The unanimous Bihar legislative assembly resolution opposing the National Register of Citizens sends a strong and appropriate signal that BJP is backing away from the potentially disastrous exercise – whose Assam chapter has been denounced as a fiasco all round. Speculations of a nationwide NRC, fuelled by its presence in BJP’s 2019 manifesto and home minister Amit Shah’s electoral rhetoric, have triggered widespread disquiet. The resolution effectively sends the quixotic idea into cold storage.
On National Population Register (NPR) as well, BJP appears to be relenting by allowing the exclusion of three problematic questions related to date and place of birth of parents and place of last residence that didn’t feature in the last NPR. This is a pragmatic position taken in self-interest, that could even force opposition ruled states that see NPR as a precursor to NRC to also climb down. Communicating loud and clear that no NRC is in the works is important in light of attacks on government surveyors. Failure to allay minority fears will also hurt NPR and Census enumeration activities.
Just as it has diluted its position on NRC and NPR, BJP can also tweak CAA to make it more inclusive. Ascertaining persecution on a case by case basis can override deleterious CAA provisions that single out illegal migrants from some religions but not others – thus accommodating the genuine cases of Pakistani religious persecution that BJP has been highlighting, while being fair to all parties and not whipping up Muslim insecurities as well as constitutional questions of equal treatment of all religions. It is compromises of this sort that India’s divided polity – whose latest manifestation is devastating riots in the national capital even as President Trump came calling and India laid out the welcome mat – desperately needs. The Bihar BJP approach of striking common ground with partner JD(U) and rival RJD is a lesson for the Centre – which has pushed extreme and impractical measures like NRC and demonetisation without adequate consultation.
Such pragmatism is in BJP’s self-interest as well, as the party cannot rely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oratorical skills alone to tide over policy fiascos. At some point BJP will have to build bridges with its opponents. As the Supreme Court observed on Wednesday, it is “time for all parties to lower temperatures”. BJP as the ruling party must move away from hardline positions and explore a détente, as it just did in Bihar.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.