Emerging from the shadows of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, Sushil Kumar Modi, BJP leader from Bihar, has the responsibility of putting the BJP on its feet in a State where the socialist brand of politics has been a force to reckon with for about five decades now. He was secretary of the Patna University Students Union when Mr. Prasad was its president and he was Deputy Chief Minister under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar till the BJP split with him. Mr. Modi, however, says the BJP will not destabilise Mr. Kumar’s government but the revolt in the JD(U) could pose threat to his leadership. In a conversation with K. Balchand Mr. Modi answers a range of questions.

Were the outbursts of Giriraj Singh that those opposing Narendra Modi belonged to Pakistan and Nitin Gadkari that caste was in the DNA of the people of Bihar personal or an orchestrated campaign?

It was a slip of the tongue in the case of Mr. Gadkari. He clarified it immediately. It was not deliberate. In the case of Mr. Singh, the party has condemned and distanced itself from it. Both prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and party president Rajnath Singh have disapproved of it.

But no action has been taken against Mr. Singh…

It is for the central leadership to take a call. It all depends on them.

The Opposition parties say these are the outcome of frustration of the BJP not doing well in Bihar. Is it so?

These are not BJP’s official line. These are isolated remarks. The party has condemned these.

Is there a Narendra Modi wave in Bihar?

Yes, it is there. One can feel and see the kind of response we are getting. In my roadshows, I could see that his name has reached the villages and people want a strong government. There is a strong anti-incumbency against the Congress. People want a change. Along with his humble background Mr. Modi is an icon of change.

Are you handicapped without the support of the JD(U) after the split?

It is a blessing in disguise. The alliance was working well in Bihar and a Narendra Modi government at the Centre would not have posed any contradiction. The split, in any case, has rid us of the anti-incumbency factor which Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is saddled with. The BJP Ministers had performed better and now with 91 MLAs we are providing a strong and credible Opposition which the RJD was unable to do. The BJP is out of the shadows of Mr. Kumar and emerging to stand on its own feet. We can give an alternative government in Bihar now. The BJP might be a gainer but the State is a loser as Mr. Kumar has pushed the State into political instability.

Mr. Kumar fears his government may be destabilised if the BJP comes to power at the Centre…

The BJP does not indulge in such politics. There is revolt within Mr. Kumar’s party. He has suspended a large number of his legislators for anti-party activities. He is unable to fill the vacancies in his Cabinet caused by the dismissal of BJP Ministers by him. If he performs badly in the elections, the political dynamics are such in his party that they would pose a threat to his leadership.

Mr. Kumar has charged that the BJP had failed to promise a special package to Bihar. The fact remains the Atal Bihari government, of which Mr. Kumar too was a part, did not give it to Bihar after Jharkhand was carved out of it as a separate State in 2000…

Mr. Vajpayee gave a special annual assistance of Rs.1,000 crore which the UPA has now increased to Rs.2,000 crore as special provision under the Backward Region Grant Fund(BRGF) for Bihar and Kalahandi and Bundelkhand regions. The Planning Commission has provided Rs.12,000 crore against our demand for Rs.20,000 crore. There can be a dispute over the amount but the State is getting something special. We are committed to giving special assistance to Bihar.

Who is your main rival — Lalu Prasad or Mr. Kumar?

Our main fight is with the RJD-Congress-NCP alliance generally but for in three or four seats where the contest is with the JD(U)-CPI combine. The JD(U) will be relegated to the third position. The BJP along with its allies will emerge as the largest group and Bihar’s contribution will be one of the largest to the NDA’s number. I’ll not predict any number but we are moving in the positive direction.

On what basis have you been making allegations that Mr. Kumar had joined hands with the RJD and Congress?

The target of both the RJD-Congress alliance and JD(U) is the same — Narendra Modi. For Mr. Kumar, the Congress is not untouchable. He had tried to forge an alliance with the Congress. He talks about third and fourth fronts which history tells us usually joined hands with the Congress in forming governments at the Centre. The withdrawal of JD(U) candidate Akhtarul Iman from the fray in Kishanganj was not accidental but part of a design. Mr. Iman is campaigning for the JD(U) candidate in the by-election from Kochadaman Assembly constituency.

The JD(U) withdrew its weak candidate with the objective of preventing the BJP from winning from Kishanganj. Mr. Kumar sees the BJP as the biggest threat. There are other instances like in Bhagalpur and Madhubani, where his candidates are not evening campaigning. It will benefit the RJD. Most of his workers are shifting towards the RJD. On the other hand, in Araria and Katihar he has fielded candidates to cut into our votes. Such tactics will gain in dimension in the coming phases of election.