Taken by surprise over Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s last-minute decision to pass a resolution in Assembly against the NRC, and to adopt NPR in its 2010 format, an embarrassed BJP seems to have decided to swallow it – at a time it desperately seeks to avoid any prospects for a third consecutive defeat in state elections after Jharkhand and Delhi.
Bihar is scheduled to go to the polls later this year, and multiple BJP leaders admitted that the party is in no position to contest without Nitish’s JD(U) as an alliance partner.
BJP leaders – both at the central and state level – admitted that Nitish did not keep them in the loop about the resolution, and did not discuss it at either the NDA legislators’ meeting a day before, or even at the recent meeting with BJP national president J P Nadda.
Senior BJP leader and Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi, currently the only senior BJP leader defending Nitish, however, said it would be “wrong to assume that we were not taken into confidence”. He told The Indian Express: “It is true that we did not discuss the passing of resolution in the NDA meet on Monday. (But) since Nitish Kumar has already made his stand clear on NRC after the Prime Minister’s clarification (that proposal for a nationwide NRC has not been discussed yet), it is a non-issue. As for NPR, it is not a policy decision, or part of the party manifesto…that the format of questions cannot change.”
The Union government, he said, “sought our suggestion (on NOR), and we suggested sticking to the 2010 format”. Sushil Modi added that the resolution does not say that the government will not implement NRC but only reads, “there is no need of NRC in Bihar”.
While leaders at the national level refused to comment on it officially, privately many of them said the resolution came as a “shock”. One leader said, “I do not know what happened. It’s a JD(U) government (with BJP as the smaller partner), and the Chief Minister took the decision.”
On Tuesday, the resolution was brought in in a dramatic fashion in the House following Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav’s demand for a discussion on CAA-NPR-NRC. After the Speaker allowed it, the Chief Minister, while speaking on it, initially referred to statements by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and RJD leaders Lalu Prasad and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh on atrocities against minorities in Pakistan. This was seen as going along expected lines by an NDA leader.
But during a break in the Assembly session, Nitish is learnt to have met Opposition leaders, including RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, and there was a unanimous decision to bring in resolution that there would be no NRC in Bihar with reference to the PM’s statement on it, and adopting NPR only in its 2010, UPA-era format. There was, however, no message on the resolution to Nitish’s ally BJP.
Some BJP leaders – Sanjeev Chourasia, Nitin Navin, Vinod Singh, among others – apparently got wind of the development and appeared uncomfortable, but they remained silent. In the House, the party was left with no option but to back the resolution.
The central leadership thereafter reportedly asked state leaders not to speak against it publicly. BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal did not comment on the resolution. The first and only reaction on the BJP’s official stand came with Sushil Modi’s tweet late Tuesday evening. He posted: “PM Narendra Modi had already clarified that there would be no NRC. Now Assembly has unanimously passed a resolution that NRC would not be implemented and NPR would be implemented as per 2010 format. There is no need to produce any document in proof…nobody would now get a chance to mislead people on citizenship and do politics over it.”
On Wednesday, Modi defended it and said the government is committed to implement CAA in Bihar.
LJP patriarch and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan said, “We were all along saying that NPR in its old format should be followed. We welcome the Bihar Assembly’s resolution. The PM has already clarified that there would be no NRC.”
In Delhi, BJP leaders tried to maintain that the state’s decision to implement NPR is “fine”, because the “questions it decided to avoid are optional.”
Maintaining that the BJP does not have “many choices” in Bihar, but to go with Nitish and his party, a senior party leader said, “Contesting a state election, which is just months away, alone would make it a triangular fight. Any split in our joint support base would help RJD.”