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Union home minister Amit Shah on Tuesday visited Bihar for the third time in the last 72 days, even though there are no polls around the corner there.
The recent frequency of his visits is curious given that Shah did not address a single public meeting in Bihar in the run up to the assembly elections there in October-November 2020, citing ‘bad health’. In Shah’s absence, the 2020 electoral battle was left to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who was then part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
In contrast, ahead of the West Bengal assembly polls in March-April 2021, Shah arrived in the state for the first time on the night of November 4, 2020 to kick off the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) pre-poll campaign.
It now appears that Bihar has suddenly become crucial for Shah. He has taken time off from his busy schedule – as Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are going to elect a new house in the next few weeks – to take a trip to Sitab Diara in Bihar, the birth place of ‘Lok Nayak’ Jaya Prakash Narayan on the occasion of his 12oth birth anniversary on October 11.
There he shared dais with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, since Sitab Diara is on Bihar-Uttar Pradesh border. While unveiling a 15ft statue of Narayan, Shah lambasted the duo of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad – two notable disciples of the Lok Nayak – for sitting in the lap of the same Congress party against which they had started their political lives.
This visit came mere weeks after the previous one when on September 23, the home minister was in the Purnea and Kishanganj districts of Bihar in the state’s Seemanchal region.
Seemanchal has a sizeable Muslim population and the BJP has, in the past, often raised the issue of what it calls ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’.
The Seemanchal visit, in turn, came less than two months after Shah’s previous excursion to the not-poll-bound state.
On July 31, Shah took part in an all-India convention of front organisations of the BJP in Patna. Chief minister Nitish Kumar was still part of the NDA at the time and Shah appealed to the state party leaders not to be too critical of the Janata Dal (United) supremo as the NDA would go for the 2024 Lok Sabha and 2025 assembly polls under his leadership.
The Union home minister was well aware of Kumar’s plans to part ways with the BJP, and his plea to party men not to annoy the latter any more failed to yield positive results.
On August 9, Kumar ditched the BJP and joined hands with the RJD, Congress and Left parties.
Why Bihar is a worry for the BJP
The problem for the saffron party is that unlike in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Assam, where it has prominent faces in the form of Yogi Adityanath, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, B.S. Yediyurappa, Devendra Fadnavis and Himanta Biswa Sarma respectively, in Bihar, it seems hardly to have anyone of their stature to take on the Opposition’s ‘mahagathbandhan‘ (grand alliance).
However, the BJP does have one important leader from the state – former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi.
Sushil Modi played a leading role in the 1974 JP movement and has a strong Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) background. However, though he is more senior than many of the saffron party’s top leaders at present, he is just a Rajya Sabha MP, having had his wings clipped for his past actions.
Apart from Sushil Modi, there are two other relatively senior backward caste leaders for the BJP in the state, – Nand Kishore Yadav and Prem Kumar – but the party does not trust them as it suspects that they too are close to the former deputy chief minister. It is, therefore, ironic that Sushil Modi was present on the dais at Shah’s recent functions.
As the number two in the Bihar cabinet before the JD(U) and BJP first snapped ties on June 16, 2013, Sushil Modi had repeatedly projected Kumar as the prime minister material. Besides, he did not give much importance at the time to Shah or erstwhile Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
Now that the situation has changed, Sushil Modi is no longer in the good books of the current BJP’s top echelon. He, along with Nand Kishore Yadav and Prem Kumar, was not given green signal from the central leadership of the party to join the cabinet after the November 10, 2020 election victory of the NDA.
Although Sanjay Jaiswal was made the chief of the Bihar BJP, and Tarkishor Prasad and Reenu Devi were made the two deputy chief ministers, the truth is that the three lack the experience and talent needed to take on the emerging challenge from Kumar and company.
It is for these reasons that Shah has come to Bihar to work overtime; to pick up the gauntlet thrown by Kumar, Lalu Yadav and the rest of the grand alliance.
It has been observed that barring the initial years, the Modi-Shah-led BJP has not fared well in state polls where it has no strong regional satraps. West Bengal is the best example of this, where the party left no stone unturned to defeat the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, but faced a humiliating rout. In Assam, the BJP felt that it could not win the election with incumbent Sarbananda Sonowal as the chief ministerial candidate. So former Congressman Sarma was brought in as a timely alternative.
While it is true that the saffron party was able to return to power in Gujarat in 2017 without any prominent, state-level leader, this was simply because the state is the home turf for Modi and Shah. Even then, the party’s tally fell down to 99 in 2017 – below the magic figure of 100 for the first time in the last quarter century.
Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura did not have regional stalwarts, yet the party won simply because they are small states and can not be compared with other larger ones.
With Kumar deserting the NDA and no prominent state level figure of his calibre in the BJP, the top brass of the party will have to, on one plea or the other, visit Bihar more frequently in the months to come.
Soroor Ahmed is a Patna-based freelance journalist.