While the JD(U)-BJP alliance moved towards government formation in Bihar on Sunday, electing Nitish Kumar as the leader of the NDA, Sushil Kumar Modi may not return as his deputy chief minister. In a surprise twist, the BJP named four-time Katihar MLA Tarkishore Prasad as its Legislature Party leader, indicating Modi may not again get the post he has held for much of the 15 years that Nitish has been CM.
By Sunday evening, Modi had dropped ‘deputy CM’ from his Twitter bio. He tweeted in Hindi, “Karyakarta ka padd toh koi chheen nahin sakta (At least no one can take away my position as a party worker).”
There was no official word from the BJP, though sources said Modi might be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha in the seat that has fallen vacant with Ram Vilas Paswan’s death, and made a minister at the Centre, or named the Governor of a state. Both Nitish and the BJP parried questions regarding who would be the next deputy CM.
While Tarkishore Prasad, 64, who is an OBC and considered close to Sushil Modi, was chosen as the new BJP Legislature Party leader unanimously, four-time EBC MLA from Betia in West Champaran, Renu Devi, was picked as the deputy leader. Congratulating the two, Modi, 68, tweeted, “In my 40 years of political life, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have given me so much, perhaps more than any other person would have got. I will continue to discharge whatever responsibility is given to me.”
Modi first became deputy CM in 2005, when Nitish came to power. He has retained the post since, except when Jitan Ram Manjhi was CM between 2014 and 2015 and when the JD(U) was with the RJD in 2015-2017.
Senior BJP leader and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who is in Patna as the central BJP observer, had a closed-door meeting with Modi Sunday. Asked later who will be the next deputy CM, Singh said, “You will know when the decision is taken.”
Sushil Modi is known to be quite close to Nitish, with the two being together in the JP Movement of the 1970s — a proximity that is seen by many within the BJP as a hindrance to the party’s ambitions in the state. BJP leaders have reportedly held several meetings with Modi to bring him around.
While Prasad belongs to the same Bania community as Sushil Modi, the BJP hopes to send a message to women, who are believed to have voted in larger numbers for the party than the men, with the selection of Renu Devi, who is a Nonia. She earlier served as BJP national vice-president.
There was also speculation that Bihar might go in for two deputy CMs like neighbouring Uttar Pradesh with both Prasad and Renu Devi named to the post. Late on Sunday evening, Prasad drove to the CM’s Office with senior BJP leaders Bhupendra Yadav and Devendra Fadnavis.
Besides Prasad and Renu Devi, the names of eight-term MLA from Gaya town Prem Kumar, Dalit MLC Kameshwar Choupal, who had laid the foundation stone for a temple at the disputed Babri site in the 1990s, Union minister Nityanand Rai (a Yadav) and Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey (an upper caste) are also doing the rounds for the post. With the change, the BJP appears to be clearly looking at its prospects post-Nitish, and hence reaching out to non-Yadav OBC and EBC communities.
EBC leader Prem Kumar said, “I am not staking any claim. We are all committed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of making Bihar aatma nirbhar.”
The Indian Express had reported earlier that the RJD, which leads the Mahagathbandhan that has 110 seats in the Assembly, 12 short of a majority, had reached out to Mukesh Sahani of the Vikassheel Insaan Party and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (S), who have four MLAs each. Sahani reportedly wants to be made deputy CM, and it is not clear whether the BJP or JD(U) will offer him the post or offer the smaller parties plum ministerial portfolios.
Nitish, who met Governor Phagu Chauhan to stake claim for government formation, along with Manjhi and Sahani, said he will take oath on Monday evening. “The Governor was handed over the letter of support from all four constituents of the NDA… After the swearing-in, we will convene a meeting of the Cabinet where a decision on the Assembly session will be taken,” he said.
Parrying questions regarding Sushil Modi and the new deputy CM, Nitish said, “All things will be settled.”
According to sources, at the NDA meeting, Nitish said he was in favour of “a BJP CM”, but was agreeing to the post at the BJP’s “insistence”.
Union minister Giriraj Singh, who is not known to be on the best of terms with either Sushil Modi or Nitish, tweeted, “Respected Sushil Kumar Modi ji, you are a leader, you held the office of Deputy CM and will remain a BJP leader. One does not become great or small because of a post.”
By far the largest party in the NDA, the BJP might also stake claim to the post of Speaker in the Assembly, so far held by the JD(U) under Nitish as CM.
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