It was April 2017 and Arun Jaitley, then Union finance minister, was returning to Delhi by a chartered flight after the BJP’s national executive meeting in Bhubaneswar. Jaitley, apparently at the last minute, told Sushil Modi to hop in. Though Modi, then an opposition leader in Bihar, was to return to Patna, he took the flight to Delhi. “Where else could anyone have had Jaitley ji’s undivided attention, without interference of phone or work?” said an accompanying member of the flight.
Modi was carrying more than a dozen files in a polythene bag, his only luggage in the flight. The files had details of alleged corruption cases against RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) chief Lalu Prasad and others in his family. For close to two hours, Jaitley heard Modi with rapt attention, scribbling notes on his pad, as the Bihar BJP leader discussed in detail the allegations against the RJD first family.
That was the time when Bihar was ruled by the Nitish Kumar-led grand alliance of the Janata Dal (U), RJD and Congress. In 2015, the alliance had decimated the BJP-led NDA by winning 178 of Bihar’s 243 assembly seats. The BJP obviously wanted to separate Nitish and Lalu—who together seemed invincible—and what Modi suggested seemed like a viable course.
An astute politician and having known Nitish and Lalu for years, Modi was well aware that the JD(U) leader will not accept a tainted face in his government and Lalu will not be okay with his son, Tejashwi Yadav, having to step down over corruption allegations.
A month after the flight, Modi was allowed audience with a top man in the central government. His inputs were apparently forwarded to various agencies for vetting and subsequent investigation. Modi, meanwhile, continued with his back-to-back press conferences. He addressed 44 of them, daring Lalu to come clean on the corruption allegations.
On July 8, 2017, a CBI team raided Lalu’s residence in Patna. They lodged an FIR, accusing Lalu of rigging a tender in 2005. This was a new case and the others named accused were Lalu’s wife and former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi and his younger son Tejashwi Yadav, who was then deputy chief minister in the Nitish government.
Seen as a politician who fiercely guards his image, Nitish asked Tejashwi to come clean on the charges. The message was clear—Nitish wanted Tejashwi to resign, and when the RJD leader refused to do so, Nitish stormed out of the grand alliance on July 26, 2017, giving the BJP an opportunity to bounce back to power in the state. The BJP leadership rewarded Modi for his hard work, making him deputy chief minister.
Now, on July 7 this year, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded and extensively rejigged his cabinet, the one man whose non-inclusion raised eyebrows and shocked many in the Bihar BJP was Sushil Modi. This was all the more pertinent as PM Modi had dropped the other veteran from Bihar, Ravi Shankar Prasad.
The writing was on the wall
Political observers in Bihar, however, had seen it coming, from the way the saffron party had treated Sushil Modi. When the NDA managed a wafer-thin victory over the grand alliance in the 2020 assembly polls, the BJP retained just one saffron minister, Mangal Pandey, from the previous cabinet.
But, unlike other BJP ministers from the previous cabinet, Modi was not only kept away from Bihar government, he was shifted out of the state. The BJP sent him to the Rajya Sabha through a by-election held after the death of Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan.
“Logically, there could have been just one meaning of Sushil Modi being shifted to Delhi. The BJP could have utilised his services in the Union cabinet. He performed without blemish as Bihar’s finance minister for 13 years,” recalls a BJP leader in Patna. “A meticulous man, with an eye for detail, his performance as chairman of the GST (Goods and Services Tax) committee in 2011, under then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, earned Sushil Modi appreciation from the veteran Congressman. He was praised for his efficiency and knowledge in financial matters.”
While attempts have been made in the BJP to dub Sushil Modi as a “Nitish man”, political observers in Bihar recall how Modi functioned like a “bridge” between Nitish and the BJP during the moderate A.B. Vajpayee-L.K. Advani era and then provided inputs that ended the Lalu-Nitish alliance, thus allowing the BJP to bounce back to power in the state. “But Modi seems to have suffered the most after the death of Arun Jaitley. He understood perfectly the contribution of Sushil Modi in the Bihar BJP,” says a senior BJP leader in Patna.
Many in the BJP believe Modi may well have been ‘punished’ for not backing Narendra Modi’s bid for becoming the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate before the 2014 general election. A decade ago, Sushil Modi is also believed to have talked about Nitish being a ‘prime ministerial candidate’, which did not go down well with many in the BJP who are calling the shots now. That was the time when a group of Bihar BJP leaders, such as C.P. Thakur, Giriraj Singh and Ashwini Kumar Choubey, emerged as hardcore followers of PM Modi whereas Sushil Modi was seen as the moderate face. Clearly, in the ruthless game of loyalty, Sushil Modi—notwithstanding his credentials—may not have scored as high as others.
A section of BJP leaders, who spoke to INDIA TODAY, are convinced that the Modi from Bihar has been overlooked. “But Sushil Modi is not Navjot Singh Sidhu. He is unlikely to raise a banner of revolt, which ironically, may prove to be the reason for his downfall,” says a veteran BJP leader. Sushil Modi has indeed remained restrained—he even tweeted to congratulate the new Union cabinet ministers. But will he continue to be the proverbial good boy from the saffron camp? Or will there be a twist in the tale?
Courtesy – IndiaToday