In a somewhat surprising assertion of an independent stand, NDA-ruled Bihar has joined several states that are helmed by Opposition parties, to make its position clear so far as the National Population Register and the National Register for Citizens are concerned. Which would suggest that even within the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, the constituents do not readily concur with some of the central government’s contentious citizenship initiatives.
Indeed, Bihar is the first state with an NDA government to adopt a unanimous resolution in the Assembly, seeking to stick to the proforma of the old NPR that was finalised in 2010. The state, therefore, is not against NPR per se. Notably however, it has adopted only the transgender column from the revised format that has been recommended by Amit Shah’s Home ministry.
This is reasonable enough not the least because of the Supreme Court’s recognition of this segment of the populace. Tuesday’s resolution does reflect Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s response to the Centre’s letter that had sought a feedback on NPR. This has been clothed with the fairly categoric assertion that the “National Register of Citizens is not required in Bihar”. No less critical must be the fact that the BJP members present in the House ~ the party has 54 MLAs ~ did not oppose the resolution when the Speaker, Vijay Kumar Choudhary, wanted to know if it had the consent of the Treasury and Opposition benches.
This may well be the first sign that the ruling party at the Centre is stepping back from its position on the NRC for the unanimity of the House was the striking feature of the legislative action. The Centre, it bears recall, had sought feedback on NPR from all states. Clearly, the Chief Minister has utilised the opportunity to communicate his government’s stand on both NRC and NPR.
He has, of course, defended the JD (U)’s support in Parliament to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), recalling previous statements by the former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and other Congress members demanding Indian citizenship for persecuted minorities from certain neighbouring countries. Thus far, only the non-NDA/BJP states ~ Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh ~ have passed resolutions against CAA. Citizenship is an intensely sensitive issue, one that offers little or no scope to either the ruling dispensations or the Opposition to score brownie points.
It concerns the people and still more in a state with a sizeable percentage of minorities. The unity of the Assembly, cutting across party lines, must be accorded primary legislative importance. Of far lesser moment are the claims of Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD that the Bihar Assembly has acted “under pressure from our demand”.
Or for that matter the Congress hailing Tuesday’s development as “the victory of the Opposition”. More important, there wasn’t even the faintest murmur of disapproval by the BJP members of the Assembly. Perhaps Amit Shah needs to chew over this ahead of Sunday’s planned public meeting in Kolkata.