Janata Dal (United) national spokesperson Pavan Varma on Sunday wrote to his party president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, urging him to “take a principled stand” against the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register. He expressed surprise at a claim made by Kumar’s deputy, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushil Kumar Modi, that the population register exercise would be conducted in Bihar in May.

Modi’s remarks on Saturday came weeks after the JD(U) said it cannot support the population register exercise till the Centre allays all apprehensions that it is the “first step towards the National Register of Citizens”. The NRC is a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented migrants.

In his letter, Varma asked Kumar to “reject the nefarious agenda to divide India and create a great deal of unnecessary social turbulence”. He reminded him of his own “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,” he said. “India is greater than individual position or power or electoral success or failure or such transient considerations.”

“The choice before political leaders is stark: either to work to save the idea of India as a plural, composite, multi-religious nation in which there is respect for all faiths, and social harmony and peace prevails, or, to see it being divided by organized attempts at creating discord and acrimony among Indians on the basis of religion,” Varma told Kumar. He also said he was disappointed that the party ignored his request earlier and supported the “divisive and discriminatory” Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament.

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.