Lalu Prasad, Bihar’s comeback leader, waits for the last word
The Grand Alliance (GA) was seen as a gamble for JD-U leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar to stop the BJP juggernaut steered by Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi. He risked losing his development image for aligning with Prasad, his old foe who carries the fodder scam burden besides those of promoting his family and poor governance.india Updated: Nov 07, 2015 16:17 IST
As one of the strongest satraps in the 1990s, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad used to say he knows the ‘pulse’ of the people that helps him win elections. It did not work after 2005, as RJD’s stock declined till the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Pushed to almost political oblivion, Prasad rose like the proverbial phoenix this year after burying past differences and stitching an alliance with Janata Dal-United and Congress.
The Grand Alliance (GA) was seen as a gamble for JD-U leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar to stop the BJP juggernaut steered by Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi. He risked losing his development image for aligning with Prasad, his old foe who carries the fodder scam burden besides those of promoting his family and poor governance.
Opinion is divided. “The campaign in this election, drifting from development to caste and ended in highly personalised attacks, seemingly did not go as badly for the alliance, which maintained a high degree of unity and synergy, as was expected. Lalu emerged a big factor for giving the alliance campaign an element of aggressiveness and also playing his social justice card to the hilt, more so on a slip by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, which may have almost carried them to power,” Ranjit Kumar, a poll observer, said.
Prasad’s bid to latch onto Bhagwat’s call to ‘review job quota’ just before voting on October 12 is seen as a ‘game changer’ by many, including RJD’s former minister Jagdanand Singh, who calls it the revival of the social justice agenda after 1995.
“Lalu’s imprint in this election was not just limited to his stature as a Yadav leader. He led the GA as an army general, who bulldozed the BJP’s hate campaign. He acted as a glue to realign warring groups among OBCs such as Kurmis, Kushwahas and Yadavs by playing the social justice card. BJP faces an imminent defeat because of the RJD-JD-U unity on the ground,” Singh said.
One cannot ignore how Prasad displayed his gift of the gab to counter the barbs aimed at him and Nitish Kumar during the poll campaign by Modi and BJP president Amit Shah that triggered an exchange of words. The political lexicon reached a new low as expressions like ‘brahma pischaah’ (super demon), ‘shaitan’ (devil) and ‘maha ghotalabaaz’ (great scamster) and ‘chara chor’ (fodder thief) gained currency.
If BJP leaders called foul and moved the Election Commission to restrain Prasad, the RJD chief threatened to file a defamation suit against Modi for insulting his eldest daughter Misa Bharti with the ‘set karna’ term in reference to her unsuccessful debut from Patliputra Lok Sabha seat. When the BJP mocked the academic backgrounds of his sons, Prasad retaliated by questioning union HRD minister Smriti Irani’s accomplishments.
“When the prime minister calls somebody’s daughter bechari (poor), it’s an insult to women. Could he have dared to use the term for the child of an upper caste person?” Prasad asked, trying to whip up caste passions over the humiliation.
There are speculations across Bihar on what role Prasad would play if GA wins or loses Mandate 2015. Observers feel RJD is betting high on the GA to re-establish himself as a Yadav chieftain who – in case of victory – demolished BJP like a gladiator.
“Lalu would be calling the shots despite Nitish Kumar becoming chief minister,” an RJD insider said, not ruling out the possibility of the RJD chief pushing for a ministerial berth for at least one of his sons. This is because of Prasad’s “weakness” in promoting his family unlike Kumar.
A loss, however, would relegate him to a fringe player whose time-tested caste card of polarising backward classes in the name of social justice had few takers in the state, especially among the young voters with high aspiration for development.
“Whether GA loses or wins, this election has increased Lalu’s relevance and made the Congress consider satraps as allies in northern states that BJP seeks to control,” a senior RJD leader said.