The first phase of the National Population Register in Bihar will be conducted between May 15 and May 28, Deputy Chief Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushil Kumar Modi said on Saturday, NDTV reported. Modi’s remarks came weeks after BJP ally Janata Dal (United) said it cannot support exercise till the Centre allays all apprehensions that it is the “first step towards the National Register of Citizens”.

“The NPR process in 2020 will be carried out between April 1 and September 30 in the country,” Modi said at a press conference in the state’s capital city Patna. “In Bihar it will be done between May 15 and May 28, 2020.”

The population register is linked to the census, due in 2021, and is described as “the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens”. The NRC is a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented migrants.

The Bihar deputy chief minister’s remarks were countered by Industries Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Shyam Rajak, who said he was not informed about any such decision. The minister said that it was more appropriate for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) to make such an announcement, adding that Modi may have made the remarks in his “personal capacity”.

Reacting to Modi’s statement, JD(U) spokesperson and former Rajya Sabha member Pavan Varma on Sunday wrote a letter to Nitish Kumar, urging him to “take a principled stand” against the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register. He asked Kumar to “reject the nefarious agenda to divide India and create a great deal of unnecessary social turbulence”.

Varma reminded Kumar of his “long-established secular vision” and asked him to give a clear-cut public statement on the matter. “The politics of principle cannot be sacrificed at the altar of short-term political gain”.

During his press conference, Modi asserted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had clarified that there were no discussions about the NRC. He also said that no state has the power to not implement the Citizenship Amendment Act or the population register.

“NPR and NRC are two different things,” he said, according to PTI. “No state including West Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan can refuse to implement the CAA or NPR as the Centre has the power to bring legislation over citizenship. Preparing NPR is a statutory provision which no state can refuse to implement.”

Last month, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stopped all work connected to the NPR. The chief ministers have also repeatedly expressed their disappointment with the amended Citizenship Amendment Act and refused to implement it.

On Friday, Vijayan wrote to 11 chief ministers of states ruled by parties other than the Bharatiya Janata Party, and asked them to take measures against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Kerala Assembly had on December 31 passed a resolution against the amended citizenship law.

At least 26 people have died in nationwide protests against the amended citizenship law and the proposed NRC. The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims.

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