The Lalu Prasad Yadav-Nitish Kumar rivalry is the main issue in the Bihar elections this time. While Lalu has been trying to woo voters with his inimitable rustic act, the Bihar chief minister is more matter of fact. “I come to seek wages for the development effort of my regime,” he tells one election meeting, adding, in case anyone has forgotten, “I hope you remember what 15 years of Lalu-Rabri rule was like.”
As 13 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar go to the polls on April 16, indications are Lalu has his task cut out retaining even half of the nine seats his party won in 2004. In his three years in office, Nitish has been steadily undermining Lalu’s appeal through his thrust on restoration of public order and development.
Lalu’s core Muslim-Yadav support base is in tatters. By committing hundreds of crores to wakf boards and to measures like fencing of graveyards, Nitish has notably undercut Muslims’ preference for Lalu. The RJD leader will, however, profit from the angst among his Yadav castemen, for many of whom the end of Lalu-Rabri rule in 2004 is akin to paradise lost.
In the middle is the Congress. After nine years as Lalu’s appendage, the party is aspiring to a comeback by contesting a majority of seats independently. It can’t do much worse than its three seats in 2004 but can harm both the NDA and Lalu-Paswan combine.
Early indications are the Lalu-Paswan combine will share the honours with the NDA in the four north-western Bihar seats (Gopalganj, Siwan, Maharajganj and Saran) going to the polls in the first phase. But in the nine south-western Bihar constituencies, the tilt appears to be towards the NDA.