The outcome of the recently held Delhi assembly elections and, before that, of Jharkhand, has clearly indicated that people are going to vote for a party that delivers on its promises, not just harps on Hindutva, nationalism and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). To bring the CAA and then the NRC/NPR is a trick to polarise communities, but it will also adversely affect large populations, such as Dalits, Adivasis, SC/STs, other backward castes.
For communal harmony and economic stability, the government must find a way out of this CAA imbroglio sooner than later, keeping its own political ambitions aside. After all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the new BJP under him have always talked of nation first, party later. The government must practise what it preaches.
Though the BJP may say that it is not going to climb down from its poll planks of Hindutva, nationalism and the CAA despite the humiliating defeats in Delhi and Jharkhand, chances are it may have to tweak its poll strategy in the impending Bihar and West Bengal elections. There has been loss of life and property in the clashes over the CAA in Delhi. Although the BJP could get its way in the Lok Sabha elections in Bihar due to other reasons, it will be very difficult to repeat its performance in this assembly election as the people of Bihar and West Bengal believe in the agenda of social justice.
With students protesting in a large number of universities in Delhi and across the country against the CAA and related issues, and a large section of people, mainly women, still on dharna on the streets, as in Shaheen Bagh, things are not easy for the BJP.
After backing the CAA in Parliament, JD(U) chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar declared that the NRC would not be implemented in the state, and he also got the resolution passed in the Assembly. The BJP had declared Nitish as the NDA’s face only after realising that going solo could be detrimental. State politics is abuzz with speculation over whether Nitish will ditch the BJP. Incidentally, the recent Supreme Court judgment on promotions for Scheduled Castes in government jobs not being a right is also being used by him to attack the BJP — he wants a public assurance that the Centre will get the ruling overturned in Parliament. He knows that after the Delhi assembly results, the BJP’s bargaining power has diminished.
During the 2015 assembly elections, the JD(U) won 71 seats\ and the BJP won 53. Through the developments after the Maharashtra elections, it is clear that the BJP will not settle for a secondary role in a coalition. Hence, the situation in Bihar is vexing, as both parties will fight for a greater role in the coalition, and none can claim to be at an advantage on the basis of last election’s results.
In West Bengal, where the BJP has been desperately trying to increase its strength electorally, the CAA and NRC could damage its poll prospects as a section within the party is of the view that the top brass should focus on development instead of polarisation. The leadership crisis in the BJP’s state unit is also an issue, which is worrying the party top brass.
Mamata Banerjee has been a strong critic of the CAA, NRC and NPR. The West Bengal assembly has passed a resolution urging the Centre to repeal the CAA. Banerjee has declared that the NRC will not be implemented in the state. With Shah admitting recently that hate speeches by some BJP leaders in Delhi may have led to the party’s defeat, it could well be an indication that the party has belatedly realised that overkill on Hindutva and CAA may not always pay.
Ever since Modi’s second innings began, the BJP has pushed forward with its core Hindutva agenda. In perhaps the most visible majoritarian move, the government abrogated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that conferred special status to Jammu and Kashmir and revoked Article 35A. The Supreme Court ruled that disputed land in Ayodhya be given to Hindu claimants for a temple. Finally, the government passed a polarising CAA.
The amended citizenship legislation and suggestion of a nationwide NRC, like the registry published in Assam in October, have created apprehensions over the country’s future as a secular state. These simmering fault lines have led to rising unrest across India. While the protests against the CAA have been widespread, the reasons for opposition have varied.
Across the country, opposition to the CAA is rooted in claims that it threatens the Constitution and secular history by using religion as criterion for citizenship. Others fear the new Act will threaten the citizenship of Muslims in particular by keeping them off the list of religiously persecuted populations.
These protests have drawn in not only the common citizens, irrespective of caste and religion, but also students from universities and educational institutions across the country. Either the government has been unable to dispel doubts on the ground or it does not want to do so for obvious electoral gains. Little wonder, then, that the protests refuse to die down.
In the NDA regime, there is surging unemployment and crores of people have lost jobs due to notebandi. Many small companies have closed down because of the botched implementation of the GST, and centrally sponsored schemes have failed, like the Ujjwala Yojana where the poor are unable to refill their cylinders. Banks are in a critical condition, the country’s debt burden has increased and no black money has returned from abroad.
The outcome of the Delhi and Jharkhand elections and the violence due to inaction by the Central government in Delhi will have an adverse impact on Bihar and West Bengal elections for the NDA. Local issues will dominate, on which the NDA has disappointed the people. It has not fulfilled promises and only created unrest due to a divisive politics.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 7, 2020 under the title ‘Two states and a wall’. The writer is a senior politician and former Union minister.