Patna: When the NDA came to power in Bihar in November 2005, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi was present as an observer for the legislative meeting of the alliance.
“Nitish Kumar and Sushil Kumar Modi will be the Ram and Laxman of Bihar politics,” Joshi has remarked.
But 15 years on, ‘Laxman’ faces the prospect of being left out of the new NDA ministry by the BJP central leadership, party sources told ThePrint.
When Nitish Kumar went to the Raj Bhavan to stake claim to form the government after being elected the leader of the NDA after its narrow win in the assembly elections, he skipped a question about whether Sushil Modi would continue to be the deputy CM.
“You will know soon” was all Nitish was willing to say.
Even Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who was sent by the central leadership as an observer, said: “We will discuss the issue and let you know.” Singh was accompanied by Modi when he went to meet Bihar Governor Phagu Chauhan.
However, Modi’s future became clear when he tweeted around 4 pm: “In the last 40 years, BJP and the Sangh Parivar have given me so much that perhaps no other person has received that much. In the future, I will continue to serve on any position I am given. Nobody can take away my status as a karyakarta.”
Not entirely unaware
It doesn’t seem as though Sushil Kumar Modi was entirely unaware that he wouldn’t continue as deputy CM. “I never said that I will be deputy CM. I said that Nitish Kumar will be CM,” he had said to his followers after it became clear that NDA would form the government again.
A BJP MLA present at the NDA meeting told ThePrint: “We realised that something has gone wrong for Sushil Kumar Modi when he proposed the name of Tarkishore Prasad as the leader of the legislative wing of the party. The speech he gave was more like a farewell speech.”
BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan added: “The election gave a hint that the people wanted a generation change.”
Tarkishore Prasad is a four-time MLA from Katihar, and is known as a good orator but a political lightweight. Like Sushil Modi, Prasad hails from the OBC-Baniya community, but has always remained in the senior leader’s shadow.
After talking to central leaders, Modi had dubbed speculation about Kameshwar Chaupal and Prem Kumar becoming deputy CM as “rubbish”, but did not say he would continue in the post.
The BJP’s partner JD(U) was caught by surprise. “I think that the people of Bihar have given their approval for the continuation of Nitish Kumar and Sushil Kumar Modi,” state president Bashistha Narain Singh had told ThePrint before the decision became clear.
Right now, there is speculation that Sushil Modi may be sent to the Rajya Sabha, with a Bihar seat lying vacant due to the death of Ram Vilas Paswan, founder of Lok Janshakti Party, a central NDA ally which had contested separately in Bihar in a bid to take down Nitish Kumar.
“But this is the BJP of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. One never knows what will happen,” said a BJP MLA, who did not want to be named.
Nitish’s man in BJP
Sushil Modi, a product of the Jayaprakash Narayan-led agitation of the 1970s and a former secretary of the Patna University students’ union, first became an MLA from Patna Central seat in 1990. He was never known as a mass leader, but his ability to collect information and attack his rivals made him the poster boy of the Bihar BJP. After the exit of Yashwant Sinha from the politics of undivided Bihar, Modi became leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly in 1996.
When the BJP formed the government with Nitish Kumar, Modi became the deputy CM and someone who shielded Nitish from the attacks of other Bihar BJP leaders. A section of BJP leaders went public in calling Nitish “arrogant” and alleging he was not listening to them — Modi defended the CM and even dubbed him “PM material” at a time when Narendra Modi was rising through the BJP ranks as chief minister of Gujarat.
In 2013, when Nitish broke the alliance, Sushil Modi ended up attacking the JD(U) government, and later, the short-lived JD(U)-RJD-Congress ‘Mahagathbandhan’ government, in public. But in private conversations, he always praised Nitish.
Sushil Modi was virtually sidelined by the BJP central leadership after the party’s 2015 defeat to the Mahagathbandhan. His role in state BJP affairs was brought to zero as the party picked a new face, Nityanand Rai. Modi was not even allowed to campaign for BJP candidates, but he bounced back after holding 10 press conferences highlighting the illegal properties allegedly held by Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family.
And in 2017, when Nitish broke away from the Mahagathbandhan and shook hands with the BJP again, Modi was the automatic choice as deputy CM.
Even during the assembly polls this time, when BJP leaders were hesitant to address the situation with Chirag Paswan and the LJP, Sushil Modi was the first BJP leader to attack him, insisting that the LJP was not a part of the NDA in Bihar.
Why he was removed
This closeness to Nitish, BJP sources say, is why Sushil Modi was removed by the party leadership.
“Under his leadership, Bihar BJP will never grow bigger than Nitish. He was a leader who stunted the growth of BJP because he was too docile, and never raised a voice on issues such as BJP ministers appointing officers of their choice,” remarked a senior BJP leader, who also requested anonymity.
“He (Modi) never managed to get along with Amit Shah because when Shah had to remain outside Gujarat because of a court’s order, he had to wait for three days to meet Sushil Modi. Nitish is taking oath for the seventh time Monday, but he has lost his ‘Laxman’ who shielded him,” the leader added.