Patna: Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) supremo Nitish Kumar played ‘big brother’ of the Bihar National Democratic Alliance (NDA) when he made the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators support a resolution in the Legislative Assembly seeking implementation of the National Population Register (NPR) exercise as per the 2010 format.
The resolution adopted unanimously by the Bihar Assembly on Tuesday also said the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) was "not required" ("aavashyakta nahi hai") in the state. The very next day, Kumar also got another resolution passed seeking caste-based Census in 2021.
With this, Bihar became the first NDA-ruled state to categorically say no to the NRC and reject the present format of the NPR, which the opposition perceives as the first step towards NRC. The Bihar government has also written to the Centre suggesting that barring the column on transgenders, the NPR exercise should be done according to the 2010 format.
Kumar's Machiavellian move has sent across a message that he is hobnobbing with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and that he might once again repeat the 2015 politics, wherein he had joined hands with the RJD and won the elections.
The possibility of Kumar switching sides was the topic of gossip among a section of the BJP legislators, who were caught unawares when the resolution was moved.
The RJD camp, too, tried to give an impression that it has succeeded in forcing the government to concede the popular demand on NPR and NRC and that there was a room for an ‘improved relationship’ with the JD(U) in future in case the NDA partners reach a stage of confrontation in the run-up to the Assembly polls.
A wily leader that he is, Kumar has killed two birds with one stone. First, just before the RJD entered the poll mode by launching the ‘berojgari hatao yatra (remove unemployment rally)’ in the state, Kumar has unarmed RJD's Tejashwi Prasad Yadav at least on the NPR and NRC issue, which has been a tool of the opposition to browbeat the NDA government at the Centre.
The RJD leader has been very caustic in his remarks against Kumar for supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Parliament, besides the Centre’s move on NPR and the proposed nationwide NRC. A no-holds-barred poster war is already going on between the RJD and the JD(U) over a myriad of issues over the past month.
However, Kumar has blunted the edge of the attack directed against him by Yadav by getting a resolution passed on the NPR and NRC. Kumar has been steadfast in his opposition to a countrywide NRC and recently opposed the NPR at a Muslim congregation, saying even he would not know the dates of birth of his parents.
On the CAA, Kumar has also categorically said it was now in the Supreme Court, which will decide its constitutional validity even though the central BJP leadership has been unyielding on the CAA and NPR issues.
Second, by opposing the NPR and NRC, the JD(U) leader has set the agenda for the upcoming Bihar polls and established his superiority by forcing the BJP to tow his line on the twin issues.
It appears that Kumar has changed the way he used to deal with the BJP as he has been critical of the Centre on several issues, including the demand for granting special status to Bihar.
After successive defeats in Jharkhand and Delhi and a failed experiment to form the government in Maharashtra, the BJP does not want to bet on any Bihar leader. Its central leadership does not consider any of the second-rung leadership of the Bihar BJP as tall a leader as Kumar.
According to senior BJP leaders, their party and the JD(U) have a natural alliance as the respective caste bases of both form a formidable combination and the combine has been winning since 2005.
The JD(U) has been playing the role of a big brother and the BJP is also ready to play second fiddle in the NDA, they said.
However, it has come as rude shock for the champions of the ‘ekla chalo (walk alone)’ move within the state BJP. They wondered as to what was the need to support a resolution questioning the format of the NPR, which was a central government programme.
Another section within the saffron party has been left wondering as to whether such a move is tantamount to a change in the party's stand after the Delhi poll debacle and the recent riots protesting against the CAA.
The BJP, which has been hamstrung in Bihar under Kumar's shadow, appears to be grappling with the problem of continuing cordial ties with its allies. Its major ally, the Shiv Sena, has ditched it in Maharashtra, while the Akali Dal refused to back the BJP in the Delhi polls on the CAA issue.
After the Delhi poll debacle, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan has suggested that restraint over language must be maintained during the Bihar polls. Paswan’s remarks assume significance in view of the inflammatory speeches made by some BJP leaders who were censured by the Election Commission.
Paswan advocated fighting the crucial Assembly polls on local development issues and the work done by the NDA government in Bihar and at the Centre.
As part of his agenda, Kumar is likely to keep the communal rhetoric away and focus on his development works done in the last five years, including the ‘Jal, Jivan and Hariyali (water, life and greenery)’ campaign.
With his deft move, Kumar has also tried to win back the respect and support of the minority community, which has distanced itself due to his association with the BJP. The JD(U) leader was accused of capitulation before the BJP for continuing in the chair.
With elections only eight months away, the NDA allies are now demanding an early decision regarding which party will contest how many seats. The demand might spell trouble for the BJP as the JD(U) is keen to play the role of the ‘big brother’ and might press for over 130 seats, while the LJP is also looking to contest on an increased number of seats commensurate with its six parliamentary seats.
Given the fluid political situation in Bihar, it appears that Kumar, often referred to as the ‘Chanakya of Bihar politics’, will eventually prevail and lead the NDA according to his plans.