Considered to be one of the key planks of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Lok Sabha election campaign in West Bengal, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) failed to be the crowd pleaser that the party had thought it to be in the seats dominated by refugee communities like the Matuas.

The BJP’s seat share in Bengal was reduced to 12 as the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) bagged 29 Lok Sabha seats after a seven-phase election that ended on June 1. The number is a sharp drop when compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when the BJP had won from 18 constituencies. The BJP registered its highest ever tally in the state that year with the promise of iImplementation of CAA.

Of the six Matua-dominated seats in Bengal, the BJP retained two and lost one. In Cooch Behar, sitting MP and Union Minister of State Nisith Praminik lost to TMC candidate Jagdish Chandra Basunia.

In the two seats that it retained — Ranaghat and Bangaon — its vote share also saw a decline. In Ranaghat, sitting MP Jagannath Sarkar retained his seat by polling 50.78 percent of the votes and defeating his nearest rival Mukutmani Adhikari, who was contesting on a TMC ticket. In 2019, he had drawn 52.78 percent of the total votes cast.

In Bangaon, Union Minister Santanu Thakur defeated TMC’s Biswajit Das by a margin of 73,693 votes by polling 48.19 per cent of the votes — a marginal dip from the 48.85 per cent of the votes he had polled in the previous Lok Sabha election.

Festive offer

The TMC retained the remaining three Matua-dominated seats of Krishnanagar, Barasat and Bardhman Purba where it had fielded Mahua Moitra, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar and Sharmila Sarkar, respectively.

The CAA seeks to fast-track the process of granting Indian citizenship to undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who came to India before December 31, 2014.

On May 29, the BJP-led Center announced that it has started granting citizenship certificates under CAA through state-level empowered committees in Bengal, Haryana and Uttarakhand. The move came after the Center notified the rules for the citizenship law in March, just days before the announcement of the Lok Sabha election schedule.

Matuas belong to the Scheduled Caste Namasudra community that migrated to India in large numbers, first during the Partition, and then after the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The community has a presence across districts like North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Nadia, Cooch Behar and Purba Bardhaman. There are around 1.5 crore voters from the community. Because of the circumstances under which they migrated to India, many of them never formally received Indian citizenship, making the implementation of CAA a longstanding demand for the community.

The ruling TMC, on the other hand, had campaigned against the CAA, saying one would have to declare himself or herself as a foreigner to apply for Indian citizenship.

West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had told voters at a rally in Krishnanagar that the CAA was a “trap”, and would be followed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to weed out illegal immigrants. “The CAA will turn legal citizens into foreigners. We will allow neither the CAA nor the NRC in West Bengal,” she had said while campaigning in the constituency in Nadia district.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had countered her at a rally in Jadavpur constituency in May last week and said: “The CAA is a law to give citizenship, not to snatch away the citizenship of anyone. But the TMC is spreading misinformation about it to scare their vote bank (implying Muslims).”

With the CAA failing to give impetus to its campaign, the BJP accused the TMC of misleading voters about the CAA and the NRC. Talking to The Indian Express, BJP Rajya Sabha MP Samik Bhattacharya said, “The TMC misled people regarding CAA. It instilled a sense of fear among the community by confusing them about the outcome if they applied for citizenship under CAA. We could not counter it. They tried to divide the community. Two of our MPs countered their divisive politics in Bangaon and Ranaghat,” said Bhattacharya.