Patna: Senior Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi is facing a backlash from within his party for backing Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and at the heart of the row is an old BJP bogey — caste.
Modi, the Bihar deputy chief minister, had tweeted in support of Nitish after calls from within the BJP to replace the chief minister, whose Janata Dal (United) is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
“Nitish Kumar is the Captain of NDA in Bihar & will remain its Captain in next assembly elections in 2020 also. When Captain is hitting 4 & 6 & defeating rivals by inning where is the Q of any change,” Modi tweeted on 11 September.
@NitishKumar is the Captain of NDA in Bihar & will remain its Captain in next assembly elections in 2020 also.When Captain is hitting 4 & 6 & defeating rivals by inning where is the Q of any change.
— Sushil Kumar Modi (@SushilModi) September 11, 2019
The row was triggered by BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan who on 9 September urged Nitish to shift to Delhi and leave Bihar to the “BJP and the second-rung JD(U) leadership” ahead of the 2020 assembly elections.
The JD(U) has reacted with outrage but that has been overshadowed by the sustained attack on Sushil Modi from within the BJP. “It’s hard to guess if Nitish Kumar is the target or Sushil Kumar Modi,” a BJP MLA said on the continuing row.
“The surprising thing is that the central leadership of the party is not even pondering the issue right now. The statements made are due to personal reasons,” BJP MLA Gyanendra Kumar Gyanu said, hinting at the caste angle.
Modi, on his part, stuck to his stance. “Why should the BJP ditch Nitish Kumar? The BJP and JD(U) have the same social base — non-Yadav and non-Muslim votes,” he told ThePrint. “When we join hands, the opposition gets wiped out because the votes come together.”
A ‘casteist attack’
Aides of Modi, a backward caste leader, allege that there is a casteist angle to the attacks aimed at the Bihar deputy chief minister. They point to a pattern — nearly all the leaders criticising Modi belong to the upper castes.
Among the first to slam Modi was senior BJP leader Dr C.P. Thakur, a Bhumihar. “The decision to ally or not to ally or who will be the CM face is to be decided by our central leadership,” said the octogenarian Rajya Sabha MP. First-time MLA Mritunjay Tiwari, a Brahmin who is also the state BJP vice-president, followed, declaring that Modi’s views are his personal opinion and not of the party’s.
Even Sanjay Paswan, who initiated the controversy, held a long meeting with Union minister Giriraj Singh in Delhi last Thursday. Singh, a Bhumihar, does not share a warm relationship with the deputy CM.
“A section of upper castes feel that they have been at the receiving end of the BJP-JDU alliance,” said a BJP leader. “They feel that Nitish has been responsible for taking away Lok Sabha seats such as Jehanabad and Bhagalpur that were previously thought to be upper caste seats.”
The BJP had for long been considered an upper-caste party in Bihar but from 1995, the emergence of the backward caste leaders such as Modi, Nand Kishore Yadav and Prem Kumar helped in changing that perception. The party began gaining credibility among backward caste voters.
“The upper caste leaders still resent this fact and use every opportunity to hit back,” said a Sushil Modi supporter.
A section of the BJP has also hit out at Sanjay Paswan. “Unless a statement comes from party general secretary Bhupendra Yadav or Amit Shah, all statements on Bihar are politically irrelevant,” said a senior leader.