One of the longest partnerships in Indian politics came to an end this month when the BJP decided to move its former Bihar deputy chief minister, Sushil Modi, to Delhi. Modi had been deputy to Nitish Kumar since 2005 when he had a first full term as chief minister (and continued so except for the break in the BJP-JD(U) ties between 2013 to 2017). The Bihar CM bared his heart about how much he would have liked to have him on the team. “We have worked together for so many years. Everyone knows what I wanted (about having Modi in his team). However, parties take their own decisions. Instead of Bihar, they are shifting him to the Centre. We are happy for him and wish him well,” the CM said as he emerged with Modi from the Patna divisional commissioner’s office where the BJP leader had gone to file his nomination for the Rajya Sabha.
Modi is set to win the Rajya Sabha bypoll unopposed and, the buzz is, a cabinet berth awaits him in Delhi.
Modi and Nitish have a lot in common. They are good planners, always ready with figures, articulate and, mostly, politically correct. Unlike their contemporaries in Bihar (on both sides of the political divide), neither Nitish nor Sushil has any family members involved in politics or the administration. As politicians untainted by corruption or communal charges, both of them also have substantial moral authority.
The BJP’s decision to shift Modi to the Centre (apparently because the party wants state leaders that can aggressively pursue its expansion strategy) has opened a new page in Bihar’s governance chapter. The BJP has retained just one of their ministers, Mangal Pandey, from the previous cabinet, leaving Nitish with as many as six BJP men who have little or no ministerial experience. The CM clearly has his hands full in delivering on the governance front.
Nitish isn’t the only one facing the separation blues. On November 29, as Sushil Modi addressed a gathering at Patna’s A.N. Sinha Institute, he admitted that his soul belonged with the government of Bihar.
It’s no surprise after having worked closely together for the past 15 years. Modi, then the state BJP president, first teamed up with Nitish in the run-up to the Bihar assembly election in October 2005, which gave the NDA its first majority in Bihar. In those 11 years (October 2005 to June 2013 and July 2017 to November 15, 2020), Nitish and Sushil were seen as the architects of Bihar's turnaround story. From backing Nitish on crucial political occasions to helping him fine-tune the governance mechanism, Modi always stood with the CM, who in turn, always praised his deputy's meticulous way of functioning.
The Nitish-Sushil partnership go back even further, from the time Sushil was a student at the Patna Science College and Nitish was studying at the Bihar College of Engineering. Both were bright students; Nitish cleared his engineering examinations successfully and Sushil ranked second in the university in Botany. Both also began their political careers in Patna, as student leaders in Jayaprakash Narayan's Total Revolution movement of 1974.
Though the four years of separation saw them in opposite camps and turned Sushil Modi into a bitter critic of the Nitish government, their personal warmth was visible whenever the two came face to face. In February 2015, when Nitish Kumar evicted Jitan Ram Manjhi and returned as chief minister, he took Sushil, his former deputy, in a tight embrace at his oath-taking ceremony. "Aise hi chalega (should we continue this way)?" he asked, smilingly. Once again, in November 2015, when Nitish took oath as the chief minister of the grand alliance government where Lalu and Congress were his new partners, he told Sushil how much he missed his presence in the government.
In July 2017, when Nitish walked out of his alliance with the RJD and formed another government with the BJP, he once again had Modi as his deputy. "It is like we had never separated,” Sushil Modi had then told INDIA TODAY. “Our alliance is natural, our governance style is in sync and our manner of functioning--deadline-driven and focused--complement each other."
The effects were visible immediately. The cabinet meetings, where Nitish had started appearing serious in the last few days of his alliance with the RJD, turned livelier after Modi rejoined the cabinet with the CM back to his smiling best. He even started cracking jokes and talking about the benefits of tea.
Now, as a true friend, Nitish has wished Modi well, hoping that his former deputy will have an opportunity to serve the country. A few days ago, Modi had backed a full term for the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government. “Nobody can pull down this government. There will be no mid-term poll in Bihar,” he has said on November 29. This is how friends wish each other well.
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