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Lalu Prasad not the one to fade away easily, land controversy may revive his fortunes

Lalu retains the capacity, presence of mind and political sharpness to turn around adversity on its head and has repeatedly gained political success despite corruption taints.

india Updated: May 17, 2017 16:55 IST
Srinand Jha & Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Srinand Jha & Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lalu Prasad,Nitish Kumar,Narendra Modi
RJD chief and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad has often come out of adversity and won elections despite graft taints, but now faces a bigger and mighty opponent in BJP.(PTI)

The I-T raids on properties of Lalu Prasad’s relatives in connection with benami land deals may have actually revived the ageing Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader’s fortunes.

Lalu — a mass leader who has picked up approximately 20% caste votes at the worst of times in an election — retains the capacity, presence of mind and political sharpness to turn around adversity on its head, and he has repeatedly gained political success despite corruption taints.

So, there should be no reason to presume that he will not overcome his present troubles.

The rift with Nitish

That the raids came a day after RJD ally and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar distanced himself from corruption charges against the RJD chief, saying that the matter concerned Lalu and the Centre, says a lot.

Immediately after Wednesday’s raids, Lalu had come up with a loaded tweet, congratulating the BJP for its “new alliance partners”, which was widely perceived to be Nitish’s JD(U). An hour later, though, he played down the tweet.

Earlier this year, when expectations were running high that Akhilesh Yadav would return to power in Uttar Pradesh after the assembly polls, RJD rank and file had launched a campaign to install Tejaswi Yadav (Lalu’s junior son and deputy chief minister) as the chief minister in Bihar.

Lalu’s wife and former chief minister Rabri Devi even went on record to say that Tejaswi was as good a candidate as anybody (for the post of CM). Shortly thereafter, the Bihar government issued a circular prohibiting the use of hooters in the official car of the deputy chief minister.

The point is that despite their compulsive alliance, Nitish and Lalu have remained suspicious of one another.

Conspiracy theories suggest that details of Lalu’s alleged land deals may have been leaked by certain insiders in the JD(U).

“It is a spy versus spy game that is being played out between the two leaders,” a veteran political pundit observed.

BJP’s big plan for Bihar

The success of Bihar’s “Maha Gathbandhan” sticks like a bone in the BJP’s neck. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP leaders had hurled corruption charges at Lalu during the campaign for the 2015 assembly elections, but failed to make a dent.

After the morale boosting win in adjoining Uttar Pradesh, BJP managers obviously feel that now is the time to go in for the kill against an individual that the saffron party regards as the “vulnerable enemy”.

The break-up of the RJD-JDU-Congress alliance would provide BJP a window that it needs badly in the state. In the entire game, Nitish is seen walking on razor’s edge — maintaining distance from the RJD.

Reasons for this are well known: in the absence of the mass base or the charisma of Lalu, the JD(U) president has only his “clean image” to bank on, which he has guarded zealously.

But when it comes to the crunch, Nitish will have to openly support Lalu as he is not confident of a future if he switched to the BJP.

Lalu and the future of coalition politics

Time and again, Lalu has shown that he retains the spark of 1997 — when he broke away from the Janata Dal to form the RJD. He remains an effective communicator with a strong sense of political repartee and the capacity to match any rhetoric word for word.

But certain aspects have changed in the last two decades. For one, age has caught up with him, with ailments, and he lacks the stamina of yore. Second, unlike the past, his family is today under attack.

Third, he faces a much more powerful political opponent in a re-energised BJP led by the commanding leadership of Modi and Amit Shah.

Despite all the adverse circumstances, Lalu can hardly be regarded as a pushover. The I-T charges against him and family will take time to establish, during which he will remain in the news in the coming months.

“Any news, even those with a negative connotation, can be considered good news for a politician as wily as Lalu, who has the ability to turn things around to his advantage in an instant,” remarked a scribe.

On August 27, the RJD chief has called for a rally of Opposition parties at Patna’s historic Gandhi Maidan.

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee will participate while other regional satraps, including Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) and HD Deve Gowda (Janata Dal–Secular) are likely to attend.

Mamata and Congress leaders are already alleging “witch-hunt” by the NDA government against political opponents.

Facing political steamrolling by the BJP, regional satraps have little option but to gravitate towards Lalu.

In the run-up to the rally, a big churn in the Opposition space is anticipated.

First Published: May 17, 2017 16:20 IST