Patna: In a reflection of its new style in Bihar seen after the 2020 assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s central leadership again sidelined the old-guard leaders from the state in the Union cabinet expansion.
Leaders who called the shots from 1995 when the BJP emerged as the largest opposition in undivided Bihar right up till 2020 when the party edged out Janata Dal (United) to become the senior National Democratic Alliance (UPA) partner have continuously faced this style of functioning since last year’s assembly elections.
On Wednesday, the party not only excluded Sushil Kumar Modi, the most recognised Bihar BJP leader and former deputy CM, from the cabinet expansion, but also booted out senior party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Minister of State for Health Ashwani Kumar Choubey, however, survived. While his cabinet minister Harsh Vardhan was dropped entirely, Choubey was shifted as MoS to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
“It is primarily due to the fact that he is the only Brahmin minister from Bihar in the Union cabinet,” said a BJP MLA who didn’t wish to be named.
What happened after 2020 polls?
When the NDA managed a slender win margin in the 2020 polls, it was presumed that deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi would keep his office, along with CM Nitish Kumar.
However, it wasn’t to be. While the latter stayed, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Bihar soon after the results were announced and told Modi that the central leadership wants him to shift to Delhi.
In the new state cabinet, BJP’s old guard like Nand Kishor Yadav and Prem Kumar, who have been elected from their respective assembly segments several times and have been a part of the NDA government in the past, were excluded.
Talks of adjusting Yadav as assembly speaker did not materialise as the party opted for a junior leader, Vijay Kumar Sinha.
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The story between 1995 and 2020
Until 1995, the BJP was considered an urban party belonging to the upper castes and the trader community. The seats it won in Bihar primarily came from what is now Jharkhand. Late Kailashpati Mishra, late Tarakant Jha and Ashwini Kumar Choubey used to lead the party in the state at the time.
After the 1990s, when Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and ex-CM Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Mandal politics and stress on backward castes dominated the state’s political scenario, the BJP leadership switched over from the upper castes to backward castes.
Leaders like Sushil Kumar Modi (OBC), Nand Kishor Yadav (OBC) and Prem Kumar (EBC) were put at the helm of the party. It was under this leadership that BJP found acceptance among the backward caste population.
In an alliance with the then Samata Party, the BJP was able to spread its influence in rural areas so much so that it got substantial votes from the backward votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls — the only election JD(U) and BJP contested separately, with NDA winning 32 of the 40 seats in Bihar.
Even in the 2015 assembly polls, the BJP won 25 per cent votes even as it contested less than two-third of the 243 seats.
Socialists and BJP in Bihar
The old BJP guard in Bihar shares a bond with the socialists. All of them were student leaders during the 1974 Jayaprakash Narayan-led student agitation.
Lalu Prasad was the president of Patna University Student Union, Sushil Kumar Modi was general secretary while Ravi Shankar Prasad was joint secretary. Nitish Kumar was a member of a student body which coordinated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Nand Kishor, Prem Kumar and several others were active participants in the agitation.
“The Bihar BJP leaders are different from those in other states. We have gone to jail together,” said RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari.
Despite being political rivals for so many years, it was easier for Bihar BJP politicians to negotiate with socialist leaders because of this bonding.
While L.K. Advani and late Arun Jaitley called the shots in the BJP, these leaders were promoted. Even the alliance between Nitish Kumar and BJP has survived since 1996 — except for the period between 2013 and 2017.
But the present BJP leadership under PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah hasn’t encouraged coziness between state BJP leaders.
Before 2014, Sushil Kumar Modi had openly advocated Nitish Kumar as prime ministerial candidate despite tension brewing between JD(U) and BJP over projecting Narendra Modi as a PM candidate.
After the 2020 elections, the old guard is increasingly being made irrelevant and replaced by political pygmies like Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi. It also prefers Nitish Kumar to negotiate with central leaders like Bhupendar Yadav than via local leaders like Sushil Kumar Modi, according to sources in the party.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)
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