Political warhorse back in the saddle as electoral contest nears crescendo | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Political warhorse back in the saddle as electoral contest nears crescendo

By, Patna
May 12, 2024 07:00 AM IST

An ubiquitous presence in Bihar politics, Prasad was not in Patna for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in which the RJD failed to open its account, and in the 2020 assembly poll, when it emerged as the largest party in state assembly, winning 75 of 243 seats.

At about 11 am on Tuesday, there was a sea of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) workers at 10 Circular Road, the official residence of former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi. They wanted to meet party patriarch Lalu Prasad, who is managing the grand alliance’s poll campaign and strategy in Bihar.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav with party leaders Tejashwi Yadav and Rohini Acharya in Saran district on April 29. (PTI)
RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav with party leaders Tejashwi Yadav and Rohini Acharya in Saran district on April 29. (PTI)

Inside the bungalow, a frail looking Prasad sat on the lawn, wearing a black track pant and cream-coloured full T-shirt. “Main lambe bhashan nahin deta. Mera Bihar ki janta se dil ka sachcha sambandh hai. Isliye main wahi bolta hoon jo unke dil ko chhoo le (I don’t give long lectures. I’ve a true heart to heart connection with Bihar’s people and I speak only those things which touch their hearts),” he told HT.

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An ubiquitous presence in Bihar politics, Prasad was not in Patna for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in which the RJD failed to open its account, and in the 2020 assembly poll, when it emerged as the largest party in state assembly, winning 75 of 243 seats.

On April 9, 2018, Prasad was convicted in the fodder scam case and was lodged in Birsa Munda jail in Ranchi. On health grounds, the court allowed him to stay in a bungalow in Rajendra Institute of Medical Scienceson August 6, 2020. He was released on bail from prison on April 17, 2022, after completing half of his mandated jail time.

Prasad is the real in-charge of the Lok Sabha poll campaign, with his younger son Tejashwi Yadav as the star campaigner of the alliance that also comprises the Congress and the Left parties. “Right from candidate selection to alliance talks with Congress and Left parties, Lalu ji has taken call on everything despite his poor health. He visits the party’s war room at 10 Circular Road almost every day,” a RJD leader close to him said, declining to be named.

In his residence equipped with best medical facilities, Prasad meets party leaders and workers everyday for a brief period to get their feedback from constituencies and decide on the future course of campaigning. “He can meet only a few close people because of health reasons,” the RJD leader said.

Prasad admitted his health does not allow him to work earlier, before but he still has emotional connection with voters in Bihar. On whether he would hit campaign trial and counter the state opposition Bharatiya Janata Party on frequent charges of jungle raj against his family, Prasad said that his son Yadav will take care of it.

“Tejashwi ab bada ho gaya hai. Wo akele hi kaafi hai (Tejaswi has matured now. He can tackle it),” he said.

Prasad has, however, campaigned for his daughter, Rohini Acharya, who is contesting from Saran parliamentary seat against BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudi. During the campaign, he met RJD workers and recalled his old association with the constituency.

His visit to Chapra made a significant difference, the RJD leader said. “Some local ticket aspirants and a large chunk of electors in Raghopur diara (sandbank of Ganga river) were unhappy after Acharya’s nomination. But when Laluji met them on the second day of stay here, they all put their full force to ensure the RJD’s victory,” he said.

In addition to the traditional Muslim-Yadav vote bank of the RJD, which is intact since 1977, Prasad has tried new caste combinations this time, RJD’s national spokesperson Jayant Jigyasu said. “This time, he has taken historic decision while distributing the party tickets. While a Dalit candidate, Chandrahas Chaupal, has been fielded from a Yadav-dominated unreserved constituency (Supaul), it was Laluji’s decision to field six women – Ritu Jaiswal from Sheohar, Anita Devi Mahto from Munger, Bima Bharati from Purnea, Archana Ravidas from Jamui, Misa Bharati from Pataliputra and Rohini Acharya from Saran,” Jigyasu said.

Chaupal said only Prasad could nominate a Dalit candidate from a unreserved parliamentary seat.

“Only Lalu ji can take this risk. He has pulled away the traditional vote base of BJP and its allies by uniting Kewat (mallah), Kurmi, Koeri and Dalits, with his masterstroke. As a result, Tejaswi is now batting on BJP’s pitch,” Chaupal said.

Prasad is looking at Kushwaha and Kurmi (Luv-Kush) caste combination to add to the RJD’s traditional voters, according to Nawal Kishore, professor of political science in Delhi University. The RJD has given four tickets to Kushwaha and Kurmi candidates as compared to one in 2019. The two communities are categorised among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in Bihar.

“Three OBC Koeris – Alok Kumar Mehta from Ujiarpur, Shravan Kumar Kushwaha from Nawada and Abhay Kushwaha from Aurangabad – have made the cut, while Anita, an EBC (economically backward class) who is married to an OBC Kurmi also has found a place,” Kishore said. “As a result of this new equation, opposition leaders are a worried lot. This expansion will certainly yield unexpected success for RJD.”

Sanjay Kumar Kushwaha, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) nominee from the Khagaria Lok Sabha seat, where polling was held on May 7, said the new caste permutation by the RJD chief has had exceptional effect. “For the very first time, all the partners of the alliance have put their best to transfer their vote base in support of the alliance’s candidates,” Kushwaha said. “It was his decision to give tickets to four candidates from the Luv-Kush community, which ensured 100% of these castes in my favour. In my constituency, the RJD and Congress workers ensured maximum turnout in their pockets.”

Prasad has been pushed to the wall on many occasions but has always bounced back, said Sunil Singh, political analyst and retired professor of Tilka Majhi Bhagalpur University.

“Lalu allows a lot more leeway to the party as he can reach out to anyone cutting across the political affiliation. Whether it is Jitan Ram Manjhi, Asaduddin Owaisi or even Nitish Kumar, nobody is off limits for him,” Singh said. “And that is the biggest advantage for young Tejashwi, even if he is not leading from the front. Not only that, he is most effective leader when it comes to stitching an alliance. Young Tejashwi is an aggressive campaigner, but he needs to learn a lot from his father to reach out to potential alliance partners.”

However, Neeraj Kumar, a senior leader of the ruling Janata Dal (United), does not agree that Prasad has any charisma left in him. “He is a caste leader, not a mass leader. He undoubtedly has wit and sense of humour. Once upon a time, he projected himself a joker for the sophisticated urban lot to win the mandate of rural Bihar. It was the time when Bihar became synonym of jungle raj,” Kumar said. “But that phase is over and voters are no longer gullible. So, any experiment will not fetch the desired results for him.”

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