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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

How CBI raids on Lalu Prasad weaken national opposition, can alter Bihar landscape | Analysis

Lalu Prasad is one of the few leaders who has never compromised with the BJP and carries more weight than his numbers dictate in national politics. But each charge, each raid only erodes his political capital.

analysis Updated: Jul 07, 2017 20:50 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
File photo of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar with RJD chief Lalu Prasad at a Roza-Iftaar party hosted by the latter in Patna.
File photo of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar with RJD chief Lalu Prasad at a Roza-Iftaar party hosted by the latter in Patna. (PTI)

The CBI raids on Lalu Prasad on Friday morning will weaken the already crippled national Opposition further, and have the potential of altering political realignments in Bihar.

First, the background.

Lalu Prasad is convicted in the fodder scam, and was thus ineligible to contest in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections. Yet, he, along with Nitish Kumar, succeeded in stopping the BJP juggernaut. This marked the beginning of the rise of the next generation of the Yadav family.

But Lalu’s past came back to haunt him. With the Supreme Court asking for other fodder scam cases to be expedited, an aggressive BJP that can see Lalu is the real challenger in Bihar, and a hostile Centre only happy to deploy central investigative agencies, Lalu is suddenly confronted with a maze of cases.

There is a common thread to the cases -- of Lalu misusing his political power to acquire assets in quid pro quo deals, and then channelling those in either land acquisitions or through creation of ‘shell companies’. The Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate investigations and, the various complaints in specific instances, go back to this fundamental charge.

All of this has already weakened Lalu considerably. He is well aware, after having to fight fodder scam cases for close to two decades, how it can cripple you and erode your political strength. And now with the CBI raids, the sense of vulnerability will only get enhanced.

The raids have two broad political implications.

The first is on the national stage.

Do remember that because of his years in politics, his aggression, a loyal Muslim base, and by virtue of being one of the few non-BJP leaders to have never compromised with the party even covertly, Lalu carries more weight than his numbers dictate in national politics. Ever since the 2015 victory, his focus has been on defeating Modi in 2019, and he has been a relentless champion of opposition unity. On August 27, Lalu is organising a mega rally in Patna - where opposition leaders, even those fighting with each other in their respective states like Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati may come together.

Lalu will remain an important figure in the opposition. But each charge, each new revelation, each raid only erodes his political capital, his ability to take a more pro active role in playing this role, and gives ammunition to the BJP to portray the opposition as a conglomeration of corrupt parties, of discredited leaders.

The second, more tangible, implication is for Bihar politics.

Nitish Kumar, like his old rival and now potential friend Narendra Modi, is acutely image-conscious. Even during the campaign, he was careful to distance himself from Lalu Prasad’s governance and assert his own integrity. Nitish has also, over the past two years, built up more than a functional relationship with the centre and the BJP. In politics, signals and messaging matter. And by supporting demonetisation, by deciding to vote for Ram Nath Kovind, Nitish told BJP that he is available.

Why is he doing this?

There are three explanations. The first is that this increases his bargaining position with Lalu in government- confronted with the prospect that Nitish could switch to BJP anytime, Lalu has to broadly fall in line, tame his ministers, and let the CM remain the boss. The second is that Nitish sees that given the political landscape, forging opposition unity and being able to put up a strong contest against Narendra Modi in 2019 is looking increasingly difficult. His ambitions of being the PM candidate of such an opposition alliance too are not certain to be realised. If this is the case, why not keep the option of engaging and even collaborating with Modi? And the third explanation is that Nitish is aware that Lalu’s RJD is the bigger party in terms of size, numbers, and organisation and, thus, Lalu can at any stage, most probably in 2020, stake claim for leadership of the alliance for his son. This would leave Nitish bereft of options.

What the CBI raids do is give Nitish even more room. If he decides to keep the alliance intact, he becomes even more powerful within Bihar; Lalu would be busy confronting these allegations and would be so desperate to remain in power that he would not assert at all. If Nitish decides that these raids - or when agencies call Lalu’s sons for questioning - is a good moment to break away, BJP will- in all likelihood - provide him a cushion. This will, in turn, leave Lalu bereft of options, for he would then be battling both a hostile central government and a hostile state government; he would also not have the power and privileges that come with controlling executive power in Patna.

The CBI raids should thus be viewed against this backdrop of the centre tightening the noose around Lalu. It weakens the ‘secular’ opposition further, gives Nitish Kumar more leeway, makes Lalu and his entire family more vulnerable both legally and politically, and strengthens the BJP.

First Published: Jul 07, 2017 19:09 IST

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