GUWAHATI, April 13 - It is not yet easy to gauge the mood of the majority of Bengali Hindu voters in the State, particularly in the Brahmaputra valley, with regard to the current Lok Sabha elections. This is despite the ruling BJP’s efforts at projecting itself as the champion of the Bengali Hindu cause with its proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) and the opposition Congress party aggressively dubbing the Bill as a ploy to hoodwink this section of the people.
The State has around 70 to 80 lakh Bengali Hindu population and between 50 and 55 lakh of them live in the Brahmaputra Valley. Around 30 lakh of these people are voters in both the valleys.
Senior member of the BJP’s State executive committee Harekrishna Bharali, who has been involved in the State politics since the time of the Jan Sangh in the early 1960s, told this newspaper that majority of the Bengali Hindu voters would cast their votes in favour of the BJP this time.
On the contrary, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) general secretary and senior party spokesman Apurba Bhattacharjee claimed that the flaws in the BJP’s marketing tactics for the CAB have now started surfacing, with the Bengali Hindu voters of the State increasingly becoming disillusioned with the BJP.
Many of the Bengali Hindu people of the State are also aware of the fact that if implemented, the CAB would rob them of their voting rights for five years. When the Government of the Bengali-dominated West Bengal is not in favour of the CAB, there is ample scope to doubt the political motive behind this Bill. Moreover, it is not clear to the Bengali Hindu people of the State as to what has necessitated framing of the CAB, said the APCC general secretary.
These voters are also convinced that the voters’ identity cards issued by the Election Commission during the Congress regime and inclusion of majority of their names in the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) would help them overcome all the legal hurdles in asserting their Indian citizenship, Bhattacharjee said.
However, he admitted that non-registration of births and misspelling of names in the birth certificates created problems for most of the 14 to 15 lakh Bengali Hindu people, excluded from the NRC, in getting their names entered in the updated NRC. But the Bengali Hindus of the State are convinced that these problems could be overcome in the immediate future, he asserted.
There are problems for some North Bengal-origin Bengali Hindu women who are married to Bengali Hindu men of the State in getting their names entered in the updated NRC due to non-verification of their documents at their native places, he said.
That the CAB has affected the age-old amity among the Bengali Hindus and the indigenous peoples of the State, has been viewed by the majority of the State’s Bengali Hindu people as a very sad development, he said.
The APCC general secretary said that during the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections in the State this time, the Congress had been able to secure between 20 and 30 per cent of the Bengali Hindu votes and the support base of the Congress among these people is expanding.
Kamal Dutta, Hojai-based leading Bengali Hindu social activist of the State, told this newspaper that though the Bengali Hindus of the State are least bothered by the CAB, they are highly concerned over the NRC-related developments. This is because of the fact that only a negligible section of the Bengali Hindu people migrated from Bangladesh after 1971, he said.
However, he maintained that going by the developments till date, one may surmise that majority of the Bengali Hindu voters will vote for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections this time.