When he was ruling Bihar with his down-to-earth quips and an iron fist, RJD chief Lalu Prasad used to take pride in never going wrong when it came to his people. “Hum pulse jantey hain janta ki (I can read the people’s pulse)” was his favourite boast-line.
In 2005, Prasad misread the people’s pulse for the first time and lost to the Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance. His 15-year-long grip over the state was prised open.
Five years later, Prasad not only misread the peoples’ pulse, but found himself alienated from the electorate and was reduced to an also-ran in the 2010 Bihar assembly election.
What made his solid 23.5 % vote share till 2005 erode so badly in 2010? Has Prasad’s brand of politics, based on the Muslim-Yadav combination, become irrelevant vis-à-vis Kumar’s development agenda in Bihar?
All those who observed Bihar’s politics, except the Yadav patriarch, seemed to understand the reality. Till Monday, he was spitting fire against the media for giving the NDA combine an edge over his RJD-LJP combine in the exit polls.
He even said that he pitied the media and their analyses and would open his mouth after the results were out. But on Wednesday, Prasad didn’t have much to say.
RJD state general secretary and Rajya Sabha member Ram Kripal Yadav opened up. “We cannot deny the fact that the RJD lost badly due to the erosion in its vote base. Maybe development has worked as a factor to an extent.”
Yadav said there was a possibility of a shift in the Muslim votes towards the JD-U and BJP combine.
That meant Prasad’s secular image that he crafted carefully after stopping the Rath Yatra of BJP leader LK Advani in 1990 and opposed the BJP in the late 1990s and 2000, suffered a dent.
Worse, RJD insiders claimed that the party goofed up in the selection of candidates, depending more on the Muslim-Yadav faces and the old guard, instead of trying out new faces from different caste groups, especially the extremely backward castes (EBCs).
In fact, Lalu’s hopes of performing better in the flood-hit Kosi region and north Bihar, which have a sizeable EBC population, were dashed as the party fielded mostly Yadav candidates.
The RJD managed to get only one seat in the Kosi region and got routed in its stronghold — Magadh and north Bihar.
Lalu’s bid to woo Rajputs by bringing in Chapra strongman Prabhunath Singh actually piqued two of his important MPs, Raghuvansh Prasad and Uma Shankar Singh. What’s more, the promise to reserve jobs for the upper castes to create a wider caste combination seemed to have fallen flat on its face.
Finally, Prasad’s bid to win back Dalits by aligning with the LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan, who is still considered a Dalit face in Bihar, also proved to be a drag. For, Nitish Kumar took the sting out of Paswan’s vote base by classifying 21 Dalit caste groups that had been ignored so far.
An RJD insider said on condition of anonymity, “During the 15 years, we never evolved as a party. In opposition too, we behaved like a ruling party. That is costing us dearly.”