Lalu, the political phoenix
Former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav is boxed in from all sides, but does it mean he is politically finished? The jury is out although he is known for his survival instincts, as despite several court cases and convictions, he has surprisingly sprung back in the state as well as national level politics - not once but many times. For the man who has served as Railways Minister and Chief Minister of Bihar, the next few months could be a test for his staying power, as his opponents say that's likely to change this time as not only the RJD supremo but also his entire family is facing corruption charges.
Why is Lalu surviving? He has the proverbial nine lives of a cat. In 1994, Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes formed an alliance with BJP. But in 1995, Lalu came back with a bang in Bihar. After his conviction in the fodder scam in October 2013 and sentencing to 5 years in prison, he was able to come back in 2015 when his party made a strong comeback (highest number of MLAs in Bihar).
Lalu is banking on his anti-BJP sentiments. He clearly considers himself to be a torchbearer against the so-called "communal politics" of BJP. As expected, Lalu has made the whole thing as BJP's vendetta politics against him and his family. Addressing RJD party workers on the 21st foundation day of in Patna, Lalu said last month: "BJP wants to finish Lalu as I want to finish the BJP," adding, "They (BJP) want to cause fissures in the Opposition ranks because they know our combined strength can foil their 2019 mission."
Lalu came into the limelight in 1990 when he stalled LK Advani's 'rathyatra' as Bihar Chief Minister. Though BJP ruled Uttar Pradesh for most of the 1990s, Lalu never allowed the party to enter neighboring Bihar till 2005. He launched his Rashtriya Janata Dal in 1997 when the IK Gujral government refused to bail him out after the fodder scam. When a court issued an arrest warrant against him, Lalu resigned and nominated wife Rabri Devi as his successor and ruled Bihar by proxy.
Lalu never returned as CM, though he became a partner in the UPA in 2004 and became the Union Railway Minister. It is this stint that is now under the CBI scanner for a deal involving two railways hotels. "After I was jailed, they (rivals) said Lalu is finished," the RJD supremo said at a rally in Chapra and vowed "But I was not finished. I will finish only after finishing all communal and divisive forces."
Secondly, Lalu's political career did not end even after he was sentenced to five years jail in 2013, as he remained relevant in politics. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came to his aide by approving an executive order to shield Yadav from the Apex court order on politicians holding office even when their appeals are pending. It was the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's action of tearing the ordinance that aborted the move. Lalu has appealed against the case and is on bail for now.
The relationship between Lalu and Nitish Kumar has seen ups and downs. After parting ways with Lalu, Kumar's politics has largely revolved around uniting non-Yadav Backward Caste votes against Lalu Prasad's Muslim-Yadav combination. Nitish won in 2005, in alliance with the BJP, and then again in 2010, but political compulsions made the two to come together to keep out the BJP in 2015. The JD(U)-RJD-Congress coalition emerged successful and it was the RJD, which won 80 seats while the JD (U) got 71 seats, the Congress 27 seats and the BJP 53 seats.
Thirdly, Lalu has remained politically relevant so far. The RJD's vote share has been about 18-20 per cent in last four elections, even after losing power in Bihar in 2005. In a state with three major parties — JDU, RJD, and BJP — to get 20 per cent vote share is no mean feat. Muslims and Yadavs, who form 30 per cent of Bihar's population, consider Lalu as their Messiah.
Fourthly, Lalu is a fighter and a man of bluster. That is why within 12 hours of the CBI raids on his family, he thundered from Ranchi: "Listen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. I shall fight your attempts to target me and my family members. And I will not let you destroy the grand-alliance experiment in Bihar, come what may. I shall never bow down to you pressure tactics." He is already busy preparing for the maha-rally in August. The aim of this rally is to take the spectacularly successful "mahagathbandhan" experiment beyond Bihar and launch it on a national scale.
However, there is mistrust between Lalu and Nitish now and Nitish is moving towards BJP again. To remain without power in the state as well as at the Centre will make Lalu more vulnerable as Nitish will continue to be Chief Minister with the support of the BJP. In a worse scenario, he might also get convicted again in the four cases. This could lengthen his exile from electoral politics to beyond 2024. His plan of preparing his dynasty is also in danger. Therefore, Lalu is facing his biggest ever challenge now. IPA
(The views expressed
are strictly personal.)