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Who gets Lalu’s Yadavs

Tonnes of newsprint and gallons of ink have been used to write requiem for one of the most colourful characters of Indian politics - Lalu Prasad Yadav. Some in between, specially the journalists from Bihar who have not been taken onboard by present chief minister Nitish Kumar, have also cautioned that the Yadav patriarch should not be written off.

We analysts relish our role as requiem writers; it doesn’t matter even if the person we propose to write about may not be physiologically dead. There is need for caution on part of those rushing to proclaim that Lalu Yadav is politically dead or those vouching for his survival; for Lalu Yadav is the best case of an inscrutable Indian politician (with due apologies to Anurag Mathur, author of Inscrutable Americans).

This is not the first time that Lalu Yadav has been sent behind the bars. On earlier occasions, he had managed to bounce back. This, however, is not to suggest that history for sure would repeat itself this time too.

Personally, Lalu Yadav to me is a study in the case of a talented and adorable leader of masses failing his people and his doomsayers with equal aplomb. In 1974-75, he was incarcerated on the campus of Patna Medical College Hospital in what had been christened as the political prisoner’s ward along with several other prominent faces of Jay Prakash Narayan’s movement.

Most of his co-prisoners were scions of relatively well-off families. For them there used to be regular supply of fresh clothes, necessary toiletries and edible food. It did not matter to Lalu that he did not have such supplies to feed him as he happily survived living off on his co-prisoners. Not only that; he also ensured that each time the influential relative of a co-prisoner managed a release order there was celebration befitting the occasion. He never let any such occasion turn into a cause of remorse for himself despite the fact that his release was not going to happen in near future.

This incarceration was to mark the beginning of the political career of a student from extremely poor background; who managed the partnership of the scions of the influential families by sharing prison space with them. No wonder that these prison mates including Nitish Kumar took to street in 1990 when then Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh tried to overlook Lalu’s claim for chief ministership of Bihar.

The next close experience of Lalu Yadav’s incarceration I had was in the far of lands of Africa sometime in the winter of 2001. He had been lodged at the Bacon Factory Guest House in Ranchi, which a benevolent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government had notified as prison. This factory ironically belonged to the animal husbandry department, from whose treasure chest Yadav and his co-accused were charged of pilfering money.

Around the same time I was on a UN study trip to Uganda and with me was a minister from Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi’s cabinet. He was in charge for health. Contrary to our perception of RJD leaders, our co-passenger was an educated man and soon became popular in the group which was otherwise dominated by bureaucrats. He carried a mobile phone with international roaming number, which made him a favourite amidst us as we could make free calls home.

During those 15-20 days we spent together, this gentleman would make mandatory calls to Lalu’s darbar every morning and evening and ‘get an update on the well-being’ of his leader. On the way back, he especially went shopping in Dubai to buy some gifts for his leader. I wondered at his ‘loyalty’ and asked why was he ‘so attached’ to a force, which has finally been caged.

With a wry smile he had said that we journalist often rush to draw conclusions and no wonder that they seldom meet the test of time. ‘He would be out before the 2004 Lok Sabha poll and would become a minister in the next government at the Centre. I would be giving him company in the council of minister,’ he had said and to me he had sounded like a loud-mouth. After all those were the halcyon days of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Come 2004 and I received an invitation from this gentleman to share a meal. Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, despite the brouhaha created by the media, had been voted out. Rashtriya Janata Dal in company of the Congress had done credibly well. Lalu Prasad Yadav was all set to become a Minister in the UPA government. Who else from RJD, I had asked my host? ‘Did you forget what I told you in Uganda? It would come true to the last word,’ he said. My host too became a Minister of state in Manmohan Singh government.

Lalu Yadav is once again behind bars. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress government, which have been his allies in the past, have so far not shown any courtesy, the kind of which BJP government showed in 2001. Lalu Yadav this time is housed in Central Jail, though he has had a visitor in president’s son.

His then colleague in the Ministry has since deserted him. The man who held the party together in 2001 – Sadhu Yadav – left Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in 2009 and was last heard getting an audience from Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. There are leaders in RJD like Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Jagdanand Singh, whom Lalu Yadav has never personally trusted but they have remained with him as RJD symbol ensures Yadav votes for them.

Lalu still remains leader of the Yadav masses. If they remain with him, he shall remain a force to reckon with. If they desert him, they go to strengthen any political combination. Who will get Lalu’s Yadavs is something which is inscrutable.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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