Senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi is likely to become Bihar’s chief minister if his party wins this year’s assembly election though it has refused to announce a candidate for the coveted post, sources say, with the eastern state’s complex caste equations tilting the odds in his favour.
Modi, 62, is a product of the same JP movement of the 1970s that delivered RJD chief Lalu Prasad as well as JD(U) leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar who have mothballed past animosity and joined hands to challenge the BJP’s bid.
The former Bihar deputy chief minister and finance minister is credited besides Kumar with turning around the development-starved state’s fortunes when their parties were part of a ruling coalition that broke up acrimoniously in 2013 when the BJP picked Narendra Modi to lead its parliamentary poll campaign.
Though there are other hopefuls for the chief minister’s chair from the BJP-led NDA, the RSS member has emerged as the strongest contender.
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Former union minister CP Thakur, ex-state minister Prem Kumar, leader of opposition in the assembly Nandkishore Yadav as well as Upendra Kumar Kushwaha from BJP ally RLSP are also reportedly in the running.
Sources say that former Bihar health minister Ashwini Choubey and union minister Giriraj Singh too are among the contenders as they both represent the state in Parliament.
While many national leaders from the BJP including Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Radha Mohan Singh and Anantha Kumar have publicly backed Sushil Modi, the party has decided to enter the state polls with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the face of its campaign.
Sushil Modi supported the party line, saying, “The high command’s decision is wise”, but sources maintain that there are certain sections within that believe not declaring a chief ministerial pick may hurt the BJP’s chances.
According to analysts, the BJP that swept the state in last year’s general election has shied away from naming a chief ministerial nominee in order to dodge the risk of alienating any section of Bihar’s highly caste-divided society.
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With the backward classes, the OBCs and EBCs, turning the tide in its favour in 2014, the national party is likely to pick its chief minister from this section if it wins the polls as the upper castes constitute only about 11% of Bihar’s population.
While Sushil Modi belongs to the backward sections, as do key rivals Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, he also represents the crucial Vaishya community whose numbers have surged to 6% of the state’s populace.
In contrast, Nitish Kumar’s Kurmi community and Lalu Prasad’s Yadav group have remained static at 3.3% and 14.9% respectively over the past few years, experts say, while the upper castes are completely averse to these two leaders.Sources say the BJP is unlikely to pick former union minister Shahnawaz Hussain, whose name has also been discussed, after realising that the state’s 16% Muslim votes are set to go this time to the RJD-JD(U)- Congress combine.