Sushil Modi: ‘Nitish aides approached Bihar BJP leadership over his wish to become Vice-President. This shows his national ambition’

The Indian Express | 1 month ago | 10-08-2022 | 10:45 pm

Sushil Modi: ‘Nitish aides approached Bihar BJP leadership over his wish to become Vice-President. This shows his national ambition’

As Nitish Kumar starts a fresh innings as the Bihar Chief Minister in alliance with the seven-party Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) after severing his Janata Dal (United)’s ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), BJP MP and ex-deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi speaks to The Indian Express at length about Nitish’s move and aspiration as well as the way forward for the saffron party in the state. Excerpts:What was the immediate trigger for Nitish Kumar to break up with the BJP? As his ex-deputy, are you surprised that he reacted too fast and so soon?We are stunned at what he did and the manner in which he broke up with us. When he had done so in June 2013, he had apprised the state and Central BJP leaders about his stand well in advance. So even if it was still betrayal of mandate for NDA, we could still say that we knew it. But this time, it was complete betrayal of mandate for PM Narendra Modi. The 2020 Assembly elections was not a mandate for Nitish Kumar as JD(U) had got only 43 seats and finished third after RJD and BJP.Did the BJP try to placate Nitish or stop him? Or did your party just decide to move on?Nitish Kumar should remember that we made him the chief minister five times since 2000. Even when JD(U) came third in 2020 polls, we kept our word and made him CM. Even after our recent two-day party meet, we said Nitish would continue to be CM till 2025. We also talked about going to the 2024 (Lok Sabha) and 2025 (Asembly) polls with JD(U). We had not sensed much discomfort in JD(U). Even when Union home minister Amit Shah talked to Nitish Kumar on phone Monday and asked if there was any problem, Nitish ji did not say anything and said ‘Just as you have Giriraj Singh in your party, we have Lalan Singh’. He had also dismissed media reports of JD(U) going to snap ties with us.So what did Nitish really expect from the BJP?Some of Nitish Kumar’s aides had approached the state BJP leadership with the message that he wanted to become the Vice-President. This shows Nitish did nurse national ambition.Do you think Nitish did not have a smooth communication line with the current BJP leadership as he used to have with you as his deputy and the late Arun Jaitley?It is not fair to say that, as only recently Dharmendra Pradhan held one-on-one meeting with him. Yet, Nitish did not complain much except making a passing reference to some grudges against Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha. Besides, PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and our national president JP Nadda would speak to him at regular intervals. But it is true that he used to share a very good rapport with Arun ji and me. He would often say in recent times that he had become CM this time on the PM’s request and was not very comfortable in the present set-up. But there was no communication gap. More From Political PulseIn Bihar BJP cloud of gloom and rage, an admission: We were complacentAs Kodanad estate heist probe crawls, Stalin’s promise remains a distant realityJD(U), RJD pitch for Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi's Bihar template as Oppn national model against BJPClick here for more So, why do you think Nitish took such a quick call?It could be because of his national ambition. He could have believed that it was not possible to fulfil his national ambition with BJP. By 2025, he could have served as CM for almost 19 years and we could have expected a graceful exit from him after that as 20 years as CM is a long time and very fulfilling and rewarding in politics.What is your response to allegations that the BJP often tries to subsume its allies? Does the party need a fresh strategy to get new allies and retain them?If one is referring to Shiv Sena and Eknath Shinde episode, one should know Shiv Sena was no longer our ally. And what would we have gained by breaking JD(U)? After all, it would have led to fall of our government as we have only 77 MLAs. And the insinuation of BJP trying to cultivate RCP Singh as an Eknath Shinde is preposterous as RCP is a bureaucrat with little political constituency and he cannot break JD(U) at all. What continues to nag Nitish is his party being reduced to 43 seats. He would often complain that it was sort of rejection by people. He is still not willing to accept this and decided to switch sides with hopes of staying afloat and relevant. But it is just a matter of time. He should start reading the writing on the wall given his multiple anti-incumbency and the fatigue factors. In fact, we are happy that we will go to the 2024 and 2025 polls without any anti-incumbency baggage.Do you think Nitish can try to emerge as a nucleus of anti-Modi politics in 2024 polls?It is not possible with the kind of image and overwhelming popularity Narendra Modi enjoys now. But everyone has the right in democracy to contest. One has to first see if there is a united Opposition. There are many claimants of PM position from the Opposition camp. There is Mamata Banerjee as well. There could be a few other names as well.What is the BJP’s version of RCP Singh becoming the Union minister?When the NDA decided to offer a single ministerial berth to its each ally irrespective of number of seats they won (in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls), Nitish had let go the offer saying there were too many ministerial claimants in his party. When BJP made the offer a second time, it was Nitish who had cleared RCP Singh’s name. The version he has been giving now is not correct and is borne out of his political constraints and kind of shrewd politics he does often.You often agree that Bihar politics is a story of three pillars and when the two come together, they become unassailable. Now that BJP is all by itself, do you feel overawed by seven parties, the Grand Alliance constituents, coming together against the BJP?Let me make it clear that the 2024 polls is not the 2015 Assembly polls when Nitish, Lalu and Congress had come together and defeated us convincingly. We had conducted five surveys before 2020 Assembly polls and found that Nitish’s popularity has been constantly on the wane. Plus, it is Modi who has now emerged as the voice of EBCs (Extremely Backward Classes) besides other social groups. If Nitish considers himself such a big stakeholder of EBC votes, why did he not get them in 2014 Lok Sabha polls in which JD(U) got only two seats. As for new allies, every party tries to look for new allies. We will also do so at the right time. It is not proper to name any party or leader who could be our allies in future.Don’t you think Bihar BJP needs a face, if not for 2024, at least for 2025 to give some clarity to voters?Narendra Modi alone is the leader. We did not project anyone in Tripura. We talked about Devendra Fadnavis as he was Maharashtra CM. We have state-wise strategy. Our next goal is 2024. Just that Grand Alliance looks strong socially on papers, it does not mean it would work greatly. Our party has covered a long way in terms of acceptability among all social groups and have big central welfare programmes besides a decisive and dynamic leadership at the helm whereas there is no Opposition leader at the national level.

