An otherwise media-savvy political spokesperson of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) was embarrassed when a scribe asked him if he was trying to defend the indefensible while batting for under-fire party chief Lalu Prasad.
The spokesperson had this to say: “Where do I go? The Congress is in a shambles, as is the AAP. The BJP, we have fought bitterly. I must bide my time.”
His exasperation also summed up RJD supremo Lalu’s dilemma. The unquestioned leader of the party for close to two decades with a penchant for shooting off his mouth, Lalu is finding it difficult to respond as the odds stack up against him.
On Monday, even before the Supreme Court verdict came in, ordering the revival of a fodder scam against him, Lalu had gone incommunicado. The apex court had overturned a Jharkhand high court decision of 2014 to club his cases.
The lawns of 10, Circular Road, the home of his politician-wife Rabri Devi, in Patna, were closed to the media and party men. Lalu’s old confidante Shivanand Tiwary had sole entry right. Lalu, Tiwary said, will not speak.
Not since 1997, when Lalu was arrested for the first time in the estimated Rs 1,050 crore fodder scam case for fraudulent withdrawals from treasuries in undivided Bihar, has he been known to retreat into a shell. He had been irrepressible ever-after his bail in 2014, more so, baiting the BJP and rivals no end.
The accusations against the RJD’s first family have come in torrents recently, courtesy BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi, a comrade of Lalu from the JP movement days of 1974. The allegations ranged from owning a swanky Patna mall to the sale of soil excavated from the mall site to the Patna zoo. There was more and two union ministers were alleged to have benefited the Lalu family against ministerial berths.
Lalu has generally maintained a stoic silence. The accusations over garnering property, his phone talks with jailed mafia don Mohammad Shahabuddin, ex-MP of Siwan, and now the SC verdict, which could end his honeymoon outside jail on bail, have come together at a time, when his sons are far from settled in politics. Lalu is also cagey of his ally chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is known to be restive with a history of sudden political U-turns.
What would Kumar do is a subject of speculation. If Kumar breaks the alliance, as he did with the BJP, ‘on principle’, the RJD would flounder.
The equations within the Grand Alliance may not change immediately though. On Monday, ‘an offer’ from the BJP to Kumar to ditch Lalu and re-join the NDA was rebuffed by JD(U) top leader KC Tyagi. He said Kumar’s mandate was against communal forces till 2020. Yet RCP Sinha, an MP and a confidante of Kumar, would not defend the RJD against the BJP offensive.
“It is upon those concerned to answer to such queries. How does it concern the JD(U),” he had said.
Kumar has time to ponder over his political moves and forge an anti-BJP alliance of like-minded parties. But for Lalu, the options are shrinking. His relatives in Samajwadi Party have been voted out in Uttar Pradesh. RJD’s hopes of reclaiming its national importance by stitching an anti-BJP forum would recede if Kumar decides to part ways.