Kolkata: It is safe to suggest that the opposition centred around the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and the Centre’s push for a National Register of Citizens will get more defined in the run-up to the Assembly elections in West Bengal in April 2021.
But, before that, the elections to the municipal corporation in Kolkata are due in April 2020. It is expected that the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee and the Left-Congress combine will utilise the occasion to mobilise public opinion against the Centre’s twin exercise.
While for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Kolkata Corporation elections will provide an opportunity to mobilise public opinion in favour of the CAA-NRC initiative. It should be noted that the saffron party cut a sorry figure in the recent by-elections for Assembly seats, including Kharagpur where the party’s state president Dilip Ghosh had won before becoming a Lok Sabha member. According to senior BJP leader Samik Bhattacharya, his party would be able to convince the electorate on the utility of the measure for a border state like West Bengal, where infiltration had assumed serious proportions long ago.
Going by the available indications, it also seems that All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (AIMIM’s) Asaduddin Owaisi, who represents Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, is seriously considering to field a number of AIMIM candidates in the constituencies that have a sizeable Muslim concentration in the 2021 Assembly elections. This is particularly because the party has been emboldened by their victory in October in the Assembly by-election from Bihar’s Kishanganj that borders West Bengal.
Also read: Protests Across W Bengal Against Citizenship (Amendment) Act
AIMIM supporters and sympathisers, though small in number, are taking part in anti-CAA agitations. Some posters had also appeared in recent weeks in Cooch Behar proclaiming “Aur intezaar nahi” (No more waiting), meaning it’s time to take the plunge.
There is a possibility of Owaisi addressing a rally in Kolkata in the near future to announce the arrival of AIMIM in West Bengal politics. It deserves mention that Mamata and Owaisi have had a round of war of words, though short-lived. Without taking his name and that of his party, the CM said some people were bringing money from Hyderabad and assuring Muslims that they would fight for their cause. Owaisi reacted saying that the West Bengal government should work to empower the minority communities instead of indulging in dole politics. He reminded her that BJP had won 18 Lok Sabha seats under her watch.
Sources told NewsClick that it won't be surprising if Owaisi is able to enlist the support of renowned Muslim cleric Peerjada Twaha Siddiqui of Furfura Sharif in the Hooghly district, which is a Muslim pilgrimage. Siddiqui has a substantial following in the region.
Suffice to say that at this stage, AIMIM’s emergence in West Bengal’s political scene and the decision to contest in the 2021 Assembly elections may have adverse implications for TMC as Muslim votes may be split.
Both TMC and the Left-Congress combine are opposing CAA-NRC. But, that does not necessarily mean TMC’s opposition will overshadow the opposition by the Left-Congress alliance. It is true that TMC won by a solid margin in all the three Assembly by-elections held recently. It is also true that Banerjee and her party leaders are practising restraint in their utterances against BJP and other opposition parties and this is widely believed to be the result of regular counselling by poll strategist and image make-over consultant Prashant Kishore.
But, Mamata stopping her personal attacks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, after her meeting with both of them in September, has been interpreted in political circles as indicative of a political transaction between the two sides. This is being attributed to Mamata’s compulsions stemming from the Saradha chit fund scam and Narada sting operation in which several of her party leaders including her nephew are involved.
Also read: Is the Hindu Samhati Mamata Banerjee’s New Ally?
For the same reason, it is necessary for her to save senior IPS officer Rajiv Kumar who dealt with those cases in several capacities and is, therefore, in a position to provide vital information to the investigating agencies. It is widely believed that Rajiv Kumar has not been cooperating with the investigating agencies at the insistence of Mamata.
Commenting on this, senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and former MP, Mohammed Salim, told NewsClick, “People won’t get carried away by Mamata’s opposition to CAA-NRC issues, for they know TMC had been part of the National Democratic Alliance and Mamata was a member of the Vajpayee ministry. If she is now refraining herself from mounting personal attacks as she used to do before her meeting with the two leaders, that must be because of a bargain she has had with them. In any case, ideology has no place in her scheme of things.”
Ashok Ghosh, central secretariat member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and general secretary of United Trade Union Congress, said, “If Mamata Banerjee is sincere, she should call an all-party meeting and explain TMC’s stand on the twin issue in Parliament and outside. In the voting in the Lok Sabha on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, several TMC members, who included film personalities, did not take part in the voting. Neither Mamata nor any senior leader of the party had explained their absence. The Opposition tally would have been higher had all the 24 TMC members taken part in the voting. Their absence lends itself to interpretation.”
Also read: Political Violence In West Bengal Turning Communal
General secretary of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee, Amitabha Chakraboty, said, “It is doubtful if Mamata’s opposition is born out of any ideology. She is capable of switching sides for her purpose. Her past political record is testimony to this.” He added that he agreed with Ghosh on the absence of several TMC members in the Lok Sabha at the time of voting.
The Left Front has been encouraged by the large-scale participation in its recent Long March to highlight anti-people policies of the Union government including disinvestments of public sector companies. It has lined up a series of meetings to apprise the public of how the Modi government has enacted an unconstitutional legislation and made blatant misuse of religion on the citizenship issue. The Congress, in addition to joining hands with the Left Front, will organise meetings on its own in areas where it has a relatively strong presence.