When JD-U stalwart Nitish Kumar takes oath as Bihar’s chief minister for the seventh time later in the day, he will certainly be missing one man by his side: BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi.
The saffron outfit, which has emerged as the biggest party in the NDA coalition with 74 seats in the recently-concluded assembly polls relegating JD-U to the status of a junior partner has chosen to overlook Sushil’s claims to be the deputy chief minister, a post he always held whenever Nitish led the coalition government in the past.
Now, the BJP is set to elevate two of its “grassroots legislators”, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, to the deputy CM’s post. It brings the curtains down on the long-standing collaboration of the formidable Nitish Kumar-Sushil jodi in Bihar. They were like the Salim-Javed duo of state politics, proving to be the perfect foil for each other. It would be no exaggeration to say that it was largely because of their perfect rapport and understanding of the nitty-gritties of Bihar politics that the NDA government ran smoothly for more than 13 years over the last three terms.
While most coalition governments have proved to be wobbly owing to the vaulting ambitions of the scheming allies elsewhere in the country, the Nitish-Sushil duo raised the bar for a multi-party government by performing the coalition dharma to near perfection. Sushil was always the loyal deputy Nitish needed to work on his development agenda.
In fact, when BJP top brass was trying to impress upon Nitish the need to invite Narendra Modi, the then Gujarat chief minister, for NDA’s poll campaign in Bihar about a decade ago, the chief minister to quick to quip that there was no need to bring in another Modi when Bihar already had a Modi of its own.
But that is probably what might have cost Sushil dear in the long run. A section of party leaders, sulking over Nitish’s prolonged domination over the years, always cribbed over Sushil’s so-called soft corner for Nitish. They invariably accused him of following Nitish’s diktats without demur, thereby allowing the JD-U leader to rise at BJP’s cost.
In fact, even during the first term of the NDA regime, a section of party leaders rose in revolt against Sushil, forcing the party’s national leadership to intervene. Finally, Sushil emerged victorious through a secret ballot of the legislators within the party.
Come to think of it, it is unfair to hold grudges against Sushil for his perceived loyalty towards Nitish. The 68-year-old leader apparently knew that given the caste arithmetic in Bihar, BJP was not in a position to oust Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD from power on its own. It needed someone like Nitish, an OBC leader with an impeccable record as a Union minister, to unseat the RJD government.
His detractors often accused him of being almost subservient to Nitish, but in all fairness, Sushil did not seem to be oblivious of the ground realities of Bihar politics. The disastrous performance of BJP in the 2015 assembly polls when Nitish broke ranks with the saffron party to lead the Mahagathbandhan vouches for that.
However, the resurgence of the BJP in this election has enabled the party to aspire for a bigger role and the removal of Sushil, unceremonious or otherwise, is being seen in the political circles as part of its conscious bid to groom leaders who can look into Nitish’s eye and confront the Chief minister without any baggage of the past. The leadership apparently thinks that Sushil will not be equal to the task under the changed circumstances.
Speculations are already rife that Sushil might be sent to the Centre or even made the Governor of any state, but nothing can deprive him of his contributions towards building BJP bit by bit in Bihar. During 1990-2000, when RJD was at its peak, it was Sushil who was at the forefront of the battle against Lalu. Nitish, incidentally, was doing politics at the Centre that time. From filing a petition in the Patna High Court for a CBI probe into the fodder scam to exposing the crime and corruption cases against the Lau-Rabri government, Sushil remained the most vocal Opposition leader against the “jungle raj” in Bihar. He continued to fire salvos at Lalu's family, often with irrefutable evidence, all through his political career. He may not have been able to lead BJP to the top but he did what was the best possible alternative for his party in Bihar.
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