Is Citizenship Amendment Act Singur 2.0 for Mamata Banerjee?

The students – from the All Assam Students Union to the Jamia Milia Islamia University of Delhi – have taken center stage in protests against the amended Citizenship Act. But there are two politicians, Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM and Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister and the TMC president, who are the most vocal leaders speaking against the Citizenship Amendment Bill passed last week by Parliament.

Stake for Owaisi in power politics is small. His party is not in power in any state. He is a Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad, his family bastion, which he is always confident of winning. His choral opposition to the amended Citizenship Act may increase his influence areas in some states where AIMIM has been gaining traction in that past couple of elections.

But the Citizenship Amendment Act has a lot to offer to Mamata Banerjee, whose TMC has been facing a tough challenge from an emerging BJP in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee has gone back to ground-level politicking since the BJP’s surprise performance in the Lok Sabha election.

Mamata Banerjee leading a march against the Citizenship Amendment Act. (Photo: PTI)

The BJP won 18 and the TMC 22 in Bengal which sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha. What really shocked Mamata Banerjee was the manner in which the BJP won several seats.

An electoral greenhorn Locket Chatterjee – Bengali actor-turned-politician — of the BJP bagged Hooghly Lok Sabha seat defeating two-time sitting MP Ratna De Nag of the TMC. Hooghly was the battleground that propelled Mamata Banerjee to power in Bengal eight years ago.

Mamata Banerjee owes her rise to power in Bengal to Singur agitation. Singur assembly constituency is part of Hooghly Lok Sabha seat. The BJP was way ahead of the TMC in the Singur assembly segment when Locket Chatterjee won the seat for the party in May this year.

Identifying Singur as the “bedrock” of the TMC in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is said to have described party’s loss in this assembly segment and the Lok Sabha constituency as “great shame” and a “personal loss”.

It was in November 2006 that Mamata Banerjee was stopped at Singur while going to attend a function in Hooghly district. Singur had been a site of protest by activists and farmers over the then Left Front government’s decision to grant about 1,000 acres of land to Tata for its Nano factory.

Mamata Banerjee met the protesting farmers and activists, and as they say, the rest is history. She demanded the return of about 400 acres of land at Singur to original owners. She took the fight to Kolkata, where she undertook a fast for 25 days against land acquisition at Singur.

Mamata Banerjee marching with her party activists during a protest rally in front of Tata Motors’ small car project at Singur, in 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

The Left Front government of the time, too, helped Mamata Banerjee. In March 2007, the police fired on protesters at Nandigram, where the Left Front government wanted to set up a chemical factory on farmland.

Mamata Banerjee lapped the opportunity at Nandigram. Singur and Nandigram agitations helped Mamata Banerjee grow in stature and acquire pan-Bengal appeal with her determined fight till the end shedding her maverick politician’s image.

Singur helped her defeat the Left Front government in Bengal after three-and-a-half decades of power. She returned with a bigger mandate in 2016. But since then the BJP has been mounting pressure on the Mamata Banerjee government and challenging the TMC on the ground.

The BJP is said to have made good inroads accusing Mamata Banerjee of Muslim appeasement – highlighting administrative issues surrounding Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja and Moharram — and political violence against its cadre. The BJP has set an ambitious target of winning more than 200 seats in the 294-member Bengal Assembly in the 2021 state election.

The Singur loss in 2019 Lok Sabha polls had clearly unnerved Mamata Banerjee as it followed her boastful claim of Opposition unity with a grand show in Kolkata, followed by in New Delhi in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election.

The issue of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was too working in the favour of the BJP, which called for a similar exercise in Bengal. Mamata Banerjee protested but little seemed to change on the ground.

However, with the Citizenship Amendment Bill being passed by Parliament and students hitting the streets, Mamata Banerjee sees an opportunity to fortify her political bastion.

The BJP hopes to gain from the Citizenship Amendment Act in the view of claims that there are around 1 crore illegal immigrants in Bengal who might benefit from the amended Citizenship Act.

To block further polarization and hence benefit the BJP in any future elections, Mamata Banerjee has already announced that her government would not implement the Citizenship Amendment Act.

To counter the BJP, Mamata Banerjee is already seen speaking Hindi not only in New Delhi but also in Kolkata. The Hindi-speaking people in Bengal are generally believed to be BJP supporters. Mamata Banerjee has set her eyes on that vote bank as the state heads to the election year.

Additionally, the Citizenship Amendment Act has given Mamata Banerjee an opportunity to consolidate her Muslim vote bank, which is 27-30 per cent in Bengal.

With some reminding her of the constitutional obligation under Article 355, which makes it mandatory for a state government to implement a law — on a subject falling under the central list – passed by Parliament, Mamata Banerjee has made her fresh move carefully. Failing to comply with Article 355 may invite dismissal of the government.

But on Monday, Mamata Banerjee dared the Narendra Modi government saying, “If you want to dismiss my government, you can. But I will never allow citizenship law and NRC in Bengal.”

Combating political battles on streets is a fight that Mamata Banerjee has always loved. It was by taking the electoral fight to the streets that Mamata Banerjee had made CPI(M) heavyweight Somnath Chatterjee bite the dust in her debut election – Lok Sabha polls of 1984. She was 29 then, 34 years later, Mamata Banerjee is a better street fighter.

Source – India Today