If you listened only to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s supporters on Twitter, you would get the impression that nationwide protests against the Citizenship Act amendments, the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register are all based on malicious misinformation and lies.
Yet it has been clear that, since December, Opposition-ruled state governments and even BJP allies, like the Shiromani Akali Dal, have raised genuine concerns about the CAA-NRC-NPR combination, meaning it is not just the people on the streets. Now there is another voice in the mix: the BJP itself. Or, to be precise, the BJP’s Bihar unit.
On Tuesday, the Bihar Assembly passed a resolution against the implementation of the NRC in the state. It also resolved to have the NPR, which many see as the foundation on which an eventual NRC will be based, stick to the questions that had been asked in the same process in 2010, without additional ones about the date and place of parents’ birth.
Significantly, the Assembly resolutions were unanimous. That means the Members of Legislative Assembly from the BJP, in power in the state as the junior partner of the ruling Janata Dal (United), also voted to say that there will be no NRC in Bihar and the NPR will be in the 2010 format.
Various reports have suggested that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, of the JD(U), surprised the BJP MLAs with the resolution and did it as a cynical tactic to blunt an Opposition charge against his government ahead of elections later this year.
Even if that were the case, the BJP did not need to vote in favour of the resolution. Yet its MLAs did, making Bihar the first state of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance to acknowledge fears about the NRC and the NPR and to resolve not to carry out the former. It means the BJP now has contradictory stands.
If the concerns of the Bihar Assembly, including the BJP, are genuine ones, then the party cannot dismiss similar concerns from other assemblies ruled by the Opposition or indeed the questions raised by those who took to the streets against CAA-NRC-NPR.
Indeed, there can be no better proof that the Bihar Assembly’s concerns are genuine than the events of the last month: The Census itself is in danger as ordinary people fearful of losing their citizenship react with hostility over any data collection. These are fears sparked by a careless law and reckless rhetoric of the BJP. And the BJP-led government’s attempt to dismiss all these concerns as “anti-national” gave licence to anti-Muslim mobs roaming freely and perpetrating violence for three days in the national capital.
The Bihar BJP seems to have seen the light and recognised the fear and chaos caused by the policies of its central leadership. It may not have expected the move, but it decided to support Nitish Kumar’s attempt to prevent this chaos from spreading in Bihar.
The national BJP should take a leaf out of its state unit’s book and do the same: Stop work on the NPR, repeal the 2003 Citizenship Rules that are the foundation for an NRC, and amend the Citizenship Act so it does not introduce a religious test into India’s citizenship laws.