First came the opposition to the triple talaq bill. Then the disagreement on the abrogation of Article 370. And when things seem to be settling down within the NDA, the BJP’s demand for National Register for Citizens (NRC) in the Seemanchal region has once again brought uneasiness in the alliance in Bihar.
The two alliance partners, the Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal(United), have come face-to-face after the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP and senior RSS leader Rakesh Sinha initiated the demand for NRC in four Bihar districts bordering West Bengal that have strong Muslim population.
While Sinha and few other BJP leaders are insistent that the influx of foreigners in these four districts has adversely impacted their local demography, JD(U) leaders, especially its minority face Gulam Rasool Baliyawi and party principal general secretary KC Tyagi, have criticised it as a case of minority hunting. The JD(U)’s vice-president Prashant Kishor had also criticised NRC in his recent tweet.
“We strongly favour NRC in the Seemanchal region. The region is replete with Bangladesh nationals, who have illegally migrated and settled there over the last several years,” said Sinha, who had been one of the most vocal protagonists of Hindutva politics. “There is an urgent need for NRC in Kishanganj, Katihar, Purnea and Araria districts,” he added.
Though no senior BJP leader has come out strongly in support of Sinha’s demand, none of them has opposed it either. In fact, Sinha has the silent support of several of his party’s leaders, who are only preferring to stay away from making any statement.
The BJP and RSS have been eyeing to consolidate their position in Seemanchal for a long time but have failed to penetrate because of the high Muslim population in the region. Muslims account for 67.70% of the population in Kishanganj, 38% in Purnea, 43% in Katihar and more than 40% in Araria. However, Muslims only form 16.5% of Bihar’s 105 million population as per 2011 census.
The BJP, in a tactical move and taking into account the Muslim factor, gave four Lok Sabha seats to the JD(U) and contested only Araria earlier this year. The JD(U) won Purnia, Katihar and Madhepura and the Congress managed to win the Kishanganj seat, a traditional Congress bastion which it has won eight times so far. The BJP and JD(U) together won 17 and 16 seats respectively out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
In the 2015 assembly elections, the Grand Alliance, of which the JD(U) was then a part, had won 29 seats out of 37 seats in the Seemanchal and Kosi regions. Out of these, the JD(U) had won 14, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) seven and Congress eight. The BJP could manage to win just seven seats, while one seat had gone in favour of CPI(ML).
The assembly elections in Bihar are due in 2020. The GA comprising the RJD, JD(U) and Congress had won 178 out of 243 seats while the BJP could win 53 seats only in the last state polls. The JD(U) returned to the NDA’s fold in 2017. The alliance, also comprising the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), won a whopping 39 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, almost clean-sweeping the polls.
“The BJP’s demand for NRC is irking,” a JD(U) leader, who did not want to be named, said.
“The 2020 polls are knocking at the doors and such announcements will only displease the minorities, who have in the LS polls, voted for NDA in large numbers,” he added.
The JD(U)’s prominent Muslim face Baliyawi went on to seek NRC across the country. “Muslims in Seemanchal are not afraid of NRC but my question is why the minorities are being targeted through such absurd steps,” he asked.
Another senior JD(U) leader and Bihar industries minister Shyam Rajak said there is no outsider or foreigner in Bihar. “All those living here are Biharis,” he said.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is also the JD(U) president, has repeatedly said that his party is not in favour of NRC.
“NRC is a very sensitive issue and it was implemented in Assam following clearance from the Supreme Court. But there is no need for NRC in Bihar or other states in the country. Our party is fully against sending citizens outside the country in the name of NRC,” said JD(U)’s principal general secretary Tyagi.
Prashant Kishor, who is an election strategist and close aide of Nitish Kumar, had two days ago opposed NRC, saying that it is a ‘botched up’ process meant to leave lakhs of people as foreigners in their own country.