Rules for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will be framed by the Centre by March 30, 2024, minister of state (home affairs) Ajay Kumar Mishra said while attending a festival of the Dalit Matua community that has been demanding it.
“I am assuring that members of the Matua community will not lose their citizenship. They are all safe. According to the latest information I have, the laws for CAA will be framed by March 30,” Mishra told a large crowd that had gathered for the annual Ras Utsav in West Bengal.
During his 2021 election campaign, Union home minister Amit Shah had announced that the Centre would enforce CAA once Covid-19 vaccination across the country was over. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party did not speak on this issue since then and it suffered a setback in the West Bengal panchayat polls earlier this year.
Passed by Parliament in 2020, CAA offers citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 2015. The state’s ruling Trinamool Congress party insists that CAA is unconstitutional as it links citizenship to faith in a secular country.
The Matuas are a part of the large Dalit Namasudra community that migrated from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during India’s partition in 1947 and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War to escape religious persecution.
Located close to the Bangladesh border, Thakurnagar, a Bengal town hosts the headquarter of the All India Matua Mahasangha of which BJP leader and union minister of state for shipping, Shantanu Thakur, is president.
Since 2019, Thakur represents the Bongaon Lok Sabha seat, which was earlier won by his aunt TMC leader Mamata Bala Thakur.
Implementation of the CAA has been the principal demand of the Matuas. Shantanu Thakur raised the demand on several occasions.
Support of the Matua and other Dalit communities helped the BJP win several seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 state polls.
Shantanu Thakur was made a minister of state during the Union cabinet reshuffle in 2021. It was seen as a move by the BJP to keep the Matuas happy. Thakur accompanied PM Modi to Bangladesh on the eve of the 2021 assembly polls.
Modi offered prayers at the Matua temple at Orakandi near Dhaka in Bangladesh and praised Thakur in his speech, triggering a sharp reaction from West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee.
Reacting to Mishra’s announcement, TMC leaders said the BJP was once again raising the citizenship issue in West Bengal with eyes on the 2024 parliamentary polls.
The BJP won 18 of West Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, but two of its MPs, Babul Supriyo and Arjun Singh, joined TMC over the past two years. While Singh has not yet resigned from the BJP and the Lok Sabha, the Asansol seat Supriyo vacated was won in a bypoll by actor-turned politician Shatrughan Sinha on a TMC ticket.
“CAA is a thorn for the BJP. During the 2021 assembly polls, the BJP did not even mention CAA in Assam, but raised it in Bengal hoping to capture votes. In Gujarat, on the other hand, attempts are being made to enforce CAA in some districts,” TMC Rajya Sabha member Santanu Sen said. “Bengal’s Matuas have understood the trick.”
“Mamata Banerjee has said several times that Bengal does not need CAA because those have been casting their votes, owning property and having jobs for decades are already citizens. They do not need fresh citizenship certificates from the Centre,” Sen added.