Bihar will witness a unique electoral battle; the fight between the good governance of Narendra Modi and Shushasan of Nitish Kumar. Though apparently the element of trust deficit has been responsible for the reluctance of the BJP central leadership to announce the name of the probable chief ministerial candidate for the ensuing assembly elections, the party is contemplating to project the good governance for enticing the voters in Bihar. The party intends to make a tactical departure from the last experiment it made in the 2014 Lok Sabha when it used new kind of social engineering. While it is a fact that the BJP’s central leadership is apprehensive of sabotage by other aspirants in case a face is projected, the reason for keeping it wrapped in secrecy is the inability of the aspirants to take Nitish Kumar head on. The leadership is not in the proper mental frame to initiate any step in this matter as it would prove to be detrimental to the party in a do-or-die battle.
Sushil Modi upset
The party’s central leaders hold the view that in any case it is the performance of the Modi government which would be used for luring the voters. Then in that case the party should focus on this instead of frittering away its energy and resources on projecting some other leader. But this has not gone well with the Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi. With uncertainty looming large about his projection as the chief ministerial candidate for the assembly election, the senior BJP leader Sushil Modi preferred to speak out against the political stand of the central leadership of the party. Within an hour of the assertion of Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers Ananth Kumar that the BJP would not announce its chief ministerial candidate and instead the Bihar assembly election would witness a direct fight between Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the other Modi retorted back asserting: “As in other states the prime minister will campaign in Bihar also. This does not mean he will be the BJP face in the election. We will name out chief ministerial candidate at the right time.”
Little doubt, a defiant Sushil Modi has put the BJP central leadership in an embarrassing situation. Sushil Modi has been the prime claimant for the top job but his assertion undermined the party line of fighting the elections in the name of the Prime Minister as announced by Ananth Kumar. He had explicitly said: “Narendra Modi is the BJP face; our party will contest the assembly polls under his leadership.” Just a day ahead of this incident the BJP president Amit Shah appointed him as the in-charge for Bihar. Obviously, it candidly implied that Ananth Kumar was speaking the mind of the central leadership. Ananth Kumar had also underlined that the party had, in the last one year, contested assembly elections in different states in the name of Modi.
No leader to take on Nitish
Dissension against the projected leader is a reason for holding back the name. But more than that, it is threat perception of the party getting vertically split on caste lines – backward castes vs upper castes – that made the leadership to refrain. With the Delhi experience of projecting Kiran Bedi as chief ministerial candidate, the BJP has opted for the formula of collective leadership in Bihar. The BJP is also sure of the fact that none of its leaders in the state can claim to match the popularity and political stature of Nitish Kumar. With Lalu Yadav supporting him, no single BJP leader can even vouch to give him a fight for the money. In fact, this issue had come up for discussion before the just-concluded Pratinidhi Sabha of the state RSS. It was of the opinion that the BJP should go to the polls under a “collective leadership.” The RSS and the central leadership nurse the view that going by the nature of the complex alliance of the Dalits, OBCs and upper castes, projection of any one candidate as chief ministerial candidate would destabilise the social equation and work against the interest of the party. Apprehensions are also being expressed that the projection of a candidate before the polls may trigger massive division in the party. In fact, this threat perception has forced the RSS to summon Amit Shah and also to deliberate the election issue.
Distrust in state unit
There are at least six claimants for the top job, most from the BJP itself. What was intriguing while these leaders present the façade of unity before the people and media, there is acute lack of trust amongst them. It is interesting to watch that the BJP leaders are opposed to the endorsement of Sushil Kumar Modi as the chief ministerial face for the assembly polls. This was one of the main reasons for the central leadership refusing to project any leader as the probable chief ministerial candidate. According to the state unit, the issue would be discussed by the parliamentary board. Undeniably, the leaders do not want the Delhi mistakes to be repeated in Bihar. Leader of the opposition Nand Kishore Yadav said: “Shah would be meeting to discuss the matter with the parliamentary board and if they decide to project anyone, he will announce it publicly.” Meanwhile, Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, ally of BJP, has come out with a suggestion that its party chief and Union minister Upendra Kushwaha be declared the opposition alliance’s chief ministerial candidate.
Yet another factor that has prompted a major section of the state leaders to echo the views of the central leaders of not projecting any single leader is they do not have anything substantive to offer to the people on their own except to talk about the good governance of Narendra Modi. Besides, there is a general feeling in the rank and file and also amongst a section of the state leaders that Bihar BJP has miserably failed in highlighting the achievements of the Modi government. Insiders, however, maintain that Sushil Modi does not enjoy the confidence of the powerful upper caste lobby led by the Bhumihars. Ever since the issue of election featured in the public domain, these leaders incidentally have been opposing his candidature.
While the BJP depends on the upper caste support, Sushil Modi belongs to the backward caste Bania community. The BJP leadership is apprehensive of the fact that upper castes may lose enthusiasm for the party if an OBC leader is declared the chief ministerial candidate. Apparently, the situation appears to be against Sushil Modi. But it may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Sushil. The non-projection of a leader against Nitish can eventually favour Sushil.
There is no doubt he is the public face of the party and by virtue of his sustained efforts he has succeeded in making an independent space for him. He is the only BJP leader who has the habit of criticising and questioning Nitish everyday even on frivolous issues. It is worth mentioning that BJP MP Shatrughna Sinha has come out with the suggestion: “Going under a captain who has a good image, is a mass leader and has vote-catching ability in the elections is definitely advantageous.”