The BJP is a hegemon in national politics. But India is so large, the party’s hegemony is still being contested in many states. In Battleground States, Scroll reporters fan out across the country to dissect the politics of states where the BJP faces a strong contest from the Opposition.

“Nehru should have made India a Hindu Rashtra after Partition,” Pintu Gosain declared. “Modi is now rectifying his error. And the CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act] is the first step.”

A member of the Matua sect, Gosain migrated from what was then East Pakistan as a result of religious persecution. By his own words, he is a “kottor” or extreme supporter of the BJP as well as its Hindu nationalist ideology.

The Citizenship Amendment Act was passed in 2019. The law was a watershed, bringing religion into citizenship for the first time in India’s history. The CAA allowed Afghanistani, Bangladeshi and Pakistani migrants to apply for Indian citizenship even if they had entered the country using illegal means – but only if they were not Muslim. Amit Shah, now the Union Home Minister, hadlinked the CAA to a proposed National Register of Citizens, implying that Indian Muslims would have to prove their citizenship.

As a result, the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act was followed by widespread protests across India, riots in Delhi and international condemnation. As a result, the act was only implemented in March earlier this year, more than four years after it was enacted.

Given that the CAA is the keystone of the BJP’s Hindutva, it is natural that Gosain is a strong supporter. In fact, his Matua community is projected as a major beneficiary of the act. However, when asked if he himself will apply under the act, Gosain, demurs. “I was born here [in India],” he claimed. “Why would I apply?”

This is a common pattern Scroll encountered in the border regions of South Bengal. While the BJP has a significant level of support from Bangladeshi-origin Hindus in the region, this does not translate into trust in the CAA. Expectedly, the Modi government has claimed that it does not keep any records of people applying under the CAA even as the BJP chief minister of Assam claimed that there were no applications under it in March.

‘Unconditional citizenship’

Atul Krishna Thakur is a former president of the Matua Mahasangha, the premier body representing the community. Like many Matuas, he was earlier a supporter of Mamata Banerjee but is now a harsh critic. He lists a litany of complaints against the Trinamool, ranging from corruption to allegedly favouring Muslims over other communities. Thakur now backs the Bharatiya Janata Party. On the CAA, however, he criticises the Modi government.

“What we had demanded was unconditional citizenship,” Thakur said. “But that was not given. I am confused as to what Modi is trying to do. We want that as soon as minorities from Bangladesh come, they must be given Indian citizenship.”

This is a long-time Matua demand. However, eventually what the CAA produced was a procedure that demanded applicants produce documents from the home country – an untenable demand for most migrants. As a result, applications in West Bengal for citizenship under the new law seem to be non-existent, with Matuas fearful of the consequences of a process that brands them as Bangladeshi.

However, will this faulty CAA affect the Matua vote? Thakur does not think so. “80% of Matuas will vote for the BJP,” he says, indicating that Matua support for the party will neither rise nor fall.

Atul Krishna Thakur

‘What is the need?’

For non-Matuas, the CAA is even less of an issue. Madhumita Sukul is a microfinance agent in Krishnaganj village, on the Bangladesh border. She is highly critical of the Trinamool government, attacking it for corruption in welfare – an anger that stems particularly from the fact that she has not been chosen as part of the government’s housing scheme. However, she dismissed the CAA as an issue. “In this area, almost everyone is from Bangladesh,” she explained. “But no one cares about CAA. No one will apply. Everyone is already Indian.”

Sukul’s contention was backed by the Mazumdars, a middle-aged couple who lived just next to the Matua religious headquarters in Thakurnagar in North 24 Parganas. “In this locality, everyone is from Bangladesh, both Matua and non-Matua,” Basanti Mazumdar said. “But no one will apply. We fear what will happen if we do. Besides, what is the need? We all have Aadhaar card, Voter ID [identity] cards.”

In spite of this, the Mazumdars are BJP supporters, flipping from voting Trinamool in 2019. “The Trinamool only steals,” Basanti Mazumdar said. “But Modi does good work.”

Madhumita Sukul

NRC fear

Even as many Hindus are apprehensive of applying under the CAA, many Muslims in Bengal fear what Amit Shah had announced in 2019 as the next step: a National Register of Citizens. The panic over NRC had peaked in the 2021 Assembly elections in West Bengal. The political result: an unprecedented 75% of Muslims voted for the Trinamool, according to data from the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey. This was even higher than the 70% figure in 2019.

This unprecedented Muslim consolidation is one reason for the Communist Party’s decline – it lost a significant chunk of its traditional voter base to the Trinamool.

While the Muslim panic over loss of citizenship seems to have been subsided somewhat, with the BJP dropping the NRC from its manifesto, citizenship apprehensions still play a role in the voting calculus of Muslims.

Mohammad Ektaruddin is a young man from Burdwan district who rails off of a litany of complaints against the Trinamool. His principal complaint: police taking bribes from “gari wallahs” – people who drive cars and motorcycles. “I will vote for CPI(M) [Community Party of India (Marxist)], even if they send me to jail or beat me,” he said defiantly.

Mohammad Ektaruddin

In his largely Muslim village, however, Ektaruddin acknowledges he is in a political minority.

“There is a lot of anger but then Trinamool comes and says that we will protect you from CAA, from BJP, so many Muslims fall in line,” he argued.

Krishna Chandra Ghosh, a CPI(M) worker and former panchayat member in the neighbouring village confirms this. “There is massive anger against the Trinamool among many Muslims,” he said. “But they think if they don’t vote as a bloc for Mamata, the BJP will come to power and chase them out of India. Otherwise they would vote for us.”

Krishna Chandra Ghosh