Chief Minister Nitish Kumar spoke to the Bihar assembly this morning and moved his political counters away from the BJP on the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). Significantly, Kumar restated the line that his top aide, Prashant Kishor, has been declaring - that there will be no implementation of the National Register Of Citizens (NRC) in Bihar.
"We can have a special discussion on the CAA. If everyone wants, parliament can debate CAA again," Kumar professed. This groups him, a BJP partner, with 11 Chief Ministers from opposition parties who have said the NRC cannot be allowed in their states.
Kumar, whose ideological flexibility is legendary, has taken his time to subscribe to a rethink on CAA.
The Bihar elections are due later this year and like in West Bengal and Assam, which will vote next year, the CAA and the NRC as its signature cohort are likely to have a major impact because of the religious filter they create for citizenship.
While Nitish Kumar was ascertaining how and whether to declare any stand on the CAA, Kishor has gone on record in recent weeks to take on the CAA and NRC. Apart from his day job as an-office bearer of Kumar's party, Kishor, 43, also runs the country's most successful political consultancy which has as its USP the fact that it is "ideology agnostic".
PK, as he is referred to across the political spectrum, originally worked on the BJP's campaign to make Narendra Modi the Prime Minister in 2014, then allied with Nitish Kumar, and has also served as consultant for Jagan Mohan Reddy, Amarinder Singh of the Congress before adding Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal to his client rolodex.
His one failure was the total demolition of the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
PK has repeatedly gone public on the perils of the CAA/NRC and publicly asked Kumar not to implement both in Bihar. PK had also hit out at the Congress and said it must take a public position of unequivocally not allowing the CAA/NRC.
After the Congress, helmed by interim president Sonia Gandhi, cleared a resolution yesterday asking the Modi government to repeal the CAA, PK appeared to take credit for it on Twitter and thanked the Gandhis.
PK apparently believes that the Gandhis overruled a sect of the Congress that wanted to take a less categorical stand on the issue of the CAA, worried about how it might alienate Hindu voters.
What all this accrues for Nitish Kumar is significant - he used Kishor as the canary in the coal mine to test the BJP's patience and poll public opinion.
After the first Kishor intervention on December 15, Home Minister Amit Shah, in an interview to ABP, said that the BJP would contest Bihar under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. Promptly the next day, Bihar allowed the process of National Population Register (NPR) to start.
But the growing and widespread protests against the CAA/NRC, the situation in Assam and West Bengal, appear to have persuaded the Bihar Chief Minister to exercise a nuanced challenge to the BJP's big moves.
Shah will now have to offer him additional sweeteners including a few cabinet posts in the cabinet reshuffle widely expected post the Union Budget to get Nitish Kumar to desist from outright condemnation of the CAA.
Kumar's intellectual companion, as he describes Pawan Verma, a Rajya Sabha MP from his party, has also been vehemently against the CAA/NRC. The fact that both PK and Pawan Verma continue to enjoy a close relationship with Kumar after their public defiance of his earlier line is significant.
Kumar has one goal: to return as Chief Minister of Bihar. He will somersault in or out of any alliance or position to ensure this.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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