The ejection of Sushil Kumar Modi from Bihar’s politics does not augur well for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. It is quite worrying for Kumar because Modi, his boon companion in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will not be there any longer to shoot his troubles within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
With the aggressive stance of the BJP after its impressive performance in the state elections, it would not be easier for Kumar to run the government as smoothly as it used to be in the company of Sushil Modi as his deputy chief minister. A new crop of the BJP leadership with two deputy chief ministers has already taken over the party and the government, portending the possibilities of separate power centres in the government.
In all likelihood, the BJP will now be aggressively pursuing its agenda in Bihar and will not yield to the diktats of Kumar. With only 43 MLAs in his kitty this time, Kumar may have more troubles in governance than he apparently faced in the Mahagathbandhan government in 2015 when he had altogether 71 MLAs.
Modi, considered the trouble-shooter of Kumar in the BJP, had played a silent role in amicably running the NDA government even at the cost of facing criticism for 'bowing before Kumar' by a section of BJP leaders, especially the younger generation within the saffron party. He acted as a bridge between the Janata Dal (U) leadership and the BJP via senior leaders like late Arun Jaitley and Ram Lal.
The BJP appears to be in a belligerent mood as the new crop of state leadership firmly believes that the NDA returned to power in the keenly contested state assembly elections mainly due to the ‘charisma’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who aggressively countered Tejashwi Prasad Yadav’s bid to usurp power in Bihar.
The Prime Minister successfully turned the tide in favour of the NDA in the last two legs of the three-phase state elections by harping on the ‘Jungle Raj’ narrative often used for the 15-year rule of Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi. In the first phase, the NDA, especially the Janata Dal (U) led by Kumar, had not performed well and had the situation prevailed, the NDA would not have regained power.
It remains to be seen to what extent the BJP would be able to clip Kumar’s wings in the next few months. The BJP has already taken the post of the state assembly speaker and some key portfolios like industry and disaster management. With 74 assembly seats, the BJP will certainly have more representation in the council of ministers than the JD(U) when the next cabinet expansion takes place.
The bond between Kumar and Sushil Modi goes back to early seventies when both of them were active in students’ politics of Patna University and in due course worked together as member of the triumvirate of the JP movement in 1974 – Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi.
They were active in the anti-Emergency movement in Bihar and arrested under MISA. Modi was also prime-mover in challenging clause 9 of the MISA, which was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. Modi along with Saryu Roy, Shivanand Tiwari and Lallan Singh had also filed the Public Interest Litigation in the Patna High Court over financial irregularities in the animal husbandry department referred to as fodder scam.
When the NDA came to power in November 2005, Sushil Kumar Modi was the ideal choice for the post of the deputy chief minister because he was not considered a threat to Kumar. Both of them shared a steady working relationship and Modi efficiently delivered his responsibilities as finance minister and other departments he held. Modi was also made the chairman of the group of finance ministers on GST by virtue of being the finance minister of Bihar. He was on the GST panel even in the UPA government.
Modi’s perceived ‘close association’ with Nitish has cost him dearly. A section of the BJP and RSS cadres were against Modi, accusing him of neglecting the voice of the party workers and for playing second fiddle to Kumar. During the 2020 polls, Modi was more aggressive and vocal against Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan than other BJP and RSS leaders.
During the 2010 state assembly elections, Kumar had not allowed then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to campaign for the NDA in Bihar. “Hamare paas ek Modi (Sushil Modi) hain hee to dusare Modi (Narendra Modi) ki kya jaroorat hai (We do not need Narendra Modi when we already have Sushil Modi with us),” Kumar had said showing his proximity with Modi.
Senior BJP leaders opined that Sushil Modi was ideal for the post of deputy chief minister till the time the party wanted to keep Kumar in good humour. Now, the BJP wants to assert its power as ‘big brother’ and to break the power equation that existed earlier. Modi’s exit is apparently aimed at preparing a future social equation in a bid to form the government on its own.
The BJP move to change the top leadership in Bihar indicates the party's gradual transition from the leaders groomed along with the Socialists during the anti-Congress movement to such leaders who were trained during and after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
The idea is to develop the crop of its own leadership with an ideologically strident attitude, keeping a balanced social equation in mind. The party is also working on the strategy to stay relevant without Kumar and therefore focusing on luring the support of the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) and Mahadalit community.
It seems the BJP is trying to replicate the Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka model in an altered fashion in Bihar by appointing two deputy chief ministers from the backward castes and from the EBC category. The two deputy Chief Ministers have been low-profile leaders and loyal to the central leadership.
Since Modi has been a loyal and disciplined soldier of the RSS and BJP, he is expected to be elevated to the union council of ministers on a suitable post or may be given organisational responsibilities. But Kumar will have to work with a new team which is not so open and friendly, if not hostile.