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NRC And The N (Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar) Factor

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Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has already indicated that his party, Janata Dal United (JDU) will not implement National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Bihar. “Kaahe ka NRC? Bilkul laagu nahin hoga (NRC, what for? Will not at all be implemented), Nitish had told the reporters in Patna. However, just a few days after, alarmed at the spiralling of the Citizenship issue, his party has called upon its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ally BJP to convene a meeting.

“If a meeting of the NDA is called, the JD(U) will welcome it. Given the conditions in the nation (over the anti-CAA protests), the meeting is very important,” party spokesperson, KC Tyagi, reportedly said.

Earlier, Nitish’s counterparts in some other states had stated that they were opposed to the NRC as well. Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik too had said his government does not support National Register of Citizens (NRC).

“The Citizenship Amendment Act has nothing to do with Indian citizens, it only deals with foreigners. The Biju Janata Dal MPs, both in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, had made it clear that we do not support NRC. I would like to appeal to our citizens to let peace prevail and not to indulge in rumour mongering,” Naveen told the media.

Incidentally, in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA government lacks majority, the N factor-Nitish and Naveen, the two strong regional Satraps- played the critical role in the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which has since become an Act (CAA- Citizenship Amendment Act).

Needless to say, the stance now maintained by Naveen and Nitish, following the widespread resentment against the Act across the country, has a come as a surprise to many.

Critics say, this is nothing but lip service and an effort to restore their image. “You do something and then say something else. It’s only lip service, has little meaning,” seasoned Odisha Congress leader, Panchanan Kanungo said.

According to Bhubaneswar based senior journalist and political commentator, Rajaram Satpathy, “These are plain rhetoric meant to satisfy their constituencies. They may oppose NRC, but can’t block it, nothing beyond that. Because, Citizenship comes under the Union list,” Satpathy, held.
However, he viewed that a leader or person’s secular status shouldn’t be questioned only because his or her support to the Act. “Because, there is nothing un-secular about the CAA,” Satpathy, thought.”
Interestingly, Naveen and his Bihar counterpart share many commonalities. Suave, soft spoken, gentle, immensely popular but shrewd players in the game of politics, both are well known and highly admired for their simple lifestyle and viewed as clean. Both are liked and respected by their critics too.

Products of coalition era of Indian politics, both were part of the cabinet of the NDA government led by late Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Often viewed as undisputed mass leaders of two of the poorest states in the country, Naveen and Nitish enjoy an enviable image across the country and are much sought after allies.

The similarities do not end here. In their respective states, Naveen (for his pro women centric initiatives) and Nitish (cycles to girl students, liquor ban etc) are immense popular among the women voters. Both have proven administrative abilities. While Naveen is into the record fifth successive term with a thumping majority in the 2019 elections-he has won all elections since his arrival in Odisha politics in 2000, Nitish has cemented his position in Bihar from 2010.

Incidentally, as Chief Ministers, both had first headed governments in alliance with the BJP. However, Naveen, severed his ties with the saffron party in 2009, while Nitish, did so after Narendra Modi was declared as the BJP’s campaign committee head ahead of the 2014 general elections. Though, Nitish’s JDU had a brief partnership with his friend turned bête noire Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, he returned to the NDA fold in 2017.

Whether with the NDA or out of it, more often than not, both have maintained-it is perceived- a relatively soft stance towards the BJP. Yet, both are held in high esteem for their secular credentials. On certain issues too, they have been critical of the NDA, as well.

However, unlike Naveen, the challenges before Nitish are many. First of all Bihar’s population is more than double that of Odisha and in order to rule the state, he must have at least 122 legislators (total assembly seats 244) on his side. In the 147 seat Odisha assembly, Naveen requires (though in all the elections he has secured a thumping success) at least 74 MLAs.

While, Naveen’s BJD, alone has been extremely successful in electoral battles, Nitish’s JD(U) hasn’t been able to secure simple majority in the assembly on its own. For having the adequate numbers, JD(U) has always needed support of an alliance partner.

In Bihar’s politics, caste equations play a pivotal role. That’s not the case in Odisha. In the BJD, Naveen’s the final word, unchallenged. No leader of his party has ever dared to raise voice against Naveen. But, Nitish is not as lucky though, for, he has faced dissent from within his ranks. On the CAA issue, already former diplomat (IFS officer) and JD( U) Rajya Sabha Member Pavan K Varma has made his dissatisfaction, public.

Last not the least, Naveen, with a stunning performance in 2019 elections, is into the seventh month of his fifth innings. On the other hand, Nitish has an electoral test ahead as Bihar goes to polls in less than a year (October 2020).

When the entire opposition rallied against the contentious demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) , the JD(U) chose to stand rock solid with  the NDA government. It though opposed the striking down of the instant triple talaq and the repeal of the Article 370 in Jammu And Kashmir. However, BJD backed the NDA ally on all such instances.

However, Nitish had never felt the same heat which he is experiencing following his party’s support to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) it became an act after it was passed by both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha . Moreover, an anti NRC stance is a political compulsion for Nitish, not for Naveen, though.

Naveen and Nitish are credited for the turnaround they brought in their respective states. Nitish too had earned the sobriquet as sushasan babu for putting an end to lawlessness and mafia raj in Bihar. He was once viewed as a prime ministerial candidate.

Experts say, the critics of the Act and those protesting against it have not understood it properly and once they went through the law completely, they would realise that the Act is in the interest of the nation. However, Nitish can’t wait for that. In the challenging political demography of the state, the good works of the past alone don’t ensure success in elections. For, in politics, it’s the present, not past, that is more important. No one knows that better than the Bihar strongman.

About Debi Mohanty

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