Patna, June 22: In a move likely to put the BJP in a dilemma, senior party leader and former union minister C.P. Thakur on Monday said he was ready to be chief ministerial candidate in the run-up to the Bihar assembly elections.
"I am ready to take the responsibility of the chief minister's post if the BJP projects me," the BJP's Rajya Sabha member said.
Ananth Kumar, who is in charge of the Bharatiya Janata Party's affairs in Bihar, on June 16 announced that the party will not announce its chief ministerial candidate for the assembly elections - slated for September-October - and instead fight the electoral battle in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Sunday, the BJP's ally Rashtriya Lok Samata Party passed a resolution to demand that its party chief and union minister Upendra Kushwaha be made the NDA's chief ministerial candidate in the state.
In his early 80s, Thakur belongs to the powerful landed upper caste Bhumihars, who are said to be overwhelmingly backing the BJP in post-Mandal politics in the state.
In fact, speculation in political circles here is that the BJP may change its earlier stand of not announcing its chief ministerial candidate.
"The BJP is likely to announce the name of former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi as the chief ministerial candidate soon," a BJP leader close to Sushil Modi said.
Sushil Kumar Modi, who is from a backward caste, is the most influential face of the BJP in Bihar and commands respect even among the upper castes, say some leaders.
However, the former Bihar deputy chief minister's disadvantage lies in the fact that two BJP leaders from the backward caste are dead set against him.
Since last year, a powerful group of upper caste leaders in the BJP has been opposing the projection of Sushil Modi as the chief ministerial candidate.
According to BJP insiders, Thakur's statement is a reflection of a deep-rooted tussle between leaders of upper castes and other backward castes (OBCs) within the party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah are said to be taking steps to ensure that none of these leaders is allowed to dominate the public debate till the polls, fearing it may anger either of the groups and cause a loss to the party's social support base.
"The BJP in Bihar is a divided house. To project a leader from either the OBCs or the upper castes as a chief ministerial candidate will antagonise the other group. The BJP is not in a position to project any one person against Nitish Kumar, who was declared chief ministerial candidate by the alliance of Janata Dal-United, Rastriya Janata Dal, the Congress and National Congress Party," said a senior BJP leader, who did not wish to be named.
Another BJP leader said that the BJP was sure of its traditional base of upper castes remaining intact in Bihar. Its worry was now to consolidate the backward castes after RJD chief Lalu Prasad joined hands with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
In the caste-ridden Bihar politics, there are over half a dozen leaders from the upper castes and the backward castes who have staked claims as chief ministerial candidate of the BJP. "All of them are lobbying hard," the BJP leader said.
In Bihar, all election arithmatic relies on castes. Most parties also lean on backward castes, Dalits and Muslims. Even the Congress, till its influence began to wane since 1989, aimed to secure support of such a combination.