The Alacrity of Sushil Modi's Removal Doesn't Bode Well for BJP in Bihar

A story often repeated in Bihar's political circles is that in the 1990s, Amit Shah had attempted to meet with a powerful Sushil Modi but had failed to secure an appointment.

Patna: Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s move to remove the former deputy chief minister of Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi – a Bharatiya Janata Party stalwart who played a pivotal role in building the National Democratic Alliance with Nitish Kumar in Bihar – is likely to have a long-term impact on the politics of the state.

The alacrity with which ‘Moditva’ inspired BJP has chosen to dispense with its own does not augur well for BJP.

The manner in which Shah used Rajnath Singh – a Union minister like him, who is in the queue to join the moribund ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ himself – to influence Sushil to choose Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi as his ‘successors’ has flummoxed political circles in Bihar.

Also read: In a Surprise Move, BJP Says Sushil Modi Won’t Be Bihar Deputy CM Again

Speculation is rife that the BJP leadership might ‘rehabilitate’ Sushil in the Union council of ministers. Talks are also doing the rounds that the Modi-Shah duo is keen to divulge power from Sushil and his team of long-term associates Nandkishore Yadav and Prem Kumar – the remaining two of the comparatively ‘moderate’ Vajpayee-Advani era – to the ‘yes men’ committed to the politics of polarisation.

Bihar elections

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) President Nitish Kumar and state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal during an election rally, in Sasaram, Friday, October 23, 2020. Photo: PTI

But will Sushil get the respectability which he enjoyed as a deputy of Nitish? Or, will he be in the bracket of Nirmala Sitharaman, Piyush Goel, Smriti Irani, Devendra Fadnavis, and Bhupendra Yadav who enjoy the goodwill of the prime minister and Union home minister?

Or, will he be like Rajnath Singh from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh who will hold power until he gradually slips into the role of his erstwhile icons, Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi?

Sushil Modi’s administrative and political acumen

The Modi-Shah led BJP must be aware of Sushil’s political acumen. For years, he has shown dexterity in operating under the broader framework of the RSS-BJP philosophy.

Sushil has a unique record, he has never lost an election in his life, be it Lok Sabha or state assembly. Even as a student leader during the Jayaprakash Narayan movement, he never lost an election.

The Wire’s comprehensive profile as recently as November 1 details Sushil’s role in building the NDA in Bihar. Not only has he worked diligently as a deputy to Nitish, but he has also served as state’s finance and commercial taxes minister for several years.

Therefore, it is not without reason that Nitish has equated Sushil with history’s Bhamashah, Mewar king Maharana Pratap’s finance minister, who helped the Maharana tide over deep financial crisis.

It was only because Sushil had manned the finance portfolio and had been meticulous with drawing up the budget that Nitish could realise his favoured ‘growth with justice’.

Growth of NDA in Bihar and Sushil’s leadership

Even diehard opponents of Sushil have not questioned his administrative capabilities.

He was the general secretary of the Patna University Students’ Union when Lalu Prasad Yadav was its president in early 1970s. The flamboyant Lalu used to describe Sushil as ‘his secretary’ when the former became the chief minister and Sushil was an MLA on the opposition benches in the Bihar Assembly in 1990s.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar with deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi. Credit: PTI

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar with deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi. Credit: PTI

When reporters asked Lalu about his views on Amit Shah during the 2015 election campaign, Lalu said, “Iee (Amit Shah) kaun neta hai? Kab netaa bana? Sushil tou mera secretary thaa. Sushil ke baar-e mein poochho. Iee itna mota hai ki lift mein phans jaata hai. Iee kya rajneeti karega. Sushil thoda theek hai (Who is Amit Shah? When did he become leader? Sushil was my secretary. You should ask me about Sushil. Amit Shah is too fat to fit in the lift; he is not fit for politics. Sushil is a bit better).”

Sushil had grown taller in politics in the 1980s and 1990s, drawing the attention of the BJP patriarchs, Vajpayee, Advani, Joshi. He was also the chosen favourite of Kailashpati Mishra, the founder of Jan Sangh and BJP in Bihar.

Also read: BJP and LJP Are Hacking Away at Nitish Kumar’s Influence, Perhaps Irrevocably

It was on Sushil’s insistence that Vajpayee visited Pararia, to visit victims of rape by policemen, in the 1980s and made his historic announcement, “Rape karn-e walon ko pran dand milna chahiya (Rapists should be subjected to capital punishment).” Vajpayee had chosen young Sushil to be with him during Pararia visit.

When Sushil attained the position to rub shoulders with the likes of Vajpayee and Advani, Narendra Modi was virtually an unknown even in the Sangh Parivar’s scheme of things. No one knew about Amit Shah either. Old timers in the BJP still recount how Amit Shah had once come to Patna to meet Sushil in the early 1990s but had failed to secure an appointment with the latter.

Sushil was a permanent ‘fixture’ of Advani’s during the latter’s many yatras through Bihar in the 1990s. Vajpayee and Advani had chosen Sushil to operate as a ‘key man’ to build the NDA with Nitish at its helm. And Sushil did it, managing all the intricacies and complexities that cropped up with Nitish rebelling against Narendra Modi and then coming back to the NDA fold.

BJP game plan in Bihar

The grapevine has it that the BJP is trying to tighten its noose around Nitish through its ‘loyalists’, after the strength of JD(U) was woefully depleted with 43 seats in the state assembly, while the BJP had come out shining with 74 seats.

Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi

BJP’s Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi have been appointed as deputy chief ministers of Bihar. Photo: PTI

The party has chosen Tarkishore Prasad, known for winning minority-dominated Kathiar segment through polarisation, and Renu Devi, a Nonia woman with little political experience. It is unclear as to how Sushil ‘chose’ them to take his place or how deeply Rajnath may have influenced this decision making.

Also read: Bihar Elections: No Matter the Results, the BJP Is Likely to Come Out on Top

In fact, it is known to many that Tarkishore, Renu, and even Giriraj Singh, Mangal Pandey, and Nityanand Rai owe their rise in the party to Sushil. Many of them still defer to him.

Haunting questions for Nitish Kumar  

On the other hand, despite his depleted strength, Nitish is an old and experienced warhorse who had scripted the fall of the mighty Lalu-Rabri regime in 2005.

Nitish Kumar

Nitish Kumar takes oath as the chief minister of Bihar on November 16, 2020. Photo: Facebook/NitishKumarJDU

Can Modi-Shah duo rein in Nitish – a wily leader known for operating in complex situations with dexterity – through their yes men so easily?

Also read: Nitish Kumar May Have Weakened, But He Remains a ‘Force’ in Bihar Politics

Will the transfer of power from Sushil and his team to the likes of Tarkishore and Renu be that smooth?

Will Nitish – a product of the Ram Manohar Lohia-Jayaprakash Narayan-Karpoori Thakur school of socialism – settle cosily in the chair of the chief minister, letting a Moditvalaced Hindutva steamroll Bihar? One has to bear in mind that Bihar had been a land of violent socialist and Naxalite movement for a long time.

Will Nitish work as a rubber stamp, allowing the BJP to move on with the Gujarat model, so unhindered?

These questions hold the key to the survival of the NDA in the long run.

Nalin Verma is a senior journalist and author of Gopalganj to Raisina, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s autobiography. He has also authored The Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar.