The NDA leadership has taken a decision that is politically expedient: The legislators of the alliance in Bihar have elected Nitish Kumar as their leader and he is expected to be sworn in as chief minister for the fourth time on Monday.
Nitish has been elected even though Janata Dal United’s performance has been pathetic -- diminishing from the 71 seats it won in 2015 to 43.
More important, the BJP -- which won an unprecedented 74 seats and has an upper hand in the alliance – has decided to move its senior most leader Sushil Kumar Modi, the ‘chief minister in waiting,’ to the Centre, possibly through the Rajya Sabha back-door.
It has thereby severed Nitish’s 13-year-long association with his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi.
The BJP legislative party leaders elected a relatively younger Tarkishore Prasad, BJP MLA from Katihar, as replacement for Modi. He will be one of the two deputy chief ministers in the state.
Lest there are any misgivings, Modi himself removed his status as deputy chief minister from his official website and twitter account, acknowledging that he was now just a ‘karkyakarta’ of the BJP.
"No one can deprive me of the status of a karyakarta," was his cryptic comment, indicating that he was not happy with the decision.
Party sources said there was a section of the BJP which was hostile to continuance of Sushil Modi as their leader and had conveyed their views to the top leadership. However, political observers feel this may be just a ruse to relocate Modi to the Centre, where he is likely to be accommodated in the Union Cabinet.
Sushil Kumar Modi was summoned to New Delhi by BJP president J P Nadda on Friday evening and he had returned to Patna on Saturday. As scripted by the party chief, Modi himself proposed the name of Tarkishore Prasad as his replacement.
The leadership had deputed two central observers -- former chief minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh – to oversee the ‘unanimous’ election of the alliance’s legislative party leader.
Curiously, after the process was over, none of the observers went to the BJP office as scheduled earlier, nor did they meet the newly elected MLAs, as is customary.
They instead went to the State Guest House before returning to New Delhi. In the meantime, the names of the elected leaders were announced.
Even when Nitish went to meet the Governor at Raj Bhawan to stake claim for formation of the new government, Sushil Modi was conspicuous by his absence. Instead, he accompanied Rajnath Singh to the state Guest house.
Governor Phagu Chauhan has invited Nitish to take oath as chief minister on Monday at 4.30 pm. It is understood that 35 ministers --13 from the JDU and 22 from the BJP -- may be sworn in.
Sources close to Sushil Modi said in the evening that he may be sent to Rajya Sabha. There is a vacancy in the upper house from Bihar following the death of Ram Vilas Paswan.
Sushil Modi is not new to the dynamic at Centre: he has been chairman of the GST council.