Assam’s Finance Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) key strategist for the North East, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said on Sunday that the State has taken the visit by the delegation led by Trinamool Congress lawmaker Derek O’ Brien positively, since “any political party has the right to visit terror attack victims”.
A report appearing in NDTV stated that the cautious move by the BJP leader comes in the backdrop of the 2019 elections, when the Bengali Hindu votes are important for the party in both Assam and West Bengal. The report further stated that in an apparent reference to the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, which is likely to be tabled in the next Parliament session, Sarma said, “Mamata Banerjee must cooperate with the BJP, as the party is trying to bring a lasting solution to the issues of religious minorities living in Pakistan and Bangladesh. She should help the BJP in evolving a consensus. She is not just protecting Bengali Hindus or Bengalis.”
The Bill, if passed, will allow refugees from neighbouring countries, who have fled due to fear of religious persecution, become citizens of India. The Bill also drastically cuts down the necessary time period an applicant needs to stay in India before becoming a citizen.
The visit by Mamata Banerjee’s delegation also presented a contrasting picture that told the story of changing political dynamics ahead of parliamentary elections next year. On August 2 last, a TMC delegation of six lawmakers was stopped at the airport when they were trying to visit the Bengali-dominated Silchar in southern Assam, after the publication of the complete draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). On Sunday, the same BJP government allowed another TMC delegation and even provided them security when they visited Kherbari Village in Tinsukia, to meet the families of the five Bengali victims of last Thursday’s terror attack.
“The Silchar case was different. They had come immediately after the publication of NRC and their intention was to provoke the people. We also regularly visit Bengal and we are accorded the State protocol that a minister is entitled,” Sarma further remarked.
While Sarma was restrained, the Trinamool Congress did make its political intentions clear. “This is our first visit here. Please look at it as a beginning to find the perpetrators of this crime. We will do whatever it takes in Assam, Bengal or in any party of the country and in Parliament, to find out who committed the crime. The stories that we are hearing from the families suggest that there is more to it than meets the eye,” said Derek O’Brien at Tinsukia.
The Congress, which has lost its Bengali Hindu vote to the BJP in Assam and to the TMC in Bengal, claims that they are the real protectors of the people. “These Bengalis are our responsibility not Mamata Banerjee’s. She sitting in Bengal…she can’t protect them,” former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.