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NRC: Why Mamata Banerjee's stand on illegal immigrants has changed with changing political season

Back in 2005, the West Bengal CM, as an MP in Lok Sabha, had raised the issue of illegal immigrants in her state.

 |  6-minute read |   31-07-2018
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Following the publication of the second and final draft of Assam's National Register of Citizens (NRC) on July 30, Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee roared at an event in Delhi today: "The NRC [exercise] is being done with a political motive. I'm not going to allow this. It will create a civil war and bloodbath. It is not just about minorities, but Biharis, Bengalis as well as foreigners... our guests... we never tell our guests to get out. They [the BJP] first took their votes and are now telling them to get out." 

While the BJP government at the Centre as well as the state urged everyone not to politicise the issue,​ a political firestorm erupted with Banerjee accusing the central government for turning “Indian citizens into refugees”. She has even declared that the West Bengal government will consider providing shelter to people who are displaced  from Assam, on humanitarian grounds. 

The TMC's vehement protest has nudged the Congress to demand an all-party meeting to be convened at the earliest, indicating that a battle for minority votes has begun in the earnest and the confrontation over NRC could resonate till the 2019 polls. 

all-inside_060418061_073118085151.jpgThe Congress has demanded an all-party meeting to be convened at the earliest over the NRC issue. (Credit: file photo/Twitter)

The BJP, meanwhile, has pushed into Bengal a political opportunity offered by the NRC row in Assam — an extension of the exercise of updating the NRC in West Bengal. And that has made Banerjee dig her heels deeper to lead the Opposition's anti-NRC chorus over the exclusion of four million people in Assam from the “complete NRC draft”. 

But if a day in Indian politics is a long time, 13 years are many lifetimes. 

Back in 2005, Mamata Banerjee was in the Opposition in Lok Sabha as a member of Parliament. The TMC's current ally in Parliament, the Congress, was then leading the UPA government. Somnath Chatterjee was the Speaker of Lok Sabha.

On August 4, 2005, the TMC chief had caused a sensation in the Lok Sabha. After a long-shouting spell, she had jumped into the well of the House and flung a sheaf of papers at the Speaker's chair. The House was being run by the deputy speaker of the lower house, Charanjit Singh Chatwal. In a fit of rage, Banerjee announced her resignation from the House as she was "being denied an opportunity to speak". That forced the deputy speaker to adjourn the House. Speaker Somnath Chattejree later rejected her resignation. But the Lok Sabha had witnessed hostile verbal duels — the Left-UPA members (then rivals of Mamata Banerjee) and the BJP-led NDA backing Mamata Banerjee.

Guess whose cause was Banerjee championing then? What was the issue that made her commit the second such "violation" of Lok Sabha rules (she had once flung a shawl at Speaker P Sangma)?

Why were the Congress, its allies and Left parties attacking Mamata Banerjee back then?

Her target at the time was not Atwal, but Chatterjee, once a powerful CPM leader and rival of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. Atwal had only informed her that the Speaker had disallowed her notice to raise the subject of illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

On August 4, 2005, the question hour had ended and at around 1300 hours as the House was discussing issues of public importance, the Trinamool leader got up to ask about her notice for an adjournment motion. She said, " The infiltration into Bengal has become a disaster now. You can see the Bangladeshis as well as the Indian names in the voter list. I have both the Bangladeshis and Indian voter lists . This is a very serious matter and I would like to know when would it be discussed". Dissatisfied that her notice has been disallowed, she continued to speak. She said, "You may tell me, Sir, why it has been disallowed. Is it because it is happening in Bengal?"

Since the Speaker who had rejected her notice was a former CPM leader, the Left parties joined the issue. A verbal duel ensued between the Left and Mamata Banerejee. There was commotion in which the chair ruled that nothing would go on record. 

With some Left party members joining the issue, Banerjee suddenly moved into the well of the House and was seen flinging a sheaf of papers at the chair leading to a brief adjournment. The UPA, a political rival then, had issued a statement condemning Banerjee's behaviour. It wanted an unqualified apology from her before allowing her to take part in the proceedings of the House. 

When the House resumed, one more irony unfolded. The BJP, which is facing Mamata Banerjee's ire now, stood by her. The then leader of the Opposition, LK Advani, tried to defuse the situation by suggesting that the issue must be sorted out in the Speaker's chamber. 

The then parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad condemned Banerjee's action. The Left, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal insisted that she apologised for "insulting the chair".

Thirteen years later, on Monday, July  30, all these players were seen standing with the TMC at the Gandhi Statue in Parliament protesting against the NRC. 

In 2005, Mamata Banerjee wanted the Lok Sabha to discuss how "illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have become part of the voters' list in West Bengal too". Her partymen had claimed back then that the CPM was using these voters to subvert democracy.

Today, she is opposed to any exercise to determine who is an illegal immigrant in India.

Her protests against alleged Bangladeshi immigrants and her sharp comments were expunged in 2005. But her political stand and the ferocity with which she had taken up the issue can't be expunged from public memory and political space.

Also read: NRC final draft: How right-wing politics and left-liberal fear-mongering threaten to mar peace in Assam

 

Assembly Elections 2018
Assembly Elections 2018

Writer

Rahul Shrivastava Rahul Shrivastava @rahulshrivstv ‏

The writer is national affairs editor, India Today TV.

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