On the day the third Trinamool Congress government completed a year in power in the State, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday exchanged barbs on a host of issues including the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), law and order situation, and jurisdictional issues of the Border Security Force (BSF).
Addressing a public meeting in north Bengal, Mr. Shah alleged that the Trinamool Congress ( TMC) was spreading rumours about the CAA and that the legislation will be implemented in the country after the pandemic. “I want to make it clear that the Trinamool Congress is spreading rumours that the CAA will not be implemented. As soon as the COVID pandemic gets over, we will implement CAA… Mamata Didi, you want infiltration to continue and you do not want to give citizenship to refugees who have come to Bengal,” Mr. Shah said. The Home Minister who is on a two-day visit to the State tried to assure the gathering that “CAA was, is and will remain a reality”.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee responded by saying that everybody is a citizen and every time the BJP raises the issue of CAA, the party is insulting the citizens who elected the Prime Minister and Chief Minister. “Those who speak the same lies every day, I consider that to be a kind of corruption,” the Chief Minister said. She also argued that the CAA has already lapsed since rules could not be framed.
It was on May 5, 2021, that Mamata Banerjee took oath as the Chief Minister of the State for the third consecutive term, defeating the BJP. Mr. Shah, in his speech, raised the issue of post-poll violence in the State. “BJP will not rest till it uproots Trinamool’s tyrannical rule from Bengal; we had thought Mamata Banerjee will rectify herself during her third term (as CM) but she has not,” the Home Minister said. Mr. Shah asked why the Trinamool has not sent teams to Bogtui in Birbhum where women and children were burnt to death, and Hanskali where a teenager died after sexual assault.
Accusing Mr. Shah of spreading lies about the situation in Bengal, Ms. Banerjee asked why he turned a blind eye to the incidents of communal violence and attacks on women in the BJP-ruled States and sent teams only to her State. “Mr. Amit Shah, are you the Home Minister of West Bengal, or the Home Minister of the entire country? From your acts, it seems you are solely obsessed with West Bengal,” she said. The Trinamool Congress chairperson also accused the BJP leader of engineering a “divorce between Bengali and Hindi speaking communities, between Hindus and Muslims”.
Another issue on which the differences between the two leaders came to the fore was the role and territorial jurisdiction of the BSF. The Trinamool Congress government has already passed a resolution in the State Assembly against the Centre’s move of extending the territorial jurisdiction of the BSF from 15km to 50 km. Earlier in the day, at an event organised by the South Bengal Frontier of the BSF, the Home Minister said that it was a challenge for the border guarding forces to deal with infiltration and smuggling without the cooperation and assistance of the local administration. “A political situation will soon develop where we will get all the desired assistance. Pressure from the people will result in cooperation from the administration,” Mr. Shah said.
The Chief Minister said the Home Minister was asking the BSF to overstep its jurisdiction and said that he should not play with fire. “ Mr. Shah, please remember, I have regards for you as a Home Minister … but don’t ask BSF to overdo (overstep its jurisdiction) the State. You should not create a situation that does not bode well with democratic federalism,” Ms. Banerjee added.
Earlier in the day, the Chief Minister, at a government event, expressed her anguish against the Home Minister’s remarks in the Parliament on the law and order situation. “If anyone says don’t go to Bengal; you will be killed if you go to Bengal; I feel bad. Bengal is much better than other States,” the Chief Minister said.
This is the first visit by the Union Home Minister after the BJP lost to the Trinamool Congress in the 2021 Assembly polls in West Bengal. The war of words between the two leaders reminded people of the high voltage election campaign that continued for months in the State till the results came out in the first week of May 2021.