One of the few times that his followers saw Lalu Prasad rattled was when he awaited sentencing in the infamous fodder scam. The usual swagger was gone; instead, here he was, pleading with folded hands in front of the judge, who happened to be a junior from college.
“I was the chief minister of Bihar for two consecutive terms and a Union railway minister. Please consider awarding lesser punishment to me,” he told the court at the end of September.
To no avail. Found guilty of embezzlement from the state exchequer, he was sentenced to five years in jail. And he suffered the ignominy of being disqualified as an MP, one of the first corrupt politicians to suffer this fate under a new law.
Three-fourths of over 4,000 respondents in an online poll held after the sentencing, asked if this marked the end of his political career, readily agreed, saying Lalu was finished.
Well, they were wrong. Seven months on, Lalu is out on bail, and his party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has struck up an electoral pact with the Congress.
Some surveys show his party winning at least 10 seats, which could make him a catalyst in bringing the UPA and third front constituents together after the elections. Such a haul would also make him the automatic choice of partner for Congress in assembly polls due in November 2015.
His legacy appears assured: At least four members of his family could be fighting the assembly elections. One of them, daughter Misa, is standing for the Lok Sabha.
Such a comeback would have been beyond most, but Lalu’s blend of canny quick-wittedness is tough to match even for a region of nimble politicians.
He brings a certain earthiness to corridors of power. In meetings with cabinet colleagues, he was known to make use of a spittoon by his side.
Even in government helicopters, he made it a point to spit with some force into the small lavatory located diagonally from his seat, sometimes landing khaini-laced saliva on the lap of officers or ministers accompanying him in the journey.
At 65, his survival instincts are as strong as ever. And he has seldom let any ideological rigidity get in the way.
The four-term MP from Chhapra (now Saran) gained notoriety for his about-turn on dividing Bihar. Initially, he said Jharkhand would be created over his dead body. But then he allowed the passage of a unanimous resolution because his government depended on the support of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLAs.