Blowing hot over the Citizenship Amendment Act and cold over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) appears to be part of a well-thought strategy of JD-U national president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. With the JD-U becoming the first BJP ally to say no to NRC despite its support to the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Parliament, Nitish seems to be working on a multi-pronged strategy to keep a range of people confused.
This is why the JD-U’s new line of “NRC with CAB is dangerous and discriminatory” — articulated by Prashant Kishor on Saturday night and confirmed by JD-U national spokesperson K C Tyagi — looks scripted.
The JD-U, whose secular credentials were seriously threatened with the support to CAB, cannot afford to let Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and the Congress become the sole claimants to the 17% Muslim vote in Bihar.
Nitish knows that some sections of Muslims did vote for the JD-U in the 2009 Lok Sabha election and 2010 Assembly polls despite the BJP being its ally. In those days, the BJP played second fiddle to the JD-U, and was almost its B-team in Bihar.
The 2015 Assembly election victory of the JD-U, RJD, and Congress against the resurgent BJP under Narendra Modi was possible because of the overwhelming support from Muslims, besides the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC), Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Dalit votes.
This is what Prashant Kishor has been reminding Nitish. He has also been telling Nitish constantly that the JD-U cannot afford to shed “secularism” as its core principle, especially its ideological position has been emasculated by the abrogation of Article 370, the criminalisation of instant triple talaq, and the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ayodhya case.
Both the Opposition RJD and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) suspect it was part of the JD-U’s “twin-track” strategy to lend its support to the CAB on the one hand, and have its own leaders such as Prashant Kishor, Pawan K Varma, and Ghulam Rasool Balyawi attack it on the other.
The fact that none of these apparent dissidents faced any disciplinary action creates doubts about Nitish’s own position — and whether he might be playing the politics of having the best of both worlds.
Also, Nitish needs Prashant Kishor. There are three reasons for this.
First, Kishor’s utility as a very smart election strategist, with his excellent record for the BJP, JD-U, and Jagan Mohan Reddy, makes him all but indispensable for the JD-U ahead of the Assembly polls next year. While Kishor might get another Nitish, Nitish may not get another Kishor. JD-U Rajya Sabha MP RCP Singh might well be the de facto Number 2 in the party, but Nitish cannot afford to let go of Kishor.
Second, Kishor has built for himself the image of a rebel, from which Nitish has benefitted. No matter that the JD-U’s stand on the NRC-CAB appears orchestrated — it seems as of now that Nitish has scored. The BJP is silent — its strategy vis-a-vis Nitish may now be clear only after the Jharkhand Assembly election results. As RCP Singh, Lok Sabha MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh, and Lalan Singh present a picture of being a “pro-BJP” camp within the JD-U, Kishor’s counterpoint has helped Nitish take a stand on the NRC.
Third, Kishor, who has a good rapport with top leaders of the Congress, RJD, Trinamool Congress, and Aam Aadmi Party, can play an important role in a future political realignment in Bihar or at the national level — even if that possibility seems remote at the moment. Although there are no signs of discomfort at the moment, a lot will depend on how the BJP ultimately responds to the JD-U’s stand on the NRC.
Nitish knows that the BJP’s wounds from Maharashtra are still raw. He also knows that Bihar 2020 is as crucial for the BJP as it is for the JD-U. Kishor will stay relevant in Nitish’s scheme of things, if only to ensure that the BJP is not able to do a Shiv Sena to him after the Bihar results.
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