Are CAA-NRC going against the BJP in Barak Valley? The Opposition says it will | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Are CAA-NRC going against the BJP in Barak Valley? The Opposition says it will

ByBiswa Kalyan Purkayastha
Apr 23, 2024 08:28 PM IST

Activist Kamal Chakraborty said that most among those declared foreigners end up voting for ruling parties hoping that they'll be accepted as Indians in return.

Manindra Das, 72, from Assam's Cachar district was arrested as an illegal migrant by the border police in 2019 after a Foreigners Tribunal (FT) snatched his Indian citizenship in a judgement the year before. Ironically, even if he was declared a foreigner and detained, Das’s name was in all three drafts of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and also in the voters list prepared by the Election Commission (EC).

Students protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Guwahati, India, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Banner in Assamese reads, "we will not accept CAA " (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)(AP) PREMIUM
Students protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Guwahati, India, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Banner in Assamese reads, "we will not accept CAA " (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)(AP)

Das said he had been a regular voter in Assam and had also received a grant under the central government's Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). Since his release from the Silchar Detention Centre in 2021 on a bail bond, he continues to visit the local police station once a week as directed by the FT.

Das believes that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government will eventually grant him citizenship and he had voted for BJP in the past on this hope. Driven by the same hope, he has decided to vote for the BJP again this year. A fisherman by profession, Das said his father fled East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1964 and after reaching Assam, they received a refugee registration card that year.

"I am not denying that my family migrated from Bangladesh and I am going to apply for citizenship with the new law (Citizenship Amendment Act) that Modi has brought to save us. I am not afraid of declaring myself as a migrant," he said.

Social activist Kamal Chakraborty, who is helping Das and other families struggling with citizenship issues in their legal battle, said that most among those declared foreigners have the right to vote and they end up voting for ruling parties hoping that they'll be accepted as Indians in return.

"People like Manindra are victims of a trap that revolves around FTs and police stations. In most of the cases, the victims don't receive the notice and the FTs declare them foreigners in ex-parte (one-sided) judgements. But they keep voting because their names remain in the voters' list," Chakraborty said.

According to Kishore Kumar Bhattacharjee from the Assam-based organisation, Citizens’ Right Preservation Committee (CRPC), the “D Voters” issue, NRC and now CAA, all are instruments of the government to create fear among the common people.

"D Voters" or “Doubtful Voters”, according to the Assam government, are those identified during electoral roll revision as “D Voters”, cases of which are pending with the FT or as declared as foreigners by the Tribunal.

Bhattacharjee said after the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals (IMDT) Act was abolished by the Supreme Court in 2005, the citizenship issue became a serious problem for those who had to prove that they were Indians.

"A large section was already struggling and later the NRC added pressure by excluding 19 lakh people from citizenship. Now CAA is trying to create another class of questionable citizens. All these are mechanisms of creating fear, which gives the ruling party an advantage," Bhattacharjee said.

Also read: Ecostani | Notification of CAA rules just days before announcement of national elections is a political signal

The situation in Barak Valley

Assam's Barak Valley which includes three districts (Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi), has two Lok Sabha seats, Silchar and Karimganj. Karimganj was a reserved seat for scheduled caste candidates since independence but the EC made it an open seat after last year's delimitation process. However, the Silchar seat was designated reserved following the same process.

A large percentage of Barak Valley's population are Bengali-speaking and they celebrated when the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in both Houses in 2019. A large part of Barak Valley’s population are migrants from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

In 1961, 11 youths died in a firing during a protest against the Assam government's Language Act 1960, after which the state government announced Bengali as the official language of three Barak Valley districts.

People of Barak Valley were waiting for CAA rules, but when it was announced earlier this year, many expressed disappointment because the rule says whoever wants to apply for citizenship under it, the person has to prove that his/her ancestors were living in Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-backed All Assam Bengali Hindu Association (AABHA) wrote letters to the central government to amend the rules to make the process easier.

Basudev Sharma from AABHA said: “We wanted unconditional citizenship for Hindus but with these rules, it is not possible. We have appealed to the Prime Minister to allow self-declaration as a valid document because most victims of partition could not bring their documents while leaving East Pakistan due to religious persecution”.

The BJP's 2019 Lok Sabha candidate from Silchar, Rajdeep Roy, said that his grandfather was a victim of religious persecution in East Pakistan and they took shelter in India in the 1950s. Roy won the election in 2019 defeating Congress's Sushmita Dev by a large margin.

He is unable to contest the election this year because of delimitation but he is campaigning for the party's candidate Parimal Suklabaidya. Roy said that CAA has given BJP an electoral advantage because “Hindus are now feeling safe under BJP”.

However, opposition leaders say that people are supporting the BJP because of the fear they have created over the rules. Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev said that though one section of the people has realised that NRC and CAA are “fake promises”, one section still believes and depends on the BJP.

"The BJP failed to complete NRC and later they came up with CAA, which also failed because Bengali Hindus are not happy with the rules. They are using these issues to gain votes in elections. One section is voting for them too but people are slowly realising (the reality), which at one point will go against them," Dev, who is from Trinamool Congress (TMC), said.

Rajya Sabha MP and senior journalist, Ajit Kumar Bhuyan said that with CAA and NRC, BJP is trying to suppress the voices of common people, especially the Hindus. "After the CAA rules were announced, the Hindus in Assam waiting for it, felt betrayed. I don't know if this will reflect in this year's general elections but in the long run, this will go against the BJP," Bhuyan, who heads the regional party, Anchalik Gana Morcha, said.

West Bengal chief minister (CM) Mamata Banerjee recently visited Silchar and she promised to ban CAA and withdraw NRC if the TMC was voted to power. Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma was quick to criticise her and said that BJP will solve the “D Voters issue” in Assam in the next six months.

Silchar Lok Sabha seat has over 13 lakh voters and around 40% of it is Muslim, according to the BJP. In Karimganj's 14 lakh voters, around 65% of it is Muslim, the party has said.

The chief of BJP's Karimganj district committee, Subrata Bhattacharjee, said that CAA has put the party in a strong position. "The Hindus have been outnumbered by other communities due to illegal migration in Barak Valley but CAA has changed this. Now we can proudly say that BJP has kept its promise to protect the Hindus (and) people are happy here," he said.

CM Sarma has said that until now, only one person from Assam has applied for citizenship, arguing that it shows people are depending on the BJP instead of the law.

Suklabidya explained that many people want to apply under the provisions of the CAA but have not yet done it because of the complicated process.

Congress party candidate from Karimganj, Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury, who is also a senior advocate at the Gauhati high court, claimed that with CAA and delimitation, the BJP has triggered anger among Hindus in the Barak Valley.

Choudhry said the BJP is trying to create different classes based on religion and language but this attempt might not work anymore.

"People have suffered a lot that they are now aware of the false promises, especially after CAA rules. We can see the anger among the common people. The primary reason for me to contest this year's election is to represent this class of society and I'll raise my voice in the Parliament if I win," he said.

In the slum areas of Silchar town, including Tapoban Nagar, Malini Beel and Kalibari Char, many people expressed dissatisfaction over NRC and CAA. Requesting anonymity, they said that they would vote for the BJP because they don't see any other alternative.

"It is a fact that we are suffering because of citizenship issues but it wasn't created by the BJP, as we read in newspapers. We expected Modi to solve it because he promised but he didn't. Still, we'll vote for him because he at least is trying,” a 60-year-old daily wage earner said.

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