The conviction of Lalu Prasad in the fodder scam case could not have come at a worse time. During the past year, the RJD began looking better, as anti-incumbency chipped away some of the Nitish Kumar magic.
But with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi vetoing the ordinance that could save Prasad from disqualification, the future again looks grim — for him and his party too.
The reason: “Everybody knows there is no leader in RJD, besides Lalu. He is the party, He is the leader. If he is jailed, the party will lose its sting, politically,” said a senior leader of the party.
Although Prasad recently rubbished suggestions that his conviction would weaken the party, it was always the Yadav chief who staved off desertions and kept the party together all these years.
Now, with him effectively out of the picture, the fence-sitters in the party are already being wooed by arch-rival Kumar’s JD(U) and the BJP. And the fear that the RJD may not survive without Prasad can even lead to all 22 RJD MLAs changing camp very soon.
What’s more, the Congress — which looked keener on Prasad than Nitish for a tie-up — seems to have developed cold feet. “The future would be bleaker should the Congress refuse to tie up,” said a senior RJD leader.
He said, “The way the ordinance issue was raked up shows there is a formidable section within the Congress which is not favourable to the RJD.” And it is this section, the RJD leadership fears, which would effectively keep the party off the Centre for years to come.
Prasad’s absence will also have an effect on the Muslim-Yadav vote bank. Given the Muslims’ anxiety to block Narendra Modi at the Centre, the new beneficiary will be the JD(U) and the Congress.
What worries the RJD further is the possibility of an alliance between the Congress and the JD(U). It will badly dent the party’s support base among the minorities, scheduled castes and a section of upper castes, especially Rajputs. And without Prasad around to protect and guide the party, even an alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jantantrik Party has no chance of survival.
Rabri may head party
The reins of RJD may come to Lalu Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi, to whom he had handed the state 16 years ago before surrendering in the same case.
Prasad’s son and political heir Tejaswi is also expected to play a significant role. But the RJD men are not too pleased over Prasad’s decision to keep power within the family.
“Accepting Lalu and Rabri as leader is one thing, but the children are another matter. There is a leadership vacuum,” said an RJD leader.