Eyeing 2021 WB Polls, TMC & BJP Bring NRC to Political Centrestage

The controversial NRC exercise in Assam has become a political hot potato in neighbouring West Bengal.

Published
Politics
3 min read
The controversial NRC exercise in Assam has become a political hot potato in neighbouring West Bengal.
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The controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam has become a political hot potato in neighbouring West Bengal.

Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress is planning multiple protests in Bengal against the way in which the NRC process was conducted in Assam and the misery it has caused people there.

The TMC, Left and Congress are also expected to come together and pass a resolution against NRC in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. Opposing the move by the three parties, the BJP has claimed, in trademark fashion, “If they are opposing the NRC, then they are working against the interests of the country.”

Upping the ante, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh has repeated the saffron party’s promise that if they come to power in the 2021 election, ‘it will be time for NRC in the state.’

TMC’s Anti-NRC Gameplan

Poll strategist Prashant Kishor has advised TMC chief Mamata Banerjee to keep her distance from communally polarising issues.
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor has advised TMC chief Mamata Banerjee to keep her distance from communally polarising issues.
(Photo: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

Sources close to Mamata say that Prashant Kishor, her political strategist for the 2021 Assembly polls, has advised the TMC chief to keep her distance from communally polarising issues, which he feels would be playing into the BJP’s agenda.

Mamata’s strategy in opposing the NRC is, therefore, not going to be primed on claims that Muslims are being targeted through the NRC exercise. Sources say that she will instead try to portray the NRC as a botched up operation that unfairly targeted Bengalis, both Hindus and Muslims. The thrust of her messaging is likely to be as follows:

  • Lakhs of Bengalis have been left out of the NRC in Assam despite being legitimate citizens of this country, or having antecedents who were, from before the cutoff date in 1971.
  • The list of 19 lakh excluded persons includes Bengali Hindus, Bengali Muslims and Gorkhas.
  • The BJP says it wants to implement NRC in Bengal. The NRC process in Assam has caused untold misery to the people of the state, especially the poor who have struggled to find all the documentation they need to 'prove’ that they are legitimate Indian citizens. If the NRC is implemented in Bengal, those living in the state will have to face a similar ordeal.

In fact, Kishor’s own tweet on the NRC is a good reference point for Mamata’s likely anti-NRC strategy. Ironically enough, Kishor is a senior JDU leader and as such, a BJP ally.

Behind BJP’s Rhetoric, a Tricky Situation for the Party

BJP leaders in Bengal have repeatedly claimed that the party will implement NRC in the state post 2021. However, as BJP leaders in Assam seem to be realising now, a staunch pro-NRC position might not place them in an ideal situation with their constituents.

For example, Assam BJP MLA Dilip Kumar Paul has criticised the NRC implementation by saying, “A major portion of Hindus have been excluded from the list. BJP's stand is that Hindus can never be foreigners. Those who are foreigners became Indians and those who are Indians became foreigners. We will not accept it.”

A significant number of Bengali Hindus featuring on the final NRC list is not music to the BJP’s ears because the community is a loyal voter base of the saffron party in Assam.

A multitude of Bengali Hindus being excluded from the list will also not inspire confidence among the Hindus residing in West Bengal.

Therefore, if the BJP is indeed going to trumpet a likely NRC in Bengal as an increasingly important poll issue for 2021, they will need to assuage these fears. And news of botch ups in Assam might make that a difficult task for them indeed.

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