West Bengal Assembly passes anti-CAA resolution

Print edition : February 28, 2020

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during a protest against the CAA in Kolkata on January 11. Photo: PTI

Abdul Mannan of the Congress said parties opposed to the BJP’s fascist policies must unite. Photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty

Sujan Chakraborty of the CPI(M) said the Act was not just anti-Muslim but anti-poor as well. Photo: S. James

The ruling and opposition parties in West Bengal come together to pass a resolution in the Assembly against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

AFTER passing a resolution against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in September 2019, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly has now passed a resolution opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). The resolution, which was moved by the State’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee under Rule 169 of the Rules of Procedure of Conduct of Business, said the CAA, the NRC and the National Population Register (NPR) were “interrelated” and demanded their withdrawal.

Just as when the resolution against the NRC was moved in the Assembly on September 6, 2019, this time, too, the opposition parties in the State, including the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front, supported the resolution. Only members belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposed it. The resolution stated: “…this House, through the State government, once again demands that the Central government immediately take effective steps to repeal the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) of 2019 that provides for the granting of Indian citizenship on the basis of religion and race, which goes against the pluralistic structure of the nation, and at the same time take necessary steps to withdraw the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the National Population Register (NPR), which are interrelated.”

Welcoming the resolution, the Leader of the Opposition, Abdul Mannan of the Congress, said that those political parties opposed to the fascist policies of the BJP must set aside their political differences and take a united stand against the saffron party. “Stalin and Churchill had to come together to fight Hitler,” he said. Sujan Chakraborty of the CPI(M), leader of the Left Front Legislature Party, said the Act was not just anti-Muslim but anti-poor as well.

While taking part in the discussion on the resolution, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said: “This is not a small Hindu-Muslim issue…. The issue is of humanity. The law is a shame on humanity and civilisation.” Coming down heavily on the BJP, she alleged that the saffron party believed in the “politics of hatred” and was trying to divide India on the basis of religion. “The BJP might have numbers, but that does not give it the right to change the fundamental spirit of the country,” she said.

The BJP was quick to retaliate. Joyprakash Majumdar, vice president of the party’s West Bengal unit, called it a “dangerous phenomenon” that certain regional parties were passing resolutions in the Assembly against an Indian Act. “In actuality these resolutions mean nothing and have no standing in the eyes of the law. They only display defiance against an Act of India, which is a dangerous trend…. Trinamool is simply indulging in public posturing, under pressure from some radical Muslim groups who form their prime vote bank,” Majumdar said.

Although Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress have been among the most vocal critics of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and Mamata Banerjee’s protest against the CAA has been the most strident, West Bengal was not the first State to bring in a resolution against the controversial Act. It was the fourth, after Kerala, Punjab and Rajasthan. This fact was brought to the notice of the Assembly by a number of Left and Congress legislators, who suggested that Mamata Banerjee should have accepted the proposal the opposition parties had brought earlier in January.

Even the BJP could not resist taking a swipe at the Trinamool over the issue. “Mamata Banerjee did not pay heed to the earlier proposal made by the Left and the Congress because she wanted to establish to radical Muslim groups that it is she alone who will look after them and listen to them, and in return they will have to support her,” said Majumdar.

The apparent solidarity on the issue of the resolution could do little to camouflage the tension existing between the Trinamool, and the Left and the Congress. “You will get 365 days to fight against me, but this is not the time. We need to come together to fight a larger battle,” was Mamata Banerjee’s entreaty to two of her most bitter and political enemies.

Mamata Banerjee’s apparent dithering to pass the anti-CAA resolution and her alleged political ploy of fighting the BJP in the State while not completely burning her bridges with the Centre have been the butt of political attacks, particularly by the CPI(M), which has consistently alleged that there is a “Modi-Didi understanding”. For long Mamata Banerjee had turned a blind eye to this allegation. However, for the first time, she felt compelled to address this criticism, which she obviously feels is dangerous for her immediate political future. “Modi and Didi are not the same, keep that in mind. One day this slogan of yours will boomerang on you… our votes were not transferred to the BJP; it was your votes,” she said, addressing the Left and Congress legislators.

She accused the Left and the Congress of spreading canards against her and her party. “Your sole occupation seems to be misleading the people, lying to them and spreading misinformation,” she said.

The Chief Minister even referred to an incident on January 11, during Modi’s visit to Kolkata, when she had to face slogans raised against her by students. Mamata Banerjee, after attending two meetings with Modi, had sat in protest against the CAA, when a group of students gathered at the protest site and chanted “go back” slogans against both Modi and Mamata Banerjee. “If the Prime Minister is here, is my going to meet him wrong?” she asked in the Assembly. Referring to the students who had raised slogans against her, she said: “Those young boys and girls—whoever misled them… they did what they had to do. I did not mind. But we must understand things in proper perspective.”

Meanwhile, anti-CAA protests continued throughout the State. With the municipal elections round the corner and the Assembly elections in the State coming up next year, the ruling Trinamool Congress has made the CAA and the NRC its main political weapon against a rising BJP. The new year saw Mamata Banerjee taking her anti-CAA protests to north Bengal, where her party suffered heavy defeats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

“The Trinamool has never got votes here, but I do not care about that. Today, when I realised that the people of Darjeeling are in danger and there is an attempt to snatch away the citizenship rights from them, I have come here; because you are in my heart and I am willing to sacrifice my life for you,” said Mamata Banerjee at a rally in Darjeeling on January 22. It was her first visit to the hills after her party’s humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha election in the region. The Trinamool’s anti-CAA rallies are being answered by the BJP with processions of their own welcoming the CAA.

Even as political parties use the CAA issue to upstage one another and derive political mileage, it is the protests led by apolitical groups, including students and common citizens, that continue with the same intensity and ardour. The most interesting and enduring of these protests has been in Park Circus, Kolkata, which began on January 7. Led by Muslim women, this peaceful protest has been labelled the Shaheen Bagh of Kolkata.

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