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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 24 April 2024

‘Will give my blood but won’t allow rollout of NRC’: Mamata unsheathes Aadhaar sword

The trigger behind CM's media conference were reports about people in Bengal receiving letters from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) saying their Aadhaar numbers had been deactivated and that their 'requirement to stay in the country has not been fulfilled'

Meghdeep Bhattacharyya Calcutta Published 20.02.24, 05:01 AM
Mamata Banerjee.

Mamata Banerjee. File picture

Mamata Banerjee on Monday cited the deactivation of Aadhaar cards reported from various parts of Bengal to accuse the BJP of trying to implement its contentious citizenship trident in the state.

She promised not to allow any National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise — aimed at identifying illegal immigrants on the basis of select documents and decades-old legacy papers — or the opening of detention centres in Bengal.

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“They are trying to bring in the NRC (here) like they did in Assam.... I will give my blood but will not allow the rollout of the NRC. We will not let them build detention centres in Bengal,” the chief minister said at a media conference.

Mamata has so far reaped political dividends from her stand against the NRC, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) — which fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim asylum seekers from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — and the National Population Register (NPR), which many see as a three-pronged ploy to target Muslims.

Her comments on Monday make it clear she plans to turn the citizenship tripod into a major poll plank in Bengal, which has an over 28 per cent minority population and a combined population of 46 per cent SCs, STs and OBCs.

The trigger behind Mamata’s media conference were reports about people in Bengal receiving letters from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) saying their Aadhaar numbers had been deactivated and that their “requirement to stay in the country has not been fulfilled”.

Such reports have arrived from districts such as North 24-Parganas, Nadia and East Burdwan.

Mamata wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday asserting she was “really shocked” and wanted answers.

“Every citizen of the state is in a state of fear on this matter. I would like to know from you about the causes for such action… without assigning reasons,” she wrote.

“Is it just for the sake of depriving the eligible beneficiaries of the benefit or to create a panic situation among the people at large just before the ensuing Lok Sabha elections?”

Aadhaar numbers are necessary to avail several welfare benefits and services.

Mamata said at the news conference that certain sections of society — religious minorities, SCs, STs and the working class — in particular were at the receiving end of the sudden drive to deactivate or block the key identity document.

“They (the Centre) did not even feel the need to contact the people whose Aadhaar cards were invalidated. Through this, the people would be deprived of very basic (services), such as banking services. Is the BJP planning to initiate the NRC ahead of the elections?” she asked.

She asserted that all the deactivated cards were legitimate, and their deactivation violated Aadhaar rules.

“Is the BJP planning to first snatch the Aadhaar cards and later hand them the CAA? Suddenly what happened ahead of the elections? What is the planning behind this?” she asked.

“Are they planning to set up detention camps here like Assam? Specifically, SCs, STs and the minorities are being targeted.”

Mamata said she had received a letter from the Tapashili Federation stating that Matuas (a key vote bank the BJP has been wooing for years) and Namashudras had borne the brunt.

“This is jomidari (feudal) behaviour…. For those playing with fire via the Aadhaar cards, there will come a time when people will throw them in aandhaar (darkness),” Mamata said.

“We are not jomidars, we are your paharadar (guards). I assure each and everyone that we will never allow the NRC in Bengal. We will not allow detention camps in Bengal. The people from the Matua community, who have been promised citizenship, are now being termed foreigners. Is this not disrespecting them?”

The Aadhaar deactivation furore and Mamata’s attempt to link it to a possible NRC rollout seemed to have rattled the Bengal BJP. Its leaders tried to dismiss the allegations and allay any fears instead of doubling down on the citizenship matrix that they aggressively support.

“A technical fault led to the deactivation of some Aadhaar cards, resulting in the non-functionality of associated bank accounts,” said Matua leader and junior Union minister Shantanu Thakur.

“Today, Union home minister Amit Shah and Union electronics and information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw entrusted me with the responsibility of addressing this issue.”

He added: “The deactivation process has been halted, and the affected cards will be reactivated in a few days.”

Suvendu Adhikari, leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, thanked Shah and Vaishnaw and blamed the UIDAI’s regional office in Ranchi for the error.

State BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar claimed the matter would be rectified by Monday night. He said Vaishnaw had told him that the problem affected approximately 54,000 Aadhaar cards.

“Mamata Banerjee and Trinamul Congress seized the opportunity to instil fear by spreading misinformation about Aadhaar cards being cancelled, tying it to the NRC,” Majumdar said. “This is merely an attempt by the ruling party to divert attention from Sandeshkhali.”

The final NRC in Assam has left out an estimated 19 lakh people, of whom 5.5 lakh are Muslim. Assam has set up a chain of detention centres — all of them inside prisons — for people who are excluded from the NRC and finally declared “illegal immigrants” by foreigner tribunals.

Mamata had raised the issue in the Assembly on Thursday and at a public meeting in Birbhum on Sunday before her comments of Monday.

“Reigniting a deep-seated fear among many individuals of personal harm in the fairly immediate future is far likelier to yield electoral dividends than a general, public outrage over a socio-political issue in a pocket of the state,” a Trinamul insider said.

“A panic over citizenship can therefore have a much more lasting impact than something like Sandeshkhali, especially because there is no Mamata Banerjee in the Opposition here now.”

Mamata said: “We don’t believe in disrespecting anyone from any community…. But why are they (the BJP) playing this dirty game today? This is a fascist conspiracy…. They are the creators of all problems, the Bharatiya Jonjaal (Garbage) Party.”

UIDAI statement

The UIDAI on Monday said that intimations are issued to Aadhaar number holders from time to time to keep the Aadhaar database updated, but no number has been cancelled, PTI reported from New Delhi.

“In case any Aadhaar number holder has any grievance in this regard, they may submit their feedback to UIDAI at this link https://uidai.gov.in/en/contact-support/feedback.html. Any such grievance will be duly addressed,” it said.

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