Former chief minister, Lalu Prasad sought to re-emerge from his political hibernation of the last six years with a Parivartan rally in Patna on Wednesday, underlining strongly that he may be down but never out of touch with Bihar.
The sprawling Gandhi Maidan was rendered choc-a-bloc even as normal chaotic traffic disappeared from the capitals streets, as his supporters descended on Wednesday in strength to stand and be counted.
The rally served a warning to the Nitish Kumar led NDA dispensation, that the Opposition may have been decimated the last time (in the 2010 assembly poll), but could not be written off for ever.
May 15 saw Prasad re-enter the ring like the Taurean do-gooder, pillorying Nitish Kumar for "leading the state progressively into chaos" and for his 'dalliance with the BJP-RSS combine' while 'promising false hopes' to the minorities.
"They ask me, why a Parivartan rally now. I ask, why not? This is a regime, which does not change, nor does understand change. But change will surely come," Prasad said, adding, "When corruption, lawlessness and bureaucratic apathy go apace, it is always a good time to intervene".
He said, "Be ready. All castes and groups will be needed to install a secular government at the Centre. We will not allow Nitish Kumar or Narendra Modi to hijack the state for each’s own benefit. Bihar is one family, a secular one and will wreak havoc on all those who seek to derail the country", he said, adding "We will not allow communalists to grab power. The last time, I lost just by 3% of votes. We will ensure, that never happens again".
He alternated between wit and facts to run down the NDA dispensation, even as he defended his sons joining politics, asking "Why not when others can"?
To buttress his point he promptly offered 50% reservation of seats for educated youth in the party structure and seat nominations, drawing huge applause from the crowd.
He justified this saying, "In my time, we had only landlines. No computer or mobiles. Today, we need people who understand technology to provide the cutting edge and sharpen the struggle", reminding, however, "The party elders should always be respected".
He also prided in the party saying, "This massive crowd was not called or funded to come here. The people came of its own volition, on their own steam and with their own money. The party did not demand a pie. That should be a warning, that the political counter-tide has begun".
Issuing a call to unseat the government, he said, "The NDA regime's countdown has begun. It's a government run by bureaucrats, who overshadow everything. It has sown only corruption, demoralised elected representatives, beaten up people for disagreeing with it and looked on when girl children and women are raped.
He said: "The NDA put plates before kids (a reference to the midday meal scheme), instead of slates as we had done. Now they ensure more liqour vends are opened, so everybody dies young. Education has been destroyed and the poor who had opportunities in my time, do not have any now. They migrate. My regime did not hurt anyone, but this one has annoyed them in every way".
He also hit out at arrests of Muslims saying, "Under the regime, Muslims are being termed communalists and terrorists and the regime has only encouraged it, while offering homilies to the contrary".
He recalled teachers being beaten up in Patna for demanding regularisation and Nitish Kumar's fiat, that no one in black cothes or with umbrellas enter his public meetings. "He sees black in us everywhere. He should be ready to go. We are coming back to power, irrespective of what he says or does", Prasad thundered.
He added, "In the Khagaria incident, when Ranvir Yadav dispossessed a guard of his weapon and used it to baulk the crowd of teachers, the regime did nothing to punish him. Do you call that governance"?
RABRI TO THE FORE
It was former chief minister, Rabri Devi, however, who was the more aggressive, claiming that Nitish Kumar had timed an outing fearing a huge backlash of the people. "He has runaway to Delhi to hide from the human tide. This is not a crowd bought and brought to Patna, but humans who believe. It will not move till Kumar is brought down on his face", she said.
WHY RALLY NOW?
Prasad's rally besides having the objective of displaying his continued political clout, was also a show of force, in a subtle hint to the Congress, that the latter could not do without him still and a coalition could take on the NDA. In some form, it was also a warning to the Congress command over its newly struck bonhomie with Nitish Kumar, which if strengthened, could cast the RJD adrift in Bihar.
That seemed to have been reinforced adequately even as the event made it a tad difficult for Nitish Kumar's JD-U to wish off the BJP from the NDA alliance in Bihar in a hurry and without a huge political risk, over the possible projection of Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate in 2014.
The timing of the rally stood contested though.
There was no political emergency to be counteracted with a call for change as the rally was christened to be. The Lok Sabha elections are officially a year away, while the next assembly elections is only in 2015.
On the face of it, it was a call mainly to the erstwhile RJD vote base - the Yadavs and Muslims at the core- and remind them, that the party was alive and kicking and worth their support.
It also sought to act as a vehicle for the subdued but apparent soft launch of Prasad's sons - Tej Pratap and Tejaswi - into politics, though leader after party leaders, painstakingly sought to defend and explain away the charge of dynastic politics by pointing to several similar cases across the political divide and nationally, to justify the presence and prominence of Prasad's family in Bihar politics.