NRC, NPR & Caste-Based Census – How Nitish Stumped BJP in Bihar

Nitish Kumar still has a firm hand over the reins & the BJP has been reduced to playing second fiddle in the state.

4 min read
PM Narendra Modi and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. Image used for representational purposes.

When the JDU voted for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the Parliament and senior leaders Pavan Varma and Prashant Kishore were thrown out of the party for questioning Nitish Kumar over his move, the episodes raised eyebrows. Many wondered whether the Bihar Chief Minister was still committed to his brand of politics, or if he had ceded too much ground to the BJP.

Interestingly, three decisive measures, taken a few months later, seem to indicate that the Bihar Chief Minister still has a firm hand over the state’s reins, and the BJP will have to be content playing second fiddle.


Nitish’s Triple Trump Cards

On 25 February, the Nitish Kumar government passed a resolution against implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Budget Session of the Bihar Assembly.

The same day, the government surprised everyone by adopting another resolution in the Assembly for implementing the National Population Register (NPR) in its 2010 form – which meant seeking information from the people, but without incorporating the contentious clauses provided in the updated manual.

“Those who repeatedly maintained that they won’t retreat an inch, had to run. Now, Bihar is one of the states which has refused to implement NPR and NRC, even when the BJP is in power in the state.”
Tejashwi Yadav, RJD leader

This was followed by Nitish’s masterstroke. On 27 February, Nitish government passed a resolution in Bihar assembly seeking to conduct a caste-based census in 2021. Essentially, all three resolutions were adopted unanimously.

The same BJP, which seems firm on the implementation of NPR across the country and continues to be ambiguous on NRC, was coerced into seconding the resolutions in Bihar.

NRC, NPR, Caste Census: Nitish’s Messages Are Loud And Clear

No senior BJP leader, so far, has unequivocally denied the possibility of NRC implementation in the future. At best, they have said that no discussions have been held over the issue, yet. On the issue of caste-based census, the party has made its intent clear by holding-up the release of data collected in 2011 – while the government has been in power for the last six years.

The BJP is set to implement the National Population Register (NPR), but Nitish Kumar sent a loud message that in Bihar, he would continue to rule the roost. With a swift, strategic move, Nitish Kumar also has sought to quell the rebellion in the JDU over CAA-NRC. If anyone had even an iota of doubt that the Bihar Chief Minister was losing the game to the BJP, the three resolutions are a testimony to the fact that he is back in the game.

What can’t be overlooked is that the JDU chief played his cards after Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that the next Assembly elections in Bihar will be fought under the leadership of Nitish Kumar again.

It seems the BJP has walked into a trap laid by the Bihar Chief Minister. Now, the Bihar BJP leader Sushil Modi is using the resolution against NRC to claim that this had been the stand of the state government all along.

Impact on Bihar Assembly Elections

With the three resolutions, Nitish Kumar, indeed, has endeavoured to reach out to Muslims, OBCs and Dalits in the state. Bihar politics is a sheer arithmetic of caste combination, and the resolutions are bound to play a crucial role in the upcoming elections.

Though, as of now, it’s difficult to foresee how Nitish Kumar will gain from it, but he has definitely made a calculative move. The ripple effect is evident in the manner in which the RJD has reacted over the proposed caste-based census.

Why is Caste-Based Census So Sensitive?

Caste-based census is an longstanding demand as no such census has been conducted in the country since 1931. For a very long time the demand was put on hold on the pretext that it will further divide the people along caste-lines. The proponents of caste-based census say that casteism still persists and a census in this regard will, at least, reveal the numbers, which will allow drawing up of policies for socially backward groups in a more realistic manner.

The non-availability of list of castes is another concern that needs to be addressed. In fact, we have too many to count, one for the Centre and one each for individual states. What complicates it further is that a particular caste could be in backward category in one list. while not figuring it in another list. Similarly, a list of OBCs in one state could be could differ from that of another state.

In 2011, a caste-based census was held. The, however, was not made public – neither by the UPA government, nor by the NDA government – even though 5000 crore rupees were spent in the process.

(The story was first published on QuintHindi and was translated to English by Om Tiwari.)

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