- "Bangladeshi immigrants are Mamata Banerjee's votebank": Amit Shah
- "All Mamata ji has done, is to object against the NRC," he said
- Mr Shah's Kolkata visit is part of effort to expand party's base
At a rally in central Kolkata, BJP chief Amit Shah's message and target were clear. "We are here to uproot Mamata Banerjee," he said right at the beginning of his speech that ripped into the Bengal Chief Minister for trying to stop the citizens' list in Assam.
This list, he said, is the best way to identify and throw out Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. "Shouldn't Bangladeshi immigrants be thrown out," he asked as thousands of the party workers responded in an affirmative.
But Mamata Banerjee wants to settle Rohingya and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, he said. Because she is trying to protect her vote bank. "For us, the country comes first, before vote bank... Oppose us as much as you want but we will not stall the process of NRC (National Register of Citizens)," Mr Shah added.
Mr Shah's effort through most of his speech was to target what the BJP calls is Ms Banerjee's Muslim appeasement policy to appeal to the party's Hindu supporters. He also referred to the restrictions that the Trinamool government had imposed on Durga immersion ceremony last year since Muslims were to take out tazia processions to mark Muharram on October.
Once we come to power, people can celebrate Durga Puja without a worry," promised Mr Shah, who called for parivartan, or change in Bengal. Ms Banerjee first rode to power in 2012 on the plank of parivartan, ending the Left Front's uninterrupted 34-year-old rule. But all that had changed, Mr Shah said, was that factories were shutting down. The only ones prospering are gun-making factories.
For 2019, he has targeted cornering 22 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in next year's general elections and ejecting the Trinamool Congress in the 2021 state election.
The first draft of the National Register of Citizens, or NRC, in Assam last month left out 40 lakh people, triggering sharp criticism about the implementation of the exercise by opposition parties. Ms Banerjee had taken the lead, worrying that it could lead to a "bloodbath" and "a civil war".
The Trinamool Congress has said the poor implementation of the citizens' list will not impact Muslims but also Hindus who had come from Bangladesh. Mr Shah told Hindus immigrants from Bangladesh - he referred to them as refugees -- that they needn't worry. The centre has moved a bill in parliament to give Hindu immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh citizenship as promised by the BJP earlier.
Ms Banerjee had once been a vocal votary of deporting illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. But a decade back, CPM was still the dominant political force in Bengal and enjoyed support of the Muslim community including pockets widely perceived to be inhabited by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
Mr Shah also claimed that Bangla news channels had been blacked out by the state government to stop his voice from reaching the people and announced plans to visit each district in the state.