Somnath Dasgupta, Petrapole: Residents of border areas of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district are apprehensive about Union home minister Amit Shah’s proposed visit to the area on December 17.
Sources said Shah is scheduled to visit Petrapole, the integrated checkpost that is south Asia’s largest land border trading post, for some official functions. But opponents of Shah’s Bharatiya Janata Party fear he could raise the controversial subject of the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship
West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress, are opposed strongly to the CAA as well as the NRC. General elections are due in 2024 and panchayat elections in WestBengal due next year. Shah could raise the issue now to keep the pot boiling.
The BJP as well as the TMC are wooing the Matuas, an influential community in these areas controlled by a family. The Matuas are Dalits/ scheduled castes who migrated from Bangladesh after the Partition.
The BJP has been promising them Indian citizenship by implementing the CAA. The community, which is much sought-after during elections because they obey the dictates of one family, had voted for the BJP during the last elections, giving the party the Bongaon and Ranaghat Lok Sabha seats.
The Trinamool says the Matuas have been living here for decades and have voter cards, Aadhaar, and ration cards, and there is no need to bring in the CAA.
Debdas Mondal, the general secretary of the BJP’s regional unit in Bongaon and also a councillor of the Bongaon Municipality, said Shah is scheduled to inaugurate some modern facilities at the Petrapole ICP as well as a relocated police station. The Petrapole ICP, for long a painful point in trade with Bangladesh because of poor infrastructure, will resemble the terminal of an international
airport, he said. Shantanu Thakur, a Matua leader who is the BJP member of Parliament for Bongaon and the junior minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, has grumbled about the delay in implementing the CAA
but was recently seen at a public meeting by Shah’s side.
The issue has split the Matuas. Mamata Bala Thakur, a Matua leader, has said there is no need for the CAA since the Matuas have the same documents that the country’s Prime Minister and the home minister have which makes them Indian citizens.
“If (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and (Home Minister) Amit Shah can be citizens with the CAA, we can also be called citizens,” she is reported to have said. “What is this bid to give citizenship? The CAA cannot be implemented with conditions.”
However, Suvendu Adhikari, the BJP lawmaker from Nandigram challenging Mamata in the state, has told meetings in Thakurnagar, the bastion of the Matuas, that there is no chance of the CAA being used to deny the Matuas citizenship. But the CAA will be implemented, Adhikari has said.
Will Shah fix immigration mess?
While the movement of trucks to and from Bangladesh has become smooth following the overhaul of facilities at Petrapole, ordinary people travelling to and from Bangladesh still face nightmares at the integrated check post.
“The arrangements are simply not geared to handled the flow of people,” says Kartick Chakraborty, secretary of the Clearing Agents Staff Welfare Associaton. “At any point, hundreds of people are crammed into the immigration area waiting to get their papers stamped and cleared for the crossing.”
Chakraborty admitted that trade has become smoother, but neither Bangladesh nor India has kept a promise made in 2012 that trucks going into Bangladesh will be able to unload at Benapole on theother side and come back within 24 hours. Also, Chakarborty said, while trade has become smoother and waiting times cut down, local truckers have lost their business and over 4000 trucks are headed for the scrapyard.
Pradip Dey (Petrapole Exporters and Importers Wel Fare Association) secretary said that due to the loss of documents necessary for export, speed should be increased in import and export work.We are happy to know that Home Minister Amit Shah is coming to inaugurate several new projects at Petrapol Port, port sources said.