at Ras Mela Maidan in Cooch Behar, she said, “After our government came to power we had taken steps to grant citizenship to refugees of enclaves in Coochbehar district. But we had never imposed any condition that they have to be in this country for six years.”
PTI reported Banerjee saying, I have a request to all of you. Do not feel panicked about NRC. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is an alternative of NRC. If anyone tries to play politics here with that then do not forget all the refugees are the citizens of this country.
Days ago, however, reports of the construction of detention camps in West Bengal, however, has struck like a bolt. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minsiter of West Bengal has vehemently criticised the process of NRC all along and leaves no opportunity to disparage it. The Telegraph reported that Bengal is in the process of constructing two detention camps, for which it has identified land in New Town and Bongaon.
Times of India reported Mamata saying, “Don’t be scared of NRC. If anyone wants to play politics over CAB, remember all refugees are citizens of this country. I fought for the land rights of refugees when I became the first MP from Jadavpur. They are going to Bengalis and saying they will be included but Muslims won’t. Then how 13 lakh Hindu Bengalis are left out of the NRC list in Assam? Now, these rowdies of CPM have joined hands with them. I can tell you one thing. Everyone is a citizen of India. No one needs to attain citizenship in this way. Everyone has one document or land to prove his identity. Don’t be scared. We will save everyone in Bengal.”
Is this a sudden change of heart?
Banerjee has been trying to mould an anti-NRC and pro-refugee stance for more than a year now. In January 2019, West Bengal authorities gave land titles to about 30,000 refugees residing in settlement colonies in the state for years, while further promising that thousands more will also get property rights.
In September 2019, Banerjee met Union Home Minister Amit Shah at Shah’s office in North Block, New Delhi to raise concerns about the NRC. She said, “I handed over a letter to him, told him that of the 19 lakh people left out of NRC, many are Hindi speaking, Bengali speaking and local Assamese,” She stated that many genuine voters have been left out and this discrepency should be looked into. In October 2019, she reiterated that her party Trinamool Congress would never allow the National Register of Citizens exercise to be implemented in the state.
However, Mamata Banerjee had showcased a very different stance on the matter way back in 2005, when she was the only TMC candidate elected into the CPM-led Bengal Legislative Assembly.
As an opposition MLA, she tried to move a motion to discuss what she called the “very serious matter” of illegal infiltration of Bangladeshis into West Bengal.
Arun Jaitley had also quoted Mamata Banerjee in a tweet as saying in the House in 2005: “The infiltration in Bengal has become a disaster now… I have both the Bangladeshi & the Indian voters list. This is a very serious matter. I would like to know when would it be discussed in the House?”
When the motion was been turned down by Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, she accused him of bias, hurled a sheaf of papers at the Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, and tried to resign from her seat. The resignation could never be accepted because the letter was not “submitted in a proper form,” Mr. Chaterjee stated.
As NDTV reported, Ms. Banerjee appears to have let political compulsions dictate her line on Bangladeshi immigrants. In 2005, the CPM was still the dominant political force in Bengal and would go on to win the assembly election in 2006 as well. The Left then had the support of the Muslim community including pockets widely perceived to be inhabited by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Now, over the course of time, it (Bangladeshi immigrants) has been used as a formidable vote bank by her.
Jaitley, who had written a Facebook post attacking the Congress and Mamata Banerjee for criticising the National Register of Citizens, underlined the change in Banerjee’s stance. “Can India’s sovereignty be decided by such fickle minds and fragile hands?” Mr Jaitley had questioned.