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Bengal: Matua Community Leaders Say Will Stop Trusting BJP if CAA Not Implemented Soon

After Gujarat announcement, the community leaders threatened to hit streets if not granted citizenship.
Bengal: Matua Community Leaders Say Will Stop Trusting BJP if CAA Not Implemented Soon

A programme by a Matua outfit against the CAA. Image Courtesy: Telegraph India

Kolkata: Days after the Centre decided to grant citizenship to a section of people who came from a neighbouring country and settled in Gujarat, Matua community members in Bengal said they would “stop trusting the BJP” if similar benefit was not provided to them.

Leaders of the community said they will hit the streets if their demand for citizenship was not met with.

"We are hopeful that citizenship will also be granted to us soon, but if that doesn't happen, Matuas will be hitting the streets in protest," said Mukut Moni Adhikari, a senior leader of All India Matua Mahasangha.

Matuas, who make up for a large chunk of the state's Scheduled Caste population, had been migrating to West Bengal from Bangladesh since the 1950s, ostensibly due to religious persecution.

All those who migrated till March 1971 are legal citizens of India, according to the 1955 citizenship act.

The ones who came after 1971 have to apply for naturalization after a stay of seven years, according to the provisions of the act. The Centre recently decided to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who left Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and settled in two districts of Gujarat, under the Citizenship Act, 1955.

The Matuas, however, have been promised citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019.

"We are aware that citizenship is being granted in Gujarat under 1955 Act. We want CAA 2019 to be implemented too as early as possible," Adhikari told PTI.

The controversial CAA, which can grant citizenship to all Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Christians who fled religious persecution from neighbouring SAARC countries, is, however, yet to be implemented in the wake of the wide-spread protests against it, especially in the Northeast.

According to the Matua leaders, community members are apprehensive about the future of the law, which is pending implementation for nearly three years.

Adhikari, who is also a BJP MLA from the Matua-dominated Ranaghat Dakshin constituency, said he is confident that the BJP government at the Centre would keep its promise.

"Matuas want citizenship to be given under CAA 2019, which has religious persecution as a clause. The CAA 2019, once implemented, will give Matua community its due recognition," Adhikari said.

However, another senior leader of Matua Mahasangha, Asim Sarkar, said the community members will no longer have faith in the BJP, as they did during 2019 Lok Sabha elections, if CAA is not implemented before 2024. "We think the BJP leadership will keep its poll promise of 2019.

But if it is not implemented before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the Matuas will stop trusting the BJP," Sarkar, also a BJP MLA from Haringhata assembly seat, told PTI.

"What was the need to pass a new law in 2019 if you are granting citizenship under the 1955 Act? I think there should be a clarification,"

Sarkar said. Around 30 lakh Matuas reside in West Bengal, with the community holding sway in at least five Lok Sabha seats and nearly 40 assembly constituencies in Nadia, North and South 24 Parganas districts.

The promise of implementing CAA was a major poll plank for the BJP in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, which helped the party bag all five Matua-dominated Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and at least 29 assembly seats in 2021.

Speaking on the issue, Union minister of state for shipping Santanu Thakur said that CAA implementation has been put on hold as several cases are pending against it.

"There are several cases that were filed by forces who didn't want CAA 2019 to be implemented. Once these are cleared, it is likely to get implemented," Thakur, also a Matua leader, told PTI.

"The 1955 Act is applicable till the new act of 2019 gets implemented. Matuas won't be deprived of citizenship," he added. BJP national vice president Dilip Ghosh pointed out that the BJP kept its promise "when it came to the Ram Mandir issue and Article 370" and that CAA will not be an exception.

The ruling TMC in Bengal, however, claimed that the BJP was trying to fool Matuas with the “CAA hoax”.

"They are trying to rake up the issue again ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha polls," Mamatabala Thakur, a former TMC MP and the daughter-in-law of the community's late matriarch Binapani Devi, told PTI.

Political observers feel that implementation of CAA is unlikely in the near future as it has implications on domestic politics and also diplomatic ties. "The issue of CAA will be used by both the BJP and the TMC before next Lok Sabha polls as it will help them polarise voters on communal lines," political scientist Biswanath Chakraborty added.

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