In an ostensible move to woo the state’s large Yadav and OBC vote bank and take on RJD chief Lalu Prasad, the BJP on Tuesday appointed Nityanand Rai, a Yadav leader and the party Lok Sabha MP from Ujiyarpur, as its Bihar unit president. Rai, 50, takes over from Mangal Pandey — in fact, three successive state unit presidents preceding Pandey were also from the upper caste: C P Thakur, Radha Mohan Singh and Gopal Narayan Singh. Singh was preceded by Nand Kishore Yadav and Sushil Kumar Modi as Bihar BJP chief.
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With OBC leaders Sushil Modi as the BJP legislature party leader and the Leader of Opposition in the state Council and Prem Kumar as the Leader of Opposition in Assembly, Rai’s appointment is seen by many as a clear sign that the BJP is focussed on winning over the OBC electorate in the state.
Rai, who started with the ABVP, the RSS’s students’ wing, and later held different positions in Bharatiya Janta Yuva Morcha, the Sangh’s youth outfit, is seen as an organisation man.
Rai has represented Hajipur Assembly constituency four times since 2000, and enjoys considerable clout in the area. He is seen as a counter to the Lalu Prasad family’s dominance in the adjoining Assembly segment of Raghopur. He first became an MP in 2014.
A state BJP leader said, “A team is generally changed after defeat to galvanise party workers.” Another party leader said giving prominence to OBC leadership in the state is also a way to balance the dominance of upper caste leaders from Bihar in the Union Cabinet.
While the appointment is seen by many as further marginalising Sushil Modi’s position, Rai sought to downplay such interpretations. “The BJP believes in team work. The party does not talk of individuals, who are important in their own right. I take my elevation as a challenge and opportunity,” he said.