A Turn in the Tide | Bihar
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has finally come out and said “there is no question of implementing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Bihar”. After supporting the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 in Parliament, Nitish now says he is open to a debate on the controversial religion-based citizenship law.
The chief minister, in a statement in the assembly on January 13, said, “I have no objection to a detailed debate on the CAA. If the people want it, we can have a discussion in the house. As for the NRC, there is no justification for it.” He also said the NRC was envisaged in the context of Assam, and not the entire country. With this, the JD(U) becomes the third BJP ally-they share power in Bihar-to oppose the NRC, which many believe is next on the party agenda after the CAA and the National Population Register (NPR).
This comes as bad news for the BJP. On January 16, Union home minister and party president Amit Shah is to address a public meeting in Bihar’s Vaishali district to drum up support for the contentious citizenship law. The state is set for the assembly election in November this year, so Kumar’s remark assumes crucial significance. By calling for a discussion on the CAA, he has not just expressed a need for a rethink, he has , in fact, questioned the justification for the new citizenship law. His latest statements are also seen as an attempt to harmonise the conflicting stands taken inside the JD(U) itself. Two prominent leaders, Pavan K. Varma and Prashant Kishor, who openly opposed the CAA and NRC, were heckled by other leaders.
“I have complete faith in Nitishji’s secular credentials and I totally believe that he cannot support any religiously exclusive citizenship law,” Varma had said then. He made a fresh pitch after BJP leader and Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi recently announced the dates for collection of data for the NPR. JD(U) insiders say Varma has overlooked the Bihar government’s December 18 notification for the NPR exercise in the state. The notification was published in a gazette on January 3. Poll strategist Kishor, who has also been vocal in his opposition to the CAA and the NRC, had called on Kumar last month to discuss the issue.
Nitish’s ambivalence on CAA will embarrass ally BJP, but it is a calculated gamble in an election year
JD(U) spokesperson K.C. Tyagi, meanwhile, says the NPR must not be confused with the NRC. “NPR was introduced during the UPA regime. Now that the prime minister has clarified that there will be no NRC, there is no problem going ahead with the NPR,” he said.
The NPR is a register of the country’s ‘usual residents’. The rules make it mandatory for every resident to register for this. The new population register has triggered a controversy as it will include questions on date and place of birth of parents, as also their last place of residence. While clarifying his party’s (new) stand on the CAA-NRC, Kumar also made a case for releasing caste data collected in the Census exercise. He has long been insisting that the Centre release this data, arguing that without it, various castes give their own statistics and claim under-representation in government. The demand is also a ploy to win over formidable vote banks in an election year.