Lalu may still stage comeback
Many wonder whether this is the end of the road for Lalu who has seen many ups and downs. The truth is that the RJD’s future hangs on how Lalu’s core vote bank reacts to the conviction and what kind of new political equations emerge in Bihar before the 2014 polls.
Lalu’s career graph is very interesting. He came to power by exploiting the anti Congress sentiments. He ruled Bihar twice, -from 1990 to 1995 and came back for a second time from 1995 to 1997. When the fodder scam surfaced he had to step down but he put his wife Rabri Devi as his puppet for eight years and ruled the state even from jail. He had also been a central minister from 2004 to 2009 as a partner in the UPA 1. He is the longest serving president of a political party today.
It was the rise of another backward classes leader Nitish Kumar that brought down Lalu and his dominance in Bihar. Nitish, combining with the BJP came to power in 2005 with the support of Most Backward and upper caste votes and promise of good governance. Although Lalu lost power since then, even the last elections when RJD had seen its worst performance his party got 20 per cent of the votes polled.
One important factor in Bihar is the Muslims. The Congress, RJD and JD (U) are wooing them. Nitish has quit the NDA for the sake of Muslim votes. The Left parties, particularly the CPI and CPI (ML), have a few pockets of influence in rural Bihar. They have so far not been able to cover a larger decisive spectrum. So, there is no dramatic change that could be seen in Bihar politics except what kind of arithmetic and what kind of new equations that would emerge.
The immediate problem for the showman is who takes charge of the RJD in his absence. Lalu may get bail after a month or two while his appeal is heard in the High Court. One option is that he can continue to be president and rule by proxy. If the party is handed over completely to his family, senior leaders may rebel while some may opt for JD (U). On the other hand if he goes for collective leadership’ with people like Raghuvansh Prasad Singh there could be a way out. Lalu would still call the shots as far as ticket distribution, campaign strategy, and alliances are concerned.
Secondly his sustenance power also depends on the period of his jail sentence. If this is not too long, he can manage to keep the party afloat. Not contesting the polls is not a big problem as other leaders like Thackeray had controlled their party without being an MP or an MLA.
Thirdly, a lot depends on his future strategy. Before the conviction there were rumours that the 2004 combination of Congress, RJD and Paswan could be a winning combination. Now after his conviction, it is not clear which way the Congress would go. While Sonia Gandhi wants an alliance with loyal Lalu, Rahul Gandhi would prefer to go with the JD (U). The Congress is not in a hurry to disclose its strategy and will play a wait and watch game.
Bihar was dominated by the upper castes for long and all the disadvantaged castes like the OBC, Muslims and Dalit had felt oppressed from this domination. It was Lalu who broke this by getting power to the backward classes. Interestingly, Lalu had done some good things for Bihar but nothing for governance and development. With the aspirations of the people moving towards development and good governance, Lalu will have to work hard to woo them beyond caste politics.
Lalu has used his communication skills to play a durable politics. Going by the reaction coming form the public in Bihar, while they are happy that justice at last has caught up with Lalu, they are also questioning why only Lalu and why not others. The showman might make use of these sentiments to his advantage to keep the RJD alive.
Finally, it is strange that politicians in India do not fade away so easily as jail terms and convictions or corruption charges do not shock the cynical public. Look at the reception Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress received recently when he got bail after months of stay in jail! The people, who brought her back to power in 2011, ignored Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa’s corruption charges. This is because the gullible masses believe that either their leader has been framed or forgive them, sad though it may be. Since Lalu has a huge task of keeping his MY constituency in tact, he may have to struggle hard to keep himself afloat. IPA