Lok Sabha Elections 2024 | Bongaon seat all set to offer litmus test to BJP post CAA rules notification

The constituency, currently held by the BJP, has emerged as a crucible where politics intertwines with identity, and where the promises of ideological agendas meet with the realities of their implementation.
Last Updated : 09 May 2024, 06:23 IST
Last Updated : 09 May 2024, 06:23 IST

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Bongaon: The citadel of the Matua refugee community in West Bengal, the Bongaon Lok Sabha constituency in North 24 Parganas district, seems all set to figuratively double up as BJP’s litmus paper and test whether the party’s key agenda of implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act actually cuts ice with the voters.

Bordering Bangladesh, Bongaon has a long history of migration of people from the other side of the barbed wire fence and is crucial for the Trinamool Congress, too, given the party's staunch anti-CAA stance.

The constituency, currently held by the BJP, has emerged as a crucible where politics intertwines with identity, and where the promises of ideological agendas meet with the realities of their implementation.

No wonder then that ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Bongaon has become a focal point of intense political manoeuvring, with the BJP, emboldened by the recent notification of CAA rules, positioning itself as the harbinger of hope for the Matuas by tapping into their aspirations for recognition and security.

The TMC, on its part, faces the daunting task of reclaiming the seat which it had won twice in 2009 and 2014.

The state’s ruling dispensation aims to resonate with the concerns of the Matuas, highlighting potential risks and uncertainties of the CAA. Experts feel that the party’s success will hinge on TMC's ability to sway voter sentiment and undermine the BJP's narrative.

“Post CAA, it’s clearly advantage-BJP in Bongaon. But following uncertainties among the community over dos and don’ts regarding the implementation of the Act, it’s uncertain how that apparent advantage pans out on the day of polls. For TMC, it will be a challenge to wrest the seat,” political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said.

Following the notification of CAA rules in March this year, the Centre is now in the green to start granting Indian nationality to persecuted non-Muslim migrants -- Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and Christians -- from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who arrived in India before December 31, 2014.

Designated Scheduled Caste group in Bengal, the Matuas are expected to reap maximum benefits of the act. The community had dubbed the day of its implementation as its “second independence day.”

Followers of a Vaishnavite Namasudra sect founded by 19th-century social reformers Guruchand Thakur and Harichand Thakur, Matuas began migrating to West Bengal initially during the Partition and later, in significant numbers, post the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, primarily due to religious persecution and communal tensions.

Political parties have since the 1990s courted the support of the Matuas, whose substantial population and tendency to vote cohesively render them a valuable voting bloc.

The promise to implement the controversial CAA was a key plank of the BJP in the last Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal, which leaders believe played a crucial role in the party winning 18 out of the 42 seats, including the Bongaon segment in 2019.

Union minister and Matua leader Shantanu Thakur insisted that the community would vote en bloc for the BJP, following the fulfilment of its promise, this time as well.

Thakur, who has been re-nominated from the seat, maintained that TMC’s adverse campaign of the CAA “turning an existing Indian citizen to a foreigner” would fall flat.

“This Act will provide Matuas or refugees with a Constitution-guaranteed legal citizenship, ensuring they cannot be branded as illegal infiltrators and expelled from the country in the event of an NRC exercise in the next 100 years,” he told PTI.

Amidst this electoral fervour, Bongaon simmers with an undercurrent of discontent as the Matuas are caught in a vortex of promises and reality, grappling with the complexities of CAA's implementation, facing uncertainty and confusion as citizenship applications demand documents proving original residence in Bangladesh.

Acknowledging the confusion, Thakur claimed that the 'matter has been taken care of'.

Numbering around 40 per cent of the 17 lakh-odd electorate of Bongaon, an SC reserved seat, Matuas are clearly the deciding factor here. The seat, however, also has nearly 24 per cent Muslim voters and three per cent scheduled tribe community members.

Since its inception in 2009, Bongaon had remained a TMC stronghold until Shantanu Thakur snatched it from the incumbent TMC MP and his aunt Mamta Bala Thakur by a margin of over one lakh votes and bagging 48 per cent of the total votes polled here in 2019.

The BJP maintained its winning streak in the 2021 assembly polls by securing six of the seven assembly segments under this parliamentary constituency.

However, the party received a jolt when its Bagda MLA Biswajit Das switched over to the TMC after the state polls and is currently contesting on a TMC ticket against Thakur from Bongaon.

“Both Shantanu Thakur and the BJP have hoodwinked the Matuas by dangling the CAA carrot. When Matuas are already enjoying all citizenship benefits, what is the need for CAA? We believe in inclusive and secular politics,” Das said.

TMC Rajya Sabha MP and prominent leader of the community, Mamata Bala Thakur, said, ''The hoax of CAA is now out in the open. The BJP has tried to fool the masses before the elections. They will get a befitting reply in these polls.'' The Left-Congress alliance candidate Pradip Biswas is hopeful of breaking the TMC-BJP binary and putting up a three-cornered contest in the seat.

“Both the TMC and the BJP have exploited the issue of citizenship for political gains and created communal disharmony. We are confident of defeating this competitive communalism and are fighting for issues like unemployment and jobs,” the Congress leader said.

The constituency will go to polls on May 20 in the fifth phase.

Published 09 May 2024, 06:23 IST

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