Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is the first from the NDA camp to openly reject the implementation of NRC. Is he playing hardball?
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar today reiterated his party’s stand on the implementation of the National Register of Citizens, stating in the Bihar Assembly that there was no question of the rollout of the proposed law in his state. The Bihar Chief Minister stressed that the Citizenship Amendment Act should be discussed separately and not read with the NRC. The statement by the Janata Dal (United) president is consistent with his party’s stand on the NRC, but defies the impression that all is well in the NDA in Bihar where the Bharatiya Janata Party is also a constituent.
While Nitish has cited the clarification from Prime Minister Narendra Modi — that all discussions on NRC were limited to the context of Assam as per a settlement with the Centre and the Supreme Court — the repeated statements by his own party leaders make his remarks significant. From Pavan Varma to Prashant Kishor, a significant section of the JD(U) had gone public against the Chief Minister’s stand to support the government during the passage of the CAB in both houses of parliament. The JD(U) eventually supported the CAA in both houses and played a key role in helping the Centre pass the test in Parliament.
However, Prashant Kishor’s constant criticism of the CAA, when seen with Nitish Kumar’s reassertion, suggests that there may be more than meets the eye. The JD(U) and the BJP have had differences over seat-sharing in the past. With the Assembly elections approaching later this year, there is good reason to believe that there is a political game at play here.
The JD(U) is clearly looking to position itself as the big brother among the alliance partners and a larger share of seats to contest in the upcoming state elections. Proposing a formula for seat-sharing soon after the Shiv Sena parted ways with the BJP to form a government with Congress and NCP, Kishor told News18, “The ratio of seat-sharing has to be basis 2009 and 2015. In 2009, JDU fought on 142 seats and BJP on 101, So the ratio was 1:1.4. In 2015, JDU won 71 and BJP 53. Here again, the ratio is 71/53, which equals to 1:1.35.”
As far as the BJP’s stand on the matter is concerned, it has maintained that the seat-sharing would remain 50:50 as was the case for the Lok Sabha elections. Nitish Kumar has been projected as NDA’s face in Bihar. The decision has the stamp of Home Minister Amit Shah who has said that the NDA would contest the assembly polls under the Nitish’s leadership.
The message in Kishor’s proposal was clear – the JD(U) wishes to get the lion’s share as far as the number of seats is concerned. The BJP, in the JD(U)’s view, should be content with playing second fiddle. Ally trouble, especially in view of the Maharashtra debacle where it was forced out of power despite being the single largest party, could upset the BJP’s calculations. Add to that the Jharkhand poll drubbing and the prevailing atmosphere of protests and attempts to consolidate by the Opposition on the CAA and NRC issues and the JD(U) may just manage to push the BJP on the backfoot.