Union minister Shantanu Thakur on Saturday said that he would apply for citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act to counter the “false propaganda” he alleged the Trinamool Congress was spreading against the law.

“I will also apply for citizenship although my great-grandmother took citizenship through migration and I do not need to apply [under the Citizenship Amendment Act],” said the Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Bongaon in West Bengal.

Thakur’s claim that he is Indian and not Bangladeshi means his Citizenship Amendment Act application would be a symbolic gesture. It comes in the face of rising anger in the Matua community about the Citizenship Amendment Act

The Matua community to which Thakur belongs is a prominent group among the large number of Bangladeshi Hindus that have migrated to India over the years. It is also a strong support base for the BJP.

They are unhappy at the Citizenship Amendment Act does not offer unconditional citizenship, as was the demand. Instead, applicants are required to produce documents from both India and Bangladesh.

Thakur is also seeking to allay fears that if Bangladeshi migrant makes an application under the Citizenship Amendment Act, they will not lose welfare rights that, by law, are only offered to Indian citizens.

The Citizenship Amendment Act aims to provide a fast track to citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities, except Muslims, from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the condition that they have lived in India for six years and have entered the country by December 31, 2014.

Concerns among Matuas

At the heart of the anger among a section of the Matua community is Schedule 1A of the Citizenship Amendment Act rules which list out documents needed by migrants to prove their nationality of Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Pakistan.

The condition poses a tough demand for many Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. “One who had fled to India without carrying any document cannot go back to that country once again to fetch testimonials,” said Dwijen Adhikari, the Malda district president of the Sara Bharat Matua Mahasangha, on Sunday, according to the Millenium Post.

A section of the Matua community announced on Sunday that they will hold protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act for introducing conditions to apply for Indian citizenship.

The anger among Matuas is reminiscent of the concerns that date back to when the Citizenship Amendment Act was passed in Parliament in 2019. As Scroll had reported then, even supporters of the law were sceptical about the BJP’s claims that the Citizenship Amendment Act will provide unconditional citizenship.

Moreover, since the Citizenship Amendment Act rules were notified on March 11, Trinamool Congress leaders and Bengali nationalist groups have challenged BJP leaders to apply for Indian citizenship under the law to prove its workability.

To address these concerns, Thakur on Sunday, categorically addressed the matter of conditions under Schedule 1A, saying that “Bangladeshi documents will help establish one is a clean person”. He added that in the absence of the documents listed under Schedule 1A, Citizenship Amendment Act applicants will have to “get a written certified undertaking from a registered body”, The Times of India reported.

He did not clarify what the undertaking would entail or what qualifies as a “registered body”.

Countering the Trinamool narrative

Besides Schedule 1A, the other fear that Thakur sought to soothe on Saturday was about the Trinamool Congress’ claims that Bengalis who apply for citizenship afresh under Citizenship Amendment Act would become ineligible for Aadhaar-linked welfare schemes and that their existing identification documents would become useless.

A day after the Citizenship Amendment Act rules were notified, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed that those who apply for citizenship under the law will be marked as “infiltrators”.

“It is a game of taking away rights,” Banerjee claimed. “If you apply, there is no guarantee whether you will get citizenship or not. You will lose your property. You will be deprived of government schemes.”

Last month too, Banerjee had claimed that Aadhaar cards were being deactivated in West Bengal as a “conspiracy of the Centre to enforce the National Register of Citizens and the CAA”.

The claim resonated with at least among a section of the community, as the Matua Mahasangha threatened to hold protests, claiming that the majority of the persons whose Aadhaar cards had been deactivated belonged to the community. Mamatabala Thakur, a former Trinamool Congress MP and a founding member of the Matua order, also said that the Centre had introduced a “digital NRC” by deactivating the Aadhaar cards.

The National Register of Citizens is an exercise proposed by the BJP to identify undocumented immigrants. It has been carried out only in Assam so far, following which five lakh Hindu Bengalis were excluded from the register. In 2019, Scroll had reported that there existed fear and confusion among Matuas that they too could face the same fate if National Registry of Citizenship was implemented in the state.

By making speeches linking National Register of Citizenship with the Citizenship Amendment Act, it is this apprehension that the Trinamool Congress is trying to stoke among Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. The Trinamool Congress has so far gained electorally in West Bengal due to the panic around citizenship among voters. Shantanu Thakur’s symbolic gesture of applying for citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Act attempts to prevent a repeat of this politics.