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HindustanTimes Wed,16 Apr 2014

Jailed Lalu Prasad's aura still works for RJD

Anirban Guha Roy, Hindustan Times  Patna, October 04, 2013
First Published: 21:29 IST(4/10/2013) | Last Updated: 21:52 IST(4/10/2013)

A day after a CBI court in Ranchi sentenced RJD chief Lalu Prasad to five years in jail in a fodder scam case, gloom had ceased to be the preponderant sentiment in the party.

Rather, the mood in the erstwhile ruling party in Bihar was surcharged by a missionary zeal: to take the fight against the 'injustice' meted to the RJD boss to the people's court.

If this mood turnaround comes as a surprise to Lalu's critics, their's more for them to mull. Clear indications emerged on Friday there is unlikely to be an immediate power struggle in the party in the wake on Lalu's incarceration.

"Where is the question of no, 2 in the party? Lalu Prasad is our leader and he will remain so, no matter if he is in jail. There is no vacancy in the post of party's national president," said senior leader and MP Jagdanand Singh.

Singh said the RJD constitution did not debar the party chief from running the affairs of the party. There was no friction or differences in the party on the leadership issue, he insisted.

"Right now, we are going to appeal against the verdict and also move to the people's court for justice. That is our priority," Jagdanand Singh told HT Friday afternoon.

Singh's latest expression of views on the leadership issue are significant for the fact that earlier this week media reports had quoted him speak of "collective leadership" in the RJD in Lalu's absence from the scene.

The Buxar MP maintained the party had five vice presidents and other senior leaders who were capable of taking decisions "under the guidance of Lalu Prasadji".

There are also indications that Vaishali MP Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, would be appointed RJD parliamentary party leader in place of Lalu , who is set to lose his membership as MP soon following his sentencing.

"The party runs on its ideology and principles of Jaya Prakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia", Jagdanand Singh said. It's a different matter an RJD constitution amendment a few years ago has made Lalu its president for life.

Under the circumstances, it comes as no surprise all three RJD MPs - Raghuvnash, Jagdanand and Prabhunath Singh, have shown no sign of shifting loyalties in the wake of Lalu's conviction and sentencing.

This seems a tacit acknowledgement Lalu still remains the biggest mascot of the party with his mass appeal to garner and transfer votes, especially of his own castemen, the Yadavs, who constitute over 12% of Bihar's population.

Said, a former RJD MP: "The party minus Lalu is not worth much as he is the one who still has capacity to transfer votes and tilt the scales, even if his appeal has eroded in last eight years. This is why, there is so much of unity". Reports from Lalu's own Lok Sabha constituency, Saran in north Bihar, suggest his conviction has triggered a sympathy wave within party's rank and file, as also the lay public.

The all pervading public sentiment in Saran is that Lalu's conviction is the outcome of "a political conspiracy" by his political rivals to weaken their leader.

Even Bihar BJP leaders admitted the conviction may trigger a 'sympathy wave' in Lalu's favour. That's why even leaders of the ruling JD(U) has shied away from commenting on his conviction and its fallouts.

While the 'united we stand' chorus in the RJD may have reinforced Lalu's pre-eminent position in the party for now, party insiders are unsure how matters would pan out if the RJD chief's incarceration was prolonged.

"Signs of rift may emerge once Lalu's family members, especially wife and former chief minister Rabri Devi and her children, try to stamp their authority on the party", said a party source.

Lalu's younger son, Tejashwi Yadav, who is touted as his heir apparent and elder son Tej Pratap, are both believed to have political ambitions.

Even his eldest daughter Misa Bharti, is said to be keen to contest the Pataliputra Lok Sabha seat, held by the RJD chief's friend turned foe Ranjan Yadav, now in the JD (U).

Many RJD leaders admit Rabri Devi may have managed to steer the party in 1997 as a chief minister when Lalu was jailed but equations had changed over the past decade and a half.

Besides Lalu's troubles with the law, the RJD had lost power in Bihar and also much of its political clout, left as it was, with only four MPs (three, once Lalu is disqualified) and 22 MLAs in the state assembly. 

Indications of possible trouble in the future came when the party's second most recognizable face, Vaishali MP Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, left for New Delhi just two days after Lalu's conviction and has stayed there.

This sparked off speculation that he was not happy with the comments made by Rabri Devi that she along with her sons would run the party in Lalu's absence.

Sources said Rabri Devi had a talk with Singh, later and tried to assuage his feelings. She even modified her initial remark, stating on Friday, "Laluji will run the party from jail'.

An RJD meeting has been called at Rabri Devi's 10, circular road, Patna, residence on October 6 to decide it's future course of action as well as thrash out the technicalities to run the party on a day-to-day basis.

Ahead of the meeting, RJD MP Ram Kripal Yadav indicated Rabri Devi would remain the party's 'guardian'.

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