How Nitish Kumar Made the BJP Vote for an Anti-NRC Resolution in Bihar

The NDA's election campaign in Bihar will be led by Nitish – and is unlikely to follow the communal path Modi and Shah have carved.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has made his ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, bite the bullet by getting the state assembly to unanimously pass a resolution rejecting a nationwide National Register of Citizens and contentious questions introduced by the Central government in National Population Register update.

The resolution says the state has erased questions related to the date and place of birth of the responder’s parents. It has also allowed people the option to say they are transgender.

There are three important parts of Nitish’s somersault:

  1. The House accepted the adjournment motion on the issue moved by Tejashwi Yadav – leader of the opposition from Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, the most vocal opponent of the BJP.
  2. Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi and all other BJP members voted for the resolution against the NRC, even though the Register figures in the BJP’s election manifesto. Union home minister Amit Shah recently stated that “the government had so far not discussed whether to implement the NRC all over India but it is in the party’s manifesto”. In the past, he has openly said that the NRC is already in the works.
  3. Nitish has left it on the Supreme Court to adjudicate on the constitutional validity of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Despite his party supporting the CAA in the parliament, Nitish in his speech in the Bihar assembly on Tuesday said, “The Citizenship Amendment Bill has become a Central Act now. It is for the Supreme Court to decide on its constitutional validity.” He appears to be portraying some neutrality on the CAA, though the BJP has made it clear that its stance is inflexible.

In the process, Nitish – who many see as the “craftiest” of political operators in the National Democratic Alliance – has set the agenda ahead of the assembly elections in Bihar due in November this year.

Also read: Why Prashant Kishor’s Political Foray Into Bihar Is a Non-Starter

By voting for the anti-NRC resolution, it appears that the BJP has blinked for the first time after the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo took over. The saffron party has meekly acquiesced to Nitish’s silent but determined zeal to operate on “socialist, secular and inclusive” lines. Bihar is the first NDA government to reject the NRC and NPR through a legislative resolution.

Significantly, the Bihar assembly passed the anti-NRC resolution after the BJP’s massive defeat at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi elections. It was not a simple defeat of one party by another. The BJP had tried to make Delhi another laboratory for Hindutva, like Gujarat, by using the NRC, NPR and CAA to whip up communal passions. Union minster Anurag Thakur raised the slogan “Shoot the traitors”, BJP MP Parvesh Varma claimed without any proof whatsoever that the anti-NRC-NPR-CAA protesters were “traitors who would rape and kill women” and Amit Shah talked about “pressing the [EVM] button with such ferocity that its current engulfs Shaheen Bagh”.

Thus, its defeat in Delhi was a rejection of the foundation stones on which the BJP has been building its castle. Now there have been riots. The Supreme Court on Wednesday indicted the Delhi police for its inaction, putting further question marks on the ruling establishment’s plans.

By getting the anti-NRC resolution passed unanimously, with the BJP’s support, Nitish has virtually robbed Amit Shah of using the “Pakistan jao” campaign against Muslims. The resolution has evidently indicated that Nitish will be choreographing the alliance’s election campaign. Needless to say, the likes of Parvesh Varma and Anurag Thakur will find no space in NDA’s the campaign machine in Bihar.

Also read: As BJP’s Hindutva Plank Loses Steam, Nitish Kumar Has the Edge in Bihar

At least two developments that preceded the anti-NRC resolution in the Bihar assembly are remarkable:

  1. Nitish had a long confabulation with Tejashwi Yadav in the chief minister’s chamber.
  2. The new BJP president, J.P. Nadda, met Nitish on February 2 in Patna and declared, “Nitish will lead the NDA in the elections in Bihar.”

Much to the BJP’s chagrin, Nitish allowed Tejashwi to take his share of the credit for getting the anti-NRC-NPR resolution passed. “It is the victory of the constitution and our struggle against the NRC and NPR,” Tejashwi, who was carrying out a “save the constitution journey”, said after the House adopted the resolution. RJD members celebrated this win against the “communal” BJP with gusto.

The underlying message that Nitish may have been trying to give to the BJP was that the RJD’s support was always available to him, if the BJP chose to embarrass him on the issue of his socialist and secular credentials.

There is also a subtle message in Nadda declaring that Nitish will lead the NDA in the state elections three days ahead of the Bihar chief minister piloting the anti-NRC resolution. The BJP, under its new chief, is likely to play the game that is more convenient to Nitish. Nadda was born and brought up in Bihar. Son of former head of department of commerce and applied economics at Patna University, Professor N.L. Nadda, the BJP chief studied political science at the same university before shifting to Shimla. He was an ABVP activist at PU for a long time, and is better aware of the state’s ground realities than Shah.

In fact, Nadda accepting Nitish as the sole leader of the NDA in Bihar has also exposed the fissures in the saffron party. A large section of the BJP led by Sushil Kumar Modi has not been in sync with the hard Hindutva card played by Modi and Shah. Though an old ABVP-RSS hand, Sushil seldom speaks the lingo of the BJP bosses. Moulded more by the likes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sushil has always been targeted by his hardline peers.

Union ministers Giriraj Singh and Ashwini Choubey – infamous for their anti-minority rhetoric – have been given ‘favoured’ treatment by Modi and Shah. BJP’s Bihar unit president, Nityanand Rai, is also emerging as the new blue-eyed boy for the duo. Rai was shocked at what happened in the assembly. “It is shocking to learn how the Bihar government has fiddled with the issues of national interest,” her said. Sushil must have enjoyed his colleague’s discomfiture silently.

In all likelihood, Nitish will keep the NDA’s campaign in Bihar free from communal rhetoric, instead focusing on his government’s performance. He has just concluded his “jal-jeevan-haryali yatra (water, life, greenery campaign)” and has stepped up efforts to build drains and streets in all the villages. He already has his success stories with building roads, supplying electrical power and reasonably repairing the health and education sectors.