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Rethink within government on direct polls to APMCs?
How KCR’s national pitch differs from Stalin’s
The Indian Express | 9 hours ago | 07-10-2022 | 05:45 am
The Indian Express
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It is tempting to view K Chandrasekhar Rao’s decision to rename the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) as the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) as yet another sign of a regional pushback to the BJP’s unitarian governance agenda and its expansionist political goals. KCR seems to suggest that shedding his party’s provincial credentials and adopting a name that indicates a pan-Indian vision for it could provide him a platform to expand nationally and fulfill his national ambitions.This approach is very different from the federal politics signaled by his southern counterparts such as the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the CPM in Kerala, and the Congress in Karnataka, or even the recent coalition initiatives in Bihar and Maharashtra against the BJP.The southern leaders — M K Stalin, Pinarayi Vijayan, Siddaramaiah — have emphasised regional/linguistic pride and have been projecting a state-centric story to counter the BJP’s political narrative that is perceived to be focused on privileging Hindu, Hindi, Hindutva identities. KCR, however, seems to have decided to abandon his regional legacy and embark on a path similar to the one taken by Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, which is to eye the political space that the Congress has been occupying. Ironically, in his bid to go national, KCR may have taken a big risk by dropping Telangana from his party’s name — will a communist party avoid Communism or a Dravidian outfit ignore Dravida while repositioning their respective organisations?So, what explains KCR’s national foray? Is it just the personal ambition for a national role? Or the presumption that expanding his party’s footprint could help him counter the BJP’s rise in his own backyard? Could it be an attempt to elevate himself above regional politics and entrust the party and the state to his son, K T Rama Rao?The BJP has been eyeing Telangana for some time though the TRS was focused more on marginalising the Congress, its mother ship, in the state. The BJP did spectacularly well in the last Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections in 2020 — it won 48 seats, up from four, whereas the TRS tally fell from 99 to 56; both had a vote share of around 36 per cent. The BJP won four of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2019, and the last two assembly bypolls and seems to be the beneficiary of whatever anti-incumbency is in place against KCR, who has been CM since the state was formed in 2014.The fact is, also, that KCR, unlike the DMK in Tamil Nadu or the Left in Kerala, has no story to tell — the DMK now talks about the Dravidian Model whereas the Kerala Model has been in vogue in political debates for some time now. His party emerged from the debris of the Vishalandhra Movement in the 1950s that mobilised for a Telugu state. By taking up the case for a separate Telangana, the TRS had refuted the idea that a singular linguistic identity could be the binding factor for a state. Instead, it preferred a narrative of uneven development and spun a politics centred on the economic backwardness of Telangana. The cultural distinctiveness of the region may have been a powerful undercurrent in the broad Telangana statehood movement but has not resonated with the TRS in office.A wide range of welfare schemes for farmers (Rythu Bandhu and the Kaleshwaram lift-irrigation project, Mission Kakatiya), Dalits, etc that the TRS has implemented are popular, but it is the aura of having led the statehood battle on a nativist platform that lends credibility to KCR’s politics. The BJP, however, seems intent on shifting the terrain of state politics and is eyeing a potential fault line — Nizam rule and Hindu-Muslim relations — that it hopes to tailor with its Hindutva agenda. The TRS also has no access to the political legacies of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh — the national movement, peasant struggles, anti-Nizam agitation, the language movement — which could have provided the party with the cultural resources and memories to battle Hindutva.This is in sharp contrast, especially, to the DMK’s political stance, which projects the “Dravidian Model” as an alternative political worldview to that of the BJP. The Dravidian Model has a storied legacy and is rooted in the history of the Self-Respect Movement and the battles for social justice, linguistic identity, individual rights, provincial autonomy, and even self-determination of nationalities. Justice and equality have been key concepts in the Dravidian (and Left) political vocabulary: In the case of the DMK, it prioritised action against caste-based inequalities whereas the Left focused more on struggles against assets-centric inequalities. The DMK government’s stance on federalism and welfare, which it is vocal about, is influenced by this rich legacy of collective action, involving political mobilisation of intermediate and backward castes and classes. The DMK has also been quick to realise that the debate Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched on revdi culture could ultimately lead to the undermining and unravelling of the welfare state idea the Dravidian parties have promoted in Tamil Nadu. Recently, when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin announced the launch of free breakfast for school children, an expansion of the mid-day meal scheme, he explained that the scheme was not a freebie but a part of his “duty” as CM.The federal coalition Stalin represents, and that is visible in Tamil Nadu, is an ideological front that broadly responds to ideas of secularism and social justice including protection of minority rights, federalism etc. The Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra and the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar are political coalitions more driven by the exigencies of the immediate political moment, primarily the threat posed by a BJP that wants complete domination over the polity. The Mahagathbandhan is also a social coalition that can claim the inheritance of Lohiaite social justice politics and the struggle against Emergency. Leaders of all three coalitions recognise the pivotal role the Congress — like the Janata Dal in the National Front in the 1980s — will need to play in turning them into viable electoral combines. KCR’s national ambitions have limited scope in this context.If at all, the BRS, in alliance with its steadfast ally, the AIMIM, can hope to undercut the prospects of the Congress (MVA in Maharashtra, for instance), just as the AAP is likely to do beyond its own strongholds.amrith.lal@expressindia.com

How KCR’s national pitch differs from Stalin’s