Why BJP is taking note of Sushil Modi and his decades-old rivalry with Lalu Prasad

Here's a look at their history.

 |  7-minute read |   11-07-2017
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The new alignments in BJP may have liked to see Bihar politician Sushil Modi fading into obscurity, but the man himself has some different plans. It’s a simple, tried and tested technique - attack his favorite political muse Lalu Prasad Yadav. And this time his family members too are on Modi’s radar.

Till now, the ploy appears to be working and Modi is finding his “mojo” back.

It all started in April this year, when he made allegations against Lalu’s elder minister son Tej Pratap of being part of the Bihar soil scam, in which the Patna Zoo (under his ministry) allegedly purchased soil excavated from a plot where a mall has been constructed. Modi has said the mall is being made by a firm in which minister Tej Pratap, his siblings and mother (former CM Rabri Devi) are “shareholders”.

At that time, his own party leaders in Delhi thought this might not be a big expose, or may not bring much political dividends. But Modi not only convinced them to back him, but the charges might seal the fate of Lalu.

Those who know Bihar’s politics may remember that two decades ago, Modi played the role of Lalu’s irritant to perfection. In the 1990s, when Lalu was at his political peak, his unconventional style of public speaking made him the “darling” of television news channels. With his typical uncanny and “unparliamentarily” language, he was making fun of top BJP leaders like LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, etc. But at home in Bihar, he was grounded by Modi and his consistent exposes.

Nearly two decades later, when Lalu’s children are trying to make space for themselves in the state’s politics, Modi is back. For the last two years, most of the Modi-Lalu banter was happening on Twitter, but now Modi has shifted gears and is loaded with salvos, and almost on a daily basis, he is digging out new charges and creating political trouble for Lalu and his family.

Riding on this, Modi has brought himself back in the BJP’s centre. BJP insiders say both PM Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah never “fully” believed in Sushil Modi - and suspected his “friendship” with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

The political grapevine says he ignited Nitish’s aspirations to be PM, which in turn came in the way of PM Modi’s campaign in 2014. Hence, Sushil Modi was not fully-utilised during the 2015 Bihar state elections.

In May last year, instead of Sushil Modi, the party picked his bête noire Gopal Narayan Singh for a Rajya Sabha berth and later Nityanand Rai was elevated as state party chief. This year, despite his grip on substantial eastern UP votes, Sushil Modi was not made part of the UP election campaign.

The only saving grace for him was the appointment of his confidant Mangal Pandey as BJP’s in charge of poll-bound Himachal Pradesh. All this while, Sushil Modi survived on his friendship with the RSS, which is also helping him in the turnaround and bringing the BJP to back him in his salvos against Lalu and clan.

bihar1_071117054627.jpgLalu has put Bihar CM Nitish Kumar in a fix.

According to the latest details revealed by him, the plot in question was apparently given to the Lalu family as a kickback from a Patna-based hotelier. It is alleged that the kickback was paid to get two railway hotels on long-term lease, when Lalu was Union railways minister in UPA-I.

In the past three months, the entire Lalu clan has been under the probe of Central Bureau of Investigations, Enforcement Directorate and other agencies. Lalu is not only under pressure to ask his sons to resign from state posts, but signals are coming that his RJD grand alliance with the JD(U) might also collapse. On July 10, the BJP formally offered outside support to Nitish, if he threw the alliance out. The Bihar CM’s silence is only making things murky now.

Despite all efforts, Lalu is not been able to do away with two tags that dog him - one of his and his aide’s involvement in corruption and the second of being an icon of jungle raj or misrule in the state. The credit of putting this monkey on Lalu’s back goes to Sushil Modi and his persistence in taking his allegations to logical conclusions.

Although Sushil Modi started student politics along with Lalu at Patna University’s Student Union, yet he joined active politics much later. In 1973, Lalu was elected as the student union’s president - on Samajwadi Nauyuvak Sabha’s ticket, whereas ABVP nominee Modi got elected along with present day telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad as general secretary and deputy general secretary, respectively.

They both worked hand-in-hand to form the Bihar Pradesh Chaatra Sangharsh Samiti, which spearheaded the famous Bihar Students’ Movement and anti-Emergency activism. Later, Lalu joined the Janta Party and got elected from Chhapra Lok Sabha seat at the age of 29. Modi continued as a full-timer with ABVP, and rose to the top as national general secretary from 1983 to 1986. During his tenure in ABVP, he was instrumental in setting up the party unit in Left-dominated JNU in Delhi.

In 1990, when Lalu lobbied his way to the seat of Bihar chief minister, by elbowing away heavyweights like Ram Sundar Das and Raghunath Jha, Modi too entered the Assembly for the first time. Lalu was not the first choice of his new party Janata Dal - then PM VP Singh was backing Das’s candidature, whereas his intraparty rival Chandra Shekhar wanted Jha.

Yadav was a compromise candidate suggested by then deputy PM Devi Lal. But Lalu was smart enough to understand the caste dynamics. By then, he was already a champion of Yadav votes. Post the Bhagalpur riots, he saw a window in grabbing Muslim votes, who were moving away from the diminishing Congress in the state. He cemented his grip on the Muslim votes by arresting LK Advani (political godfather of PM Modi) at Samastipur. This saw the exit of the VP Singh government and split in the party. Post fading away of Singh, Devi Lal and Chandra Shekhar, Lalu became the face of the Janata Dal.

Both Sushil Modi and Lalu found each other at the crossroads, and the 1990s saw the beginning of the tussle, with Modi spearheading the campaign against the fodder scam. The misappropriation of funds was in the public domain since 1985, when the CAG made serious strictures. But no one took notice seriously, and the subsequent political leadership continued with this.

In 1995, Modi not only opened the salvo, but later moved Patna High Court with his public interest litigation, or PIL, seeking an CBI inquiry into the scam. In 2013, Modi had the last laugh. Lalu was convicted and became the first Indian politician to get disqualified from his Lok Sabha seat for conviction in crime. Lalu’s involvement in the scam saw him splitting his own party, Janata Dal, and later when he was chargesheeted, he anointed wife Rabri Devi to take charge as the state’s chief minister.

But his tenure saw the depletion of law and order. Murder, dacoity, kidnapping and other crime became routine.

Then came August 8, 1998, and Sushil Modi’s press conference that left everyone chilled. He charged Lalu’s close aide Mritunjya Yadav and his friends with rape in the family of senior IAS officer BB Biswas and said the police were under pressure from Lalu to not file an FIR in the matter.

As Modi jumped into the arena, within 20 days, a case was registered and Yadav as arrested. Later, he was convicted by the trail court and the high court granted him relief in 2010. But by then, this incident became an icon of “jungle raj” in Bihar.

Despite CM Nitish’s public outrage on Lalu’s leniency towards muscleman and jailed RJD leader Mohammad Shahabuddin, or surge in crime, the fear of those days returning looms large. In 2017, the fear of corruption and misrule is obvious, and so is the return of the rebel, Sushil Modi.

Also read: What BJP plans to achieve by turning screws on Lalu Prasad Yadav


Anilesh S Mahajan Anilesh S Mahajan @anileshmahajan

Senior associate editor, Business Today

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