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Sushil Kumar Modi | The One BJP Leader in Bihar Respected by All His Adversaries

Never had there been a major BJP event in Bihar without Sushil Modi.

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The passing away of Sushil Kumar Modi, at the age of 72, has left the state of Bihar in shock.

Waiting for the inevitable for a couple of months now, Sushil Modi, a true fighter, was shuttling between Patna and Delhi during the course of his treatment. Once the doctors declared that his cancer was at the final stage and nothing could be done, he informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and refused to accept a re-nomination to the Rajya Sabha for a second term. He also expressed his inability to be involved in the manifesto drafting committee.

Even as Prime Minister Modi held a roadshow in Patna on Sunday, crisscrossing many thoroughfares, there was no dearth of people who felt the absence of Sushil Modi who represented the Patna Assembly constituency before being elected to the Lok Sabha from Bhagalpur. He went on to become a member of the Legislative Council and finally the Rajya Sabha.

Never had there been a major BJP event in Bihar without Sushil Modi. In his condolences, the prime minister wrote on X, “I am deeply saddened by the untimely demise of Sushil Modi ji, my valuable colleague in the party and my friend for decades. He played an invaluable role in the rise and success of the BJP in Bihar. He also did a lot of commendable work as an administrator…”

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A Brief Recap of Sushil Modi's Career

Among the politicians in Bihar, Sushil Modi was the one BJP leader respected by all, and in his career spanning over 40 years, he served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly and a Member of the Legislative Council for three terms each and also served one term each in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. He was also the deputy chief minister of Bihar for 12 years under Nitish Kumar, and lastly, the leader of the Opposition in both houses of the state legislature for almost 12 years.

While he was deputy chief minister, he also held the position of finance minister and was appointed as the chairman of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers for the implementation of the GST (Goods and Services Tax).

Beginning his career as a volunteer of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Sushil Modi contested for the post of general secretary at Patna University Students Union in 1973 and won. During this period, he developed a close relationship with Lalu Prasad Yadav, who had secured the position of union president.

Though both belonged to different ideologies, as Lalu was associated with Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha, they completed their terms and joined the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement against Indira Gandhi. This movement served as a launching pad for both Sushil Modi and Lalu along with Nitish Kumar and many more student leaders at the time. On hearing about Sushil Modi’s death, an emotional Lalu said, “Sushil was a fighter and also a dedicated social worker.”

Though Sushil Modi was a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, he was considered a moderate and secular BJP leader, different from the other leaders of his party. He would regularly host iftar parties even when he was just a legislator. His close friend and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui said, “He was the only BJP leader who would host iftar parties without fail and personally invite Muslims.”

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Despite His Popularity, Sushil Modi's Last Years Were Rough

In 1986, he married a Keralite Christian, Jessie George, whom he met during a train journey, just like how Shatrughan Sinha was love-struck upon seeing Poonam on a train journey. He never felt shy of accompanying George to the church occasionally. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had attended their wedding and proposed to him to join the BJP.

Sushil Modi was a well-known figure among reporters as well. He was not only known for his extensive network but also for maintaining a close relationship with his friends in the media. He regularly provided the media with 'breaking news' supported by documentary evidence. Most of these revelations pertained to corruption charges against Lalu Yadav and his family, ranging from the fodder scam to the land-for-jobs scam in the railways.

There was a popular and not very untrue joke that many reporters established their careers, got recognised, and were promoted for their stories when the real credit belonged to Sushil Modi, who has admitted to the author, on several occasions, that if he had not pursued a career in politics, he would have become a journalist.

Very few politicians in the country were as well-informed, media-friendly, accessible, tech-savvy, suave, and soft-spoken but also energetic as Sushil Modi was. He was a true disciplinarian not only in his manners and political behaviour but also in his dressing sense and food habits. He always sported a kurta-pyjama with sleeves rolled up, and a dark colour bandi buttoned to the top, accompanied by his trademark smile.

Being a science student during his academic days, Modi never learnt economics or commerce. However, he effortlessly managed the finances of the entire state and brought it on the right track, in his capacity, while being the longest-serving finance minister of the state. Prem Kumar Mani, an old associate, says that Sushil Modi used to learn the intricacies of finance by spending time with experts on related topics.

Despite all of this, the last few years of Sushil Modi’s life were not so smooth and comfortable owing to his moderate and secular approach. He was closer to Atal Bihari Vajpayee than L K Advani. It is said that he was replaced as the deputy chief minister by two other low-ranking BJP leaders because the party's high command, consisting of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, did not prefer him.

He was sidelined and sent to Rajya Sabha via a by-election in 2020 for a term of less than four years. The faction-riddled Bihar BJP accused him of becoming a coterie of Nitish Kumar and accused him and his allies of being a B-team of the Janata Dal (United). When once asked for a comment on this by the author, Sushil Modi stated that he only did whatever the party leadership directed him to do and he would continue to discharge his duties responsibly.

(Faizan Ahmad is a multilingual journalist who has worked in English, Hindi, and Urdu publications, with over three decades of experience. With a Master's degree from Patna University, he has worked with The Times of India, The Telegraph, The Pioneer, Outlook, Sunday, Tehelka, and the Lokmat Times. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Sushil Kumar Modi 

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