Amit Shah must protect the Indian Muslims of Bengal

Union Home Minister Amit Shah's statement that the NRC exercise will take place in West Bengal has contributed to the panic in the state. (PTI photo)

The BJP will get it done 'no matter how much the Trinamool Congress opposes it'. This message on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was delivered loud and clear by Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

The NRC, or updating the NRC details of 1951, has already become a live bomb in Bengal. It was a mere political issue till the first half of September 2019. Then, things took a troubling turn. The state government's drive to digitalise ration cards and the central government’s preparation for the census were taken by a large number of people as a precursor to the NRC exercise. Unusually long queues for having digitised ration cards, and also for documents like birth certificates, resulted in overcrowding at the offices of the respective authorities. About 32 lakh people applied for digital ration cards in just 14 days.

But that was not the end of the story. More than a dozen deaths since have been attributed to NRC panic. Some died due to the stress of standing in queues, while some others are said to have committed suicide worrying about the required documents.

All this happened when there was no possibility of immediate launching of any NRC exercise in Bengal. So, how did the rumours spread? All the political parties have contributed to it. The BJP has made NRC an issue from the time of the Lok Sabha election. Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister, broadcast the message that the NRC exercise would not be allowed in Bengal. After the publication of final NRC in Assam, West Bengal Assembly passed a resolution against NRC exercise in the state, and it brought together the entire 'secular brigade' —the TMC, the Left and the Congress. All this only added to the perception of the people that an NRC exercise in Bengal is inevitable.

In a charged situation like this, Amit Shah addressed a BJP workers' open meet on October 1, 2019. Shah used the platform to question why Mamata Banerjee, who created a ruckus in the Lok Sabha during the Left’s rule in Bengal against infiltrators, was now shielding them, and assured every Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Christian that they all will be registered as citizens after the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Later, while answering a TV journalists’ question, he asserted that after the Citizenship law amendment, the people of the aforesaid communities will not require papers to even prove their bona fide citizenship.

Thus, Shah has allayed the fears of all Bengalis except Muslims, who constitute 27 per cent of the population of Bengal. But, what about the Indian Muslims? One cannot expect all of them to have papers to prove that their parents were here in India before 1947. There was no document in those days that can now be provided to prove bona fide citizenship. There was no Pan Card, no Voter ID, and very few had a passport. The state did not care to provide any proof of citizenship in next 70 years either. Can the state now penalise, for its own fault, the children of those 20 per cent or so Muslims of Bengal who chose India as their land in 1947? Shah did not provide any explanation. He asked his party to talk less on NRC and more on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which is being opposed by the TMC. But, away from the political match, the central government also needs to have an ethical stand on harassment of genuine Indian Muslims in Bengal.

One should keep in mind that the large chunk of Bengali Muslims are unique in the sense that they had the maximum opportunity of joining Pakistan in 1947. There was a large scale riot in 1946 in what was then Calcutta. Still, more than 50 lakh Bengali Muslims, most of whom could easily have walked across the border, stayed back. Their children and grandchildren are as much Indian as anyone else in this country.

There is, however, no denying the fact that a large number of infiltrators are there in Bengal. The Muslim population has grown in Bengal enormously, particularly since 1981. In 1951, the percentage of Muslim population in Bengal was 19.85. It stood at the same spot in 1961 (20 per cent), and in 1971 (20.46 per cent). But in 1981, it rose to 21.51, and since started hopping away. It became 23.61 per cent in 1991, 25.25 per cent in 2001, and 27.01 per cent in 2011. It is likely to be about 30 per cent in the next census, as in the voters’ list now Muslims constitute more than 30 per cent of Bengal’s population. The situation is alarming, because it implies presence of a large number of Bangladeshis. In the meantime, percentage of Hindu population fell from 78.45 per cent to 70.54 per cent over these 60 years. A large section of the Hindus, particularly of the bordering districts to Bangladesh, are peeved about it. Even Bengali Muslims are worried about the Bangladeshis who are taking away their jobs.

Under the circumstances, the state must come up with some formula that will save the Indian Muslims from being unduly harassed. The state has failed to take steps against infiltration for many decades. Now, it has no right to harass genuine Indians for its own fault.


(Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a Kolkata-based journalist and author of books including, A Naxal Story. He is a deputy editor at the Bengali daily, Aajkal)

(The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH)

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