A Bharatiya Janata Party poster that has suddenly appeared in various parts of Patna referring to party leader Sushil Modi as bhavi mukhya mantri (the future chief minister) has brought to the surface discontentment that has been simmering in the saffron party ever since its debacle in by-elections in the state last month.

The so-called secular alliance between Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress won six out of ten assembly seats that were up for grabs on August 21.

BJP leaders in Bihar are angry that that Sushil Modi led the party to an electoral setback in Bihar so soon after its stunning performance in the recent Lok Sabha elections. They see the posters as the latest attempt by the former Deputy Chief Minister to bypass the collective view of the state unit.

“Everybody in the party is talking about this poster, which is a brazen display of one man’s personal ambition, achieved at the cost of the party,” said an angry BJP leader, who requested anonymity.

Until August 25, the day the by-poll results were announced, Sushil Modi was seen as the obvious CM candidate for next year’s assembly elections. He had even taken to styling himself as “SuMo”, taking a cue from the diminutive name for Narendra Modi, NaMo. Two weeks after the results, however, Sushil Modi has fallen from grace.

“Such a poor show in the by-elections after the unprecedented results in the Lok Sabha polls is a matter of concern for the party leadership,” BJP MLA and senior party leader Rameshwar Chaurasia told Scroll.

He said there must be accountability for this debacle, though he refrained from naming Sushil Modi in his accusation. “It was a failure of the leaders,” he said. “We cannot blame party workers and voters for this failure. Leaders should set aside their personal ambitions and work for the party.”

The first indication that the by-poll results had rattled the state BJP  came only a few days after the results.

On August 30, Union Agriculture Minister and senior state BJP leader Radha Mohan Singh called Sushil Modi “a popular face and acceptable to all” in Bihar. But the next day, conflicting views were expressed. “I strongly feel that the BJP should contest the polls under collective leadership,” senior leader Prem Kumar told the media.

Another senior BJP leader, CP Thakur, also indirectly expressed his opposition to the union minister’s remarks. “My view is simple,” he said. “BJP should not discuss and decide the leadership issue on the streets. The central leadership should decide it.”

Thakur belongs to the Bhumihar community, an economically and politically significant upper- caste segment. Bhumihars reportedly voted in large numbers for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, but failed to do so in the assembly by-elections of last month.

“The party will do a proper study of the public mood before projecting any leader for the assembly elections,” Chaurasia told Scroll. “We will have to keep all the sections of society together. This can happen only if the leader is acceptable to all.”