The concept of ‘citizenship’ is dividing voters in this large east Indian state


  • Seven constituencies in West Bengal - Bongaon, Barrackpore, Howrah, Uluberia, Hooghly, Arambagh and Sreerampore - will head to the polls on May 6th as the election enters its latter phase.
  • One of the major issues polarising the state is the central government’s proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) Bill and its pitting the incumbent state government, led by Mamata Banerjee’s TMC against the BJP,
  • Like the Citizenship Amendment bill, the NRC seeks to expel undocumented people living in various parts by deeming them illegal immigrants.
  • While campaigning at the end of March, BJP president Amit Shah pledged to “throw out infiltrators” from West Bengal by implementing the NRC if voted to power.

As India heads into its fifth week of polling, tensions are flaring in the east Indian state of West Bengal, so much so that the Election Commission (EC) is deploying members of central armed police forces to all of the state’s polling booths for the remainder of the elections.

Seven constituencies in West Bengal - Bongaon, Barrackpore, Howrah, Uluberia, Hooghly, Arambagh and Sreerampore - will head to the polls on May 6th as the election enters its latter phase.

One of the major issues polarising the state’s constituents is the central government’s proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) Bill and its pitting the incumbent state government, led by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Like the Citizenship Amendment bill, the NRC seeks to expel undocumented people living in various parts by deeming them illegal immigrants. The citizenship amendment bill has been widely criticised across the country for discriminating against people on the basis of religion.

The first draft of the NRC, released last year, left out the names of a number of residents of West Bengal. The idea has, however, gained some traction in some parts of the state such as North Bengal that see illegal immigration as a worrying issue.

While the register is intended to be national, it is particularly important to West Bengal given its status as a border state. However, unlike states in the Northeast, West Bengal has a high number of Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh. While the bill might exempt them, the TMC has stressed that they won’t be safe.

While campaigning at the end of March, BJP president Amit Shah pledged to “throw out infiltrators” from West Bengal by implementing the NRC if voted to power.

In response, the TMC has said that it won’t allow the register to be implemented, citing the division of the state on a communal basis. Just a few days ago, Bannerjee went so far as to dare the BJP to implement the NRC.

Demonetisation has also been an important issue in the state, which boasts a large share of informal workers and micro-small-and-medium enterprises (MSMEs).

In fact, the ministry of MSME’s annual report last year shows that West Bengal had the highest number of MSMEs in the country with nearly 8.9 billion units.

Given that the burden of demonetisation was disproportionately borne by small business owners, it seems highly likely that they’ll vote keeping this in mind.


SEE ALSO:
142 million voters go to polls today in 20 states— here’s a look at the key issues in every state

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