The JD(U) leader’s strategy appears to be to retain the Hindu votes by riding piggyback on the BJP and, at the same time, winning over the minorities by passing the resolution against the NRC.
On February 25 a new political template was created when the Bihar assembly unanimously passed a resolution against the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and for a National Population Register (NPR) in its 2010 format — which does not include questions that have stoked fears of it being a first step towards the NRC. It was a landmark political event because it made Bihar the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled state to come out against the NRC.
Even more surprising was that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power at the Centre and is the principal NDA party, did not object to the resolution. It almost quietly fell in line. The BJP has been aggressively pushing the trio of the NRC, the NPR and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar didn’t even bother to take the BJP into confidence before moving the resolution, while he kept opposition parties, such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress in the loop throughout. The BJP had no other option but to swallow its pride because after losing an important ally, the Shiv Sena, in Maharashtra, the national party could hardly afford the risk of losing another ally –Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)).
It’s too early to say which way the wind will blow in the Bihar assembly elections due by November, but Kumar gave a sneak peek into his electoral strategy on March 1. He was addressing a rally of JD(U) workers from all over the state at Patna's Gandhi Maidan on the occasion of his 69th birthday, where it was clear that the stress will be on the three issues of the CAA, the NRC and the NPR.
His strategy appears to be to retain the Hindu votes by riding piggyback on the BJP (as a part of the NDA) and, at the same time, winning over the minorities by passing the resolution against the NRC. “As far as NPR is concerned, it will be on the basis of 2010 format and we have also passed the resolution in the state legislative assembly,” he said at the March 1 rally. The NPR, under the 2010 format, does not include questions relating to the date of birth and place of parents and last residential address of the individual.
As for the CAA, Kumar pleaded for exercising “patience” since the matter was before the Supreme Court. At the rally Kumar also reiterated that the JD(U) would contest the assembly polls as a part of the NDA and expressed confidence of winning over 200 of the 243 seats.
Political observers familiar with Bihar’s caste-riven politics say that Kumar has sent positive vibes among the state’s Muslim community by his bold move of getting the NPR resolution passed. It remains to be seen if the opposition parties such as the RJD and the Congress are able to effectively counter Kumar and the JD(U). For now it is advantage Nitish Kumar.
The effects of the Bihar assembly resolution will not be confined to Bihar only. It will reverberate in the assemblies of non-NDA states too. Maharashtra, a non-NDA state, is also set to follow Bihar’s path on the NRC and the NPR. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has already announced that his state will not implement the NRC and that no controversial columns in the NPR will be allowed.
On February 27, two days after the Bihar assembly passed the NPR resolution, a Congress delegation led by senior party leader Naseem Khan met Thackeray demanding a Bihar-type resolution in Maharashtra. “The BJP is in power in Bihar. The party did not oppose the same there. It is clear that the party cannot have double standards and oppose the resolution in Maharashtra,” Khan said. Indications are that the Maharashtra government is going to move the Bihar-type resolution in the assembly in this session itself.
More non-NDA state governments are likely to follow suit. The Bihar resolution has already weakened the BJP’s stand on the twin issues of the NRC and the NPR, despite public statements to the contrary by the party bigwigs. What Opposition stalwarts couldn’t do, Nitish Kumar, a BJP ally, has done.Rajeev Sharma is a political analyst. Twitter handle: @kishkindha, Views are personal.