BJP’s CAA card has confused Matua voters in Bongaon and adjoining seats in Bengal | India News – Times of India


BONGAON: A palpable quiet looms over the sleepy villages and bustling market places in Bongaon, with just a week to go for polling (May 20) in this Lok Sabha constituency, tucked away on the India-Bangladesh border.
“We will vote on May 20, but no one has come here yet to ask for votes,” said Kalpana Sardar (40), a housewife from Petropol village adjoining the border gate, even as the outer wall of her pucca house has Trinamool Congress graffiti on it.There are no party flags anywhere across the paddy fields or the large ponds around house, except for some wall writing by TMC and BJP to be spotted infrequently.
It’s a direct fight between sitting BJP MP Santanu Thakur and Trinamool Congress (TMC) nominee Biswajit Das. Both belong to the dominant Matua community in this seat. CPM’s Pradip Biswas is hardly talked about even as the seat was a Left bastion before TMC took it over. Inevitably, the first job for whoever wins this round will have to be addressing the utter confusion that prevails among Matuas, who constitute about 70 per cent of about 19 lakh voters of Bongaon making them the deciding factor in the constituency.
In fact, there is hardly any election activity to be noticed along the two-and-half hour drive from Kolkata right up to the Petropol border with Bangladesh, where van-carts are still ferrying citizens from both sides on official permits locally known as “multi visa” as they visit relatives or buy and sell goods from either side. “Both parties will come asking for votes, but people vote as they like here… there is no trouble over that… they (rivals) don’t bother us, villagers are strong… they will not allow high handedness… people live peacefully here,” says Naju Sheikh, from nearby Jayantipur village who runs a tea stall at Petropol border hub, barely 20 meters from Sardar’s home.
The striking absence of hectic electioneering on the last Sunday before polling is remarkably odd — except for a stray “toto” (e-rickshaw) passing by with microphone announcing the BJP or TMC candidate’s name — in this reserved constituency for scheduled castes, where CAA-NRC has been the throbbing narrative since the Narendra Modi government initiated the issue.
Bongaon is home to the main shrine of the Matuas at Thakur Nagar, where the descendants of the sect gurus Guruchand Thakur and his son Harichand Thakur family live and run an ashram. Hence, it is the hub for the Matua community, with an estimated population of three million in the state which could tilt scales in favour of a political party in at least four Lok Sabha seats spread across Nadia and North 24 Parganas districts bordering Bangladesh.

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BJP won the 2019 Lok Sabha polls for the first time in this West Bengal seat, held by Trinamool Congress and CPM respectively before that, on the plank to guarantee citizenship to refugees who fled Bangladesh for religious persecution. The Matua community — a Vaishnavite sect from the scheduled caste – hoped to be the biggest beneficiaries in these parts of Bengal bordering Bangladesh.
But the story turned upside down within a week of the notification for the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA), that came two months ago on March 11. The euphoria among applicants for citizenship — for citizens who already have ration cards, voting ID cards, Aadhar cards, Pan cards, bank account holders, government servants – turned into despair when they had to provide birth certificates, proof of birthplace of their forefathers and so on. It simply meant these details would once again establish them as “outsiders” even as they had established themselves as citizens of this country.
The All India Matua Mahasangh, at Thakur Nagar has asked the Matua’s not to fill up the application forms yet, till there is clarity on whether the displaced community will face any possibility of further displacement, goes the word in Thakur Bari.
“No one is filling up the form (for citizenship)… it was supposed to be unconditional, but now they are asking for birth certificates, proof of where my father, grandfather was born. If we had all the documents why would we apply,” asks Prabir Das (29), who runs a mobile store at the bustling marketplace outside Thakur Nagar railway station. But his friend Samar Talukdar (40) who owns the grocery store next door felt, “there is need for a citizenship card, but I have not applied yet. I have Aadhar card but it is not accepted in case of buying land… my friend faced a problem about six months ago.”
Asked if they knew anyone who has applied for citizenship since the notification, Tapan Biswas (33), who runs a hardware store at the market said, “We have heard that some people in Thakur Bari (Thakur family) have applied, but we don’t know for sure.”
Robin Mirdha, who runs the Ma Manasha Lottery Agency outside the Thakur Nagar railway station for the last 20 years said, “CAA has generated fear among people who came in from across (Bangladesh). They don’t want to be unsettled again,” assuring that he was born here and hence no fears.
The confusion over CAA has been further ignited by the opposing lines taken by BJP and TMC. If BJP hoped to fulfil its promise of assuring citizenship to Matuas with the CAA notification, TMC has warned that filling the forms could only lead to losing what they already have. Home minister Amit Shah addressed a rally in Bongaon to assure that CAA is not linked to NRC and will not displace them, but chief minister Mamata Banerjee and TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee both addressed rallies in Bongaon saying CAA-NRC will destabilise the refugees who are already citizens of the country. Hence Mamata has vowed not to allow CAA-NRC in the state and hence protect the Matuas and other displaced people who have settled in the country.
Prabir Gosain (75), office bearer (Gosain Sampadak) of the Matua Maha Sangha, backs TMC MP Mamata Bala Thakur, belonging to the Thakur family. He said, “how do I prove where my forefathers were born… it was Akhand Bharat (united India) I am almost as old as Modi… does he have a birth certificate…we fled East Pakistan because of tortures by the Khan Sena, Rajakars… half our families got killed… we escaped… we were given shelter and then granted unconditional citizenship in this country. Now what is this 14-step form that I have to fill up for fresh citizenship… I will live only a few more years.”
An agitated Madhuparna Thakur (24), also with the TMC MP is agitated. “I was born here. Why do I need to fill up a form to become citizens and look like I am an outsider.”
Petropol is about to turn into a major economic hub in months, when the near complete land port infrastructure is ready to be functional, hopefully by the end of the year. Voters in the semi urban and rural Bongaon and adjoining Barasat Lok Sabha constituencies are looking at business opportunities coming up but are silent on the elections around the corner.

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