Why Did BJP Drop Sushil Kumar Modi as Bihar’s Deputy CM?

Sushil Modi was facing flak from the BJP & the RSS rank and file for allegedly conceding too much to Nitish Kumar.

Updated
Politics
3 min read
Sushil Modi (R) with Nitish Kumar (L).
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Nitish Kumar may be back as Bihar’s chief minister but there's going to be one big change this time – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushil Kumar Modi will no longer be his deputy or his finance minister.

As Sushil Modi was known to be close to Nitish Kumar, this change is said to be the BJP's way of showing the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) that it is the bigger partner in the alliance.

This piece will try to examine three questions:

  1. How important was Sushil Modi for Nitish Kumar?
  2. Why has the BJP not made him deputy chief minister?
  3. What is next for Sushil Modi?

'Nitish Kumar's Man in BJP'

"Hamare liye tou Sushil Modi hi theek hain, (Sushil Modi is enough for me)," Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had said during the 2010 Assembly elections, when he was asked about his opinion on his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi and whether he would allow him to campaign for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The statement bore testimony to Kumar's relationship with Sushil Modi.

The relationship between the two goes back to the 1970s when both of them were student leaders and were involved in the anti-Emergency protests in Bihar.

When Kumar took over as the CM in 2005, Sushil Modi was an ideal deputy for him. Not coming from a very sizable caste group, Sushil Modi wasn't a political threat to Kumar. Soft-spoken and married to a Christian, Sushil Modi was an “acceptable” BJP leader for Kumar to keep his secular credentials intact. It also helped that Sushil Modi was said to be an efficient finance minister and the two shared a good working relationship.

Sushil Modi, therefore, acted as a buffer between Nitish Kumar and the BJP who were ideologically far more hardline.

Not just for Nitish Kumar, Sushil Modi did have a wider acceptability even outside the alliance. For instance, during the UPA's second tenure, Sushil Modi was made the chairman of the empowered group of state finance ministers on the Goods and Services Tax.

Why Did BJP Drop Sushil Modi as Deputy CM?

Sushil Modi appears to have paid the price for being seen to be too close to Nitish Kumar. Even during the recently concluded Assembly elections, Sushil Modi was most vociferous in taking on Chirag Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which had the support of a section with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP.

On 23 October, The Quint had reported that there was significant resentment between the BJP and the RSS rank and file against Sushil Modi.

One worker from Aurangabad district had accused Sushil Modi of neglecting the voice of cadres by playing second fiddle to Nitish Kumar, another accused him of trying to sideline other leaders in the state.

Sushil Modi was an ideal deputy CM so long as the priority was to keep Nitish Kumar happy. But now the BJP wants to assert its power on him. 

The main reason why the BJP has decided to drop Sushil Modi is that it wants to mark a decisive break in the power equation that has existed with the JD(U) so far.

Sushil Modi was the ideal candidate so long as the priority was the keep Nitish Kumar in good humour and preserve BJP's share in power as a junior partner.

Now the priority is to assert BJP's big brother status, with the party having 30 seats more than the JD(U).

It's also to prepare the part for the future, in which its aim is to form a government on its own might.

The new deputy CMs need to be seen in that light. Tarkishore Prasad is from the Kalwar community, that comes in the Vaishya category and Renu Devi is from the Noniya community that falls in the Extremely Backward Caste category.

Renu Devi's appointment is particularly important as both EBCs and women are said to be key support bases for Nitish Kumar.

What Next for Sushil Modi?

Despite the resentment against him, it is important to understand that Sushil Modi has neither shown indiscipline nor been a threat to the party.

So, it is unlikely that he will be completely discarded. It is possible that he could be brought to the Centre at some point as a minister, especially given his governing experience in Bihar.

BJP President JP Nadda has recently assigned organisational responsibilities so it is unlikely that Sushil Modi can be accommodated in an important position within the party organisation. Then, the only other alternative would be a gubernatorial appointment.

In any of these eventualities, it is clear that Nitish Kumar will have to work without his trusted deputy or any buffer between him and an increasingly assertive BJP.

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