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Lalu: A master of social engineering

The magic of Lalu Prasad who held sway over Bihar in a manner no leader ever did, appeared to have faded.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2005 18:30 IST

The magic of Lalu Prasad, the most enduring mascot of Mandal politics, who held sway over Bihar in a manner no leader ever did, appeared to have faded as the NDA headed for a landslide victory marking the end of the 15-year-old Lalu-Rabri regime.

Prophets of doom were proved right as the self-proclaimed Raja of Bihