The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is 'a must' for national security and will be implemented, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared on Tuesday but made it clear that Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist refugees will be accorded Indian citizenship beforehand with the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
Addressing a Bharatiya Janata Party seminar on the NRC, which has hitherto remained confined to Assam, the party president accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party Trinamool Congress of misleading the people on the issue.
The TMC has sought to project the NRC exercise in Assam as an 'anti-Bengali' move after nearly 12 lakh Bengali speaking people, including a large number of Hindus, were left out of the final list of citizens published on August 31.
"People of Bengal are being misled on the issue of NRC. I am here today to clear all doubts on the BJP's stand .... Mamata Di is saying that millions of Hindus will have to leave West Bengal. There cannot be a bigger lie than this.
"I want to assure the people of Bengal NRC will be implemented but nothing of this sort is going to happen. I assure all Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain refugees they won't
have to leave the country, they will get Indian citizenship and enjoy all the rights of an Indian national," Shah said in an attempt to dispel fears over the NRC in the state.
Alarmed at the possibility of the NRC being replicated in the state, people have been rushing to government and municipal offices in droves over the last few days to obtain documents that could prove West Bengal has been their place of residence for long.
Banerjee, a strident critic of both the BJP and the NRC, has claimed 11 people have committed suicide so far out of fear of being rendered stateless in the event of the
citizenship register being prepared in the state, and declared she will never allow the exercise to be undertaken in West Bengal.
Even while seeking to address the concerns of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain refugees, Shah asserted that not one infiltrator will be allowed to live in India.
"Kisi sharanarthi ko jaane nahin denge, kisi ghuspaithiye ko rahne nahin denge. (No refugee will have to go, no infiltrator will be allowed to live). We will expel each one of them," he said.
"No country in the world can run smoothly while carrying the burden of so many intruders. This has to stop. We are working towards changing Bengal. NRC is a must. We will have to implement NRC to ensure the country's safety and security," Shah said.
The BJP president recalled how Banerjee, during her days in the Opposition, frequently raised the issue of illegal infiltration.
"When Mamata Di was in opposition, she asked for these intruders to be removed from Bengal. She had once thrown her shawl at the Speaker's face over that. Now that those intruders have become her vote bank, she doesn't want them to be removed. Political ambitions should not prevail over national interest," he said.
The tempestuous TMC boss advised Shah not to spread divisive politics.
"Everyone is welcome to our state and enjoy the hospitality of our people. But please don't profess any divisive politics ... It will not work in Bengal," she said, inaugurating a community puja in south Kolkata.
"Please don't spread the religion of divisive politics. Please don't create rift among people. Bengal is known to respect leaders of different faiths for ages. This
can never be spoilt," she said.
In his speech, Shah hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for scrapping provisions of Article 370 that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir, saying it will facilitate complete integration of the state into India.
Referring to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of Janasangh, the BJP's precursor, Shah said it was due to the sacrifices of the leader that West Bengal was today a part of the Indian republic.
Shah also exuded confidence that BJP would come to power in West Bengal with full majority in the next assembly elections.
"The blood of BJP workers that has been shed in Bengal will not go in vain. You've given a chance to Communists, Congress and the Trinamool Congress. Now is the time to give a chance to the BJP to form the government and change West Bengal," Shah said.
'TMC govt stifling people's right to celebrate Durga Puja'
Later, inaugurating a Durga puja for the first time in West Bengal, Shah accused the state government of stifling the rights of the people to celebrate Durga Puja to
serve the party's vote bank.
Shah inaugurated the BJ Block community Durga Puja at Salt Lake in the eastern fringes of the city amid tight security.
"People had to go to the high court to seek permission for immersion of the idol of Durga. The constitutional right of the people to celebrate festivals was not guaranteed in West Bengal due to vote bank politics," Shah said while addressing the inauguration ceremony.
Shah was referring to the restrictions imposed by the state government on Durga idol immersion on the day of Vijayadashami after 10 pm in 2017.
It had also said no immersion would be allowed on the day Muharram. However, the Calcutta high court allowed immersion of idols on all days from Vijayadashami including on Muharram.
"If the people of Bengal elect us in the next assembly elections, they will be able to celebrate Durga Puja, Saraswati puja, Ram Navami with equal gusto. We will ensure the constitutional right is protected," Shah said.
A group of people chanted slogans such as 'Jai Shri Ram' and 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' as the BJP president concluded his speech and went to have a darshan of the Durga idol.
Security personnel faced a trying time to control the people who were eager to get close to the Union minister at that time.
Shah responsible for creating panic among people of WB : Amit Mitra
West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra, meanwhile, held Shah responsible for creating panic among the people of the state with his utterances on NRC.
It is 'unconstitutional' on the part of a Union home minister to create such panic and the people of Bengal will give him a befitting reply, Mitra told newsmen in Kolkata.
The situation in the state following the updation of NRC in neighbouring Assam is such that 17 people have died due to the fear of the same happening in Bengal, he claimed.
"Today the Union Home Minister Amit Shah created panic among the people of the state over NRC amid the Durga Puja festivities," Mitra told reporters.
Hitting out at Shah, Mitra wondered how a Union minister could speak of such division among the people on religious lines.
"This is not supported by the Constitution of India. This is absolutely unconstitutional," he said.
Mitra also expressed the fear that he himself might be thrown out of the country because his ancestors belonged to Jessore (now in Bangladesh) and he has no birth certificate to prove that he was born in Calcutta.
"My grandfather is from Jessore. My father was also born there. I was born here in Kolkata but I do not have a birth certificate ... I do not know, I might also be driven out of the country," the septuagenarian TMC leader said.