Electoral compulsion behind Mamata's volte-face on illegal immigrants: Owaisi's rising clout poses challenges for Bengal CM
To understand the impulses at work that prompted Mamata to make such a statement, we need to put her comments in context of her opposition to the Centre's Citizenship Amendment Act. The Bengal chief minister has been a staunch and vocal critic of the Citizenship Amendment Act and has vowed not to let CAA (and NRC, if and when it is promulgated) be implemented in Bengal. This is curious.
'Illegal migrants from Bangladesh are also part of the voters' list in West Bengal. The state government has done nothing about it. Therefore, the issue must be discussed,' Mamata had said in 2005
The reason behind this volte-face by the Trinamool Congress chief on the issue of illegal immigration lies in the fact that Mamata is now in power and has benefitted from the "vote-bank" politics of allowing illegal migrants to settle in the state and allowing them voter rights and some privileges
IF AIMIM marginally eats away a share of the Muslim vote pie, it becomes difficult for TMC in a battle between BJP, TMC and AIMIM
Mamata perhaps is hopeful that it may prevent bleeding of her 'votebank' in the face of more blatant identity politics which creates ground for toxic politics
On Tuesday, Mamata Banerjee made a startling comment that underlines the way the ideological war, ahead of 2021 Assembly elections in West Bengal, may shape up. Speaking at a rally in Kaliaganj, she said "all Bangladeshis living in the state are Indian citizens". The implications of this statement cannot be overstated.
In advocating for a de facto open border with Bangladesh, Mamata has ended up undermining India's sovereignty and the right of a nation to determine who to allow and not to allow to settle and enjoy the rights and benefits of being an Indian citizen. Such rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, but this guarantee extends to rightful citizens of the country, not illegal immigrants. No nation in the world allows unfettered entry of illegal migrants because a nation's citizens have the first right to its resources.
In the US, for example, Donald Trump's immigration policy "protects American workers, taxpayers, and sovereignty." In the UK — which has severed ties with the European Union through Brexit — the Boris Johnson government has tweaked immigration laws to keep out low-skilled workers and allow only high-skilled immigrants through a point-based system not unlike that of Australia.
In European Union itself — where migration and asylum have become hot button political issues and have seen rise and fall of governments - the Schengen Borders Code states that "irregular immigrants can and should be refused entry".
In 2005, Mamata, then a MP from Bengal and a chief minister-aspirant in a state still ruled by the Left Front, had thrown a sheaf of papers at the Lok Sabha Speaker's podium and "submitted her resignation" as an MP because she claimed her voice was stifled on the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Mamata had brought up the issue of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh getting voting rights in the state. A report from The Telegraph's 4 August, 2005 edition, quoted Mamata as saying, "Illegal migrants from Bangladesh are also part of the voters' list in West Bengal. The state government has done nothing about it. Therefore, the issue must be discussed."
Cut to 2020, and Bengal chief minister Mamata now says: "Those who have come to India from Bangladesh are all Indian citizens, they have citizenship. Where is the need to give new citizenship? They have been voting in one election after another... electing Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers and then it is said they are not citizens...no need to believe them."
The reason behind this volte-face by the Trinamool Congress chief on the issue of illegal immigration lies in the fact that Mamata is now in power and has benefitted from the "vote-bank" politics of allowing illegal migrants to settle in the state and allowing them voter rights and some privileges (exactly what she opposed in 2005). This perversion of democracy and undermining of the Constitution isn't new, but it is only now that Mamata has been forced to come out in the open about it.
To understand the impulses at work that prompted Mamata to make such a statement, we need to put her comments in context of her opposition to the Centre's Citizenship Amendment Act. The Bengal chief minister has been a staunch and vocal critic of the Citizenship Amendment Act and has vowed not to let CAA (and NRC, if and when it is promulgated) be implemented in Bengal. This is curious. Why would a leader who openly declare support for migrants from Bangladesh and be against a law giving expedited citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from India's neighbourhood states (that also includes Bangladesh)?
The answer throws light on the political nature of the anti-CAA protests and why politicians such as Mamata are opposed to it. The CAA offers a citizenship to persecuted minorities who have been forced to flee from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh and seek refuge in India. It does not offer fast-track citizenship to migrants who have illegally entered India for better economic opportunities.
Since a majority of illegal immigrants, who have come for economic opportunities, are Muslims (in the specific case of Bengal), any movement towards amending India's citizenship laws and detecting illegal immigrants threatens to upset the symbiotic relationship between the illegal aliens and the political parties in power who benefit from 'vote-bank politics'.
Notably, the CAA does nothing to detect illegal migrants. It is only a legislation for according citizenship rights. Yet, it has triggered paranoia among the likes of Mamata Banerjee because they perceive it as a threat to a policy that the Trinamool Congress chief had opposed in the past but now as the incumbent, finds convenient.
This, however, still doesn't explain the reason behind Mamata's open declaration of support for illegal immigrants. The motivation lies in the need for consolidation of Muslim votes that at 31 percent can affect the results in 90 out of Bengal's 294 Assembly seats. Mamata wouldn't have had to worry about this crucial vote bank, had it not been for the rise of Hyderabad-based outfit All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), whose leader Asaduddin Owaisi sees Bengal as a fertile ground his brand of identity politics.
This poses a unique problem for Mamata, because if the AIMIM even marginally eats away a share of the Muslim vote pie, then it becomes difficult for the TMC in a three-way battle between the BJP, TMC and AIMIM. Even a minor swing in favour of AIMIM could work to BJP's advantage.
This is the context which has led to Mamata declaring open support for Bangladeshi nationals settled in India for better pecuniary options, and also the reason why she called the Delhi riots a "state-sponsored genocide".
The riots have seen mobs of both sides clashing against each other but painting the riots as a "pogrom" helps build the political narrative that only side was victimised. This mis-categorisation of the riots reinforces further the fear-psychosis among the minds of Muslims, and politicians make cynical use of the anxiety. Mamata perhaps is hopeful that it may prevent bleeding of her 'votebank' in the face of more blatant identity politics. This creates the ground for a brand of toxic politics that may become more poisonous as we approach 2021.
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