Kolkata: With the Centre delaying the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reached out to the Matuas, reminding them of how she had worked for their development and arranged for the medical treatment of their late matriarch.
Mamata also accused the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of making “empty promises before elections”, and asserted that she will never allow the implementation of CAA in Bengal.
“I took responsibility of Boro Ma’s treatment in Kolkata when she was unwell. The Trinamool Congress has worked for the development of Matuas including education,” Mamata told a rally in Nadia on Wednesday. “The BJP only makes empty promises before elections.”
“Gujarat elections have been announced, and whenever elections approach the BJP speaks of implementing the CAA and the NRC. Are Matuas not citizens of this country? Will the BJP decide who are citizens? I will not allow the CAA to be implemented in West Bengal,” Mamata thundered.
The development came days after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) empowered district magistrates of 31 districts and the home secretaries of nine states to grant citizenship to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians arriving from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan under the CAA.
In February 2021, while addressing an election rally in Thakurnagar, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had assured the Matuas that the CAA rules would be framed as soon as the Covid pandemic ebbed away. However, the Centre has now taken a three-month extension to frame the CAA rules in October.
Years after arriving from erstwhile East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) to escape religious persecution, the Matuas are now found concentrated in Bengal’s Nadia and North 24 Parganas districts.
The sect was founded by Harichand Thakur whose family in Thakurnagar leads the Matuas. Union Minister Shantanu Thakur belongs to this family. The Matuas have been pro-CAA and electorally backed the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2021 Bengal polls.
The 3 crore-plus strong community wields enough influence to swing electoral fortunes in at least 30 Assembly segments as well as impact poll results at 50 others in North and South Bengal.
Several politicians, including the likes of PM Narendra Modi and Mamata, made a beeline in the past to meet Binapani Devi, the late Matua matriarch who was also known as Boro Ma, at the community’s headquarters in Thakurnagar. Just before the 2021 Bengal elections, Mamata had allotted Rs 10 crore to the Matua Development Board to woo the Scheduled Caste community.
Political analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay felt the TMC can take this opportunity to woo the Matua community. “The rules of CAA are yet to be notified. The BJP has failed to keep its promise to the community… So naturally, the Matuas will swing towards the TMC instead of supporting the BJP who had promised CAA but hasn’t been able to deliver,” the political science professor at Kolkata’s Bangabasi College said.
After the death of Boro Ma in 2019, there was a split in the Matua community with the BJP-backed Shantanu Thakur heading one section and the other headed by his aunt Mamta Bala Thakur, who finds favour with the TMC.
The Matuas have the strongest holds in the districts of Nadia and North 24 Parganas along the India-Bangladesh border.
In the 2021 Bengal elections, the Trinamool Congress won only five seats — Tehatta, Nabadwip, Habra, Ashoknagar and Sandeshkhali — in districts. The BJP, in contrast, won a dozen seats from Nadia and North 24 Parganas. However, their winning margin was narrower than in 2019. The TMC also won 31 seats in South 24 Parganas where the Matuas have a presence.
Leader of the Opposition and BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari had claimed that the CAA would be implemented “soon” in Bengal. “The Centre has started the process of enforcing the CAA. Gujarat is the first state. Bengal cannot be left out of the CAA implementation process. It is an old demand of our Matua community,” he had said.
The BJP, too, has faced heat from its own Matua leaders, including Union minister Shantanu Thakur, for delaying the implementation of the CAA. In January, the BJP’s Bengal refugee cell wrote to the MHA stating the Matuas were apprehensive about the significant delay in the CAA implementation.
Former Trinamool MP Mamta Bala Thakur, however, said the Matuas are not seeking the CAA as they are already citizens of this country. “The BJP-led central government is granting citizenship under the 1955 Act. Then what was the need for the amendments? This is politics. We are already citizens. How else could we become MPs and MLAs? The BJP in 2019 and 2021 captured the CPI-M [Communist Party of India-Marxist] supporters and won those seats but they won’t win again,” she told ThePrint.
(Edited by Tony Rai)