Patna: Former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP has alleged that Lalu Prasad, chief of the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal, tried to entice an MLA of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, headed by Nitish Kumar, by promising him a ministerial berth. However, ThePrint has learnt that Lalu tried to entice Sushil Modi himself to switch sides and join the RJD, after he was ‘sidelined’ by the BJP.
Sources close to Modi told ThePrint that Lalu was trying to do to the BJP what it had done to the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and tried to in Rajasthan too — woo the tallest leader who has ostensibly been sidelined. But Modi, the sources said, cut Lalu off and refused the offer.
Modi himself alluded to this call in a tweet Tuesday, saying: “Lalu Yadav making telephone call (8051216302) from Ranchi to NDA MLAs & promising ministerial berths. When I telephoned, Lalu directly picked up. I said don’t do these dirty tricks from jail, you will not succeed.”
Lalu Yadav making telephone call (8051216302) from Ranchi to NDA MLAs & promising ministerial berths. When I telephoned, Lalu directly picked up.I said don’t do these dirty tricks from jail, you will not succeed. @News18Bihar @ABPNews @ANI @ZeeBiharNews
— Sushil Kumar Modi (@SushilModi) November 24, 2020
Modi’s tweets and local media reports alleged that first-time BJP MLA Lallan Paswan approached him to say that Lalu, currently in judicial custody in Ranchi, asked him to abstain from voting in the assembly Speaker’s election Wednesday, in which the BJP’s Vijay Sinha was victorious by a 126-114 margin.
Lalu has been jailed on corruption charges for the fodder scam, but was in RIIMS, Ranchi, for health reasons. But just before the Bihar assembly polls, the Jharkhand government, led by RJD ally Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, shifted him to the RIIMS director’s British-era bungalow, Kelly House, ostensibly due to the danger of contracting Covid-19.
“Sushil Modi asked Lallan Paswan to give him the number from which he had received the call, and then dialled the number from his landline. Lalu himself picked up the phone,” a close aide of Modi’s told ThePrint.
Sources claimed the exchange between Lalu and Modi went as follows:
Lalu: “Your party has dumped you.”
Modi: “You and I have both been dumped in politics.”
Lalu: “Idhar aa jaao (come to our side).”
Modi (indicating this wasn’t the first time Lalu had proposed such a thing: “I did not do it then and I will not do it now.”
The sources said Modi then asked Lalu to stop trying to break the NDA and destabilise Nitish Kumar’s new government, to which the RJD supremo allegedly replied “arre tumhara party abhi tootega nahin (your party is not going to break now)”, before disconnecting.
The RJD has dubbed these charges as concocted.
“There are over a dozen people in Patna alone who mimic Laluji’s voice. Perhaps someone tried to con the BJP MLA,” said RJD general secretary and MLA Alok Mehta.
“Sushil Modiji has been sidelined by the BJP leadership and wants to get himself back in the good books so that he can be appointed a Union minister. He is projecting himself as the saviour of the NDA government in Bihar. The RJD is not trying to woo NDA MLAs,” said Mehta.
However, other prominent BJP leaders have also taken up the cudgels against Lalu for allegedly trying to entice MLAs to switch sides.
“The character and signature of a person never changes. Laluji, during his heyday, broke every political party in the assembly to stablise his government,” said Renu Devi, one of Bihar’s two new deputy chief ministers.
“We will file a case in the Jharkhand courts asking how Lalu is allowed to do all this while he is in judicial custody,” she added.
Comrades and long-time foes
Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sushil Kumar Modi’s ties go back nearly five decades to 1974, when the RSS’ student wing ABVP and socialist student organisations joined hands. Lalu became the president of the Patna University Students’ Union, while Modi became its general secretary, as the university became the hotbed of the Jayaprakash Narayan-led agitation against Indira Gandhi and the Congress.
Lalu and Modi spent almost 19 months in jail together during the Emergency.
They crossed paths again in 1990, when Lalu became CM and Modi became a BJP MLA for the first time. In several public meetings, Lalu declared that Modi was “apna aadmi” (our own man), hinting that he was not averse to Modi crossing over to join him. Instead, Modi became one of the rallying points of anti-Lalu moves.
Sushil Modi was one of the petitioners in the PIL related to the fodder scam, for which Lalu is now in jail. Then, as leader of the opposition in the assembly, he launched an all-out attack on the performance of Lalu and his wife Rabri Devi’s governments. He kept making these attacks even after the RJD had lost power and the JD(U)-BJP had come to power in 2005, when Nitish became CM and Modi his deputy.
In 2017, a series of press conferences by Modi on Lalu and his family’s alleged illegal property triggered the collapse of the JD(U)-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan government, bringing Nitish back into the NDA as a partner of the BJP.
Sidelined, but not out
After the assembly elections earlier this month, the BJP decided Sushil Modi would not continue as deputy CM, thus seemingly sidelining him. But he was then made chairman of the ethics committee of the state legislative council, and has been allotted an office.
The two deputy CMs, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, as well as new Speaker Vijay Sinha are from his camp.
On Monday, when MLAs were sworn-in, around 50 of the BJP’s 74 went to Modi’s office to seek his blessings.
“Perhaps Lalu thought that since Sushil Modi has so many followers among the present BJP legislators, he would be an ideal target to make an offer to,” said a senior BJP MLA who didn’t want to be identified.
“But Lalu forgot one thing — Sushil Modi is not a ‘converted’ BJP leader. He started from an RSS shakha, became a pracharak, and dipped his toes in politics with the ABVP. He might appear more liberal than liberals on many issues, but he is deeply rooted in the RSS philosophy,” the MLA continued.
“I remember that evening in 2013 when Nitish Kumar’s break with the BJP looked inevitable… There were rumours that Sushil Modi would join Nitish in the JD(U) because they are so close. But Modi told BJP workers that no one should have any illusions — that he would like to have a saffron flag draped over his body when he dies. Perhaps Laluji picked the wrong target,” the leader added.