Former Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav is down but not out. Not at least from the front benches of the Lok Sabha.
The final decision on the seating arrangement in the House rests with Speaker Meira Kumar. But the Congress is “agreeable” to Lalu and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda being seated in the front row, said a UPA functionary on conditions of anonymity.
Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) has just three members in the Lower House and Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) a paltry four. These numbers cannot fetch them the much coveted front seats reserved for parties with larger legislative presence.
In Gowda’s case, the Congress is inclined to uphold the tradition of seating former PMs upfront in the House. The late Chandrashekhar was among those accorded the privilege in the past.
Many former cabinet ministers on the ruling and opposition benches will be seated in back rows. The Congress’s special treatment of Lalu shows its leadership hasn’t entirely given up on the RJD leader.
Lalu’s RJD was the UPA’s ally in the previous House. It now is one among its many outside supporters, including Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. Ignored for a ministerial slot in the new regime, the RJD chief, known for his comic acts, burst into a song in the House to air his grievance: “Matlab nikal gayahai to pehchantey nahin…”
Of the 20 front benches, 10 come in the UPA’s share, six, including the Deputy Speaker’s, in the BJP’s and one each for JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, CPM’s Basudeb Acharia, Mulayam Singh and BSP’s floor leader Dara Singh Chauhan.
If the Speaker puts her stamp on the seating order, the Lalu-Gowda duo would share the front-space in the treasury flank with PM Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and senior cabinet ministers including Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar, P. Chidambaram and Mamata Banerjee. The DMK’s cabinet-discard T.R. Baalu will also have a berth.
The treasury benches are on the right side of the Speaker’s podium. The Opposition includes L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and Jaswant Singh.