A foretaste of the gutter politics that is waiting to unfold ahead of 2019 General Elections in the North-East is now available, with Bengal firebrand Mamata Banerjee and a strident BJP leadership escalating their fight over the vexed National Registry of Citizens (NRC) issue. Mamata has accused BJP of playing ‘dirty politics’ in the name of the NRC draft in Assam as names of lakhs of genuine voters have been struck off the list. Over 40 lakh names were seen excluded from the register when the draft list was published. Out of the 3.29 crore people who had filled their applications only 2.89 crore found their names. The Trinamool leader further warned that stripping the people of their citizenship could lead to ‘bloodbath’ and ‘civil war’ in the country.
The two parties have been sparring over the issue of identifying people who crossed the porous border between India and Bangladesh and disenfranchising them as their swelling ranks could pose a threat to BJP due to their Muslim orientation. Mamata’s politics, on the other hand, has largely been predicated on a policy of appeasing the minorities to strengthen her hold. She has been declaring her solidarity with the affected people and has even invited them to Bengal. But that is more by way of posturing as she knows fully well that such as solution is not practical. In fact, what is worrying her is the possibility of these people re-locating to Bengal in large numbers.
Mamata accuses the BJP governments both at the Centre and Assam of resorting to a ‘divide and rule’ policy to make millions of people ‘stateless’. She alleges that the Assam government’s move to drive out Biharis and Bengalis is similar to the BJP government’s campaign in Gujarat against people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, in which workers from the two states were subjected to targeted attacks, leading to an exodus of such people. Her line of argument will increasingly appear to cut ice as any such divisive campaign will be seen as contravening the spirit of national integration, although the problem in Assam has mainly been caused by the influx of Bangladeshis.
The citizens registry exercise was carried out to identify such immigrants living illegally in Assam. As they are also Bangla speakers, West Bengal becomes their natural destination if driven out of Assam. Any influx could further strain the Bengal economy, which already has trouble in providing employment, shelter and healthcare to the deserving people. The unemployment situation in Bengal is particularly severe. Although Mamata’s Muslim appeasement has been one of the mainstays of TMC politics, any influx of Muslims from Assam would create a conflict with the state’s original Muslim population. All these issues will queer the pitch for what promises to be a no-holds-barred election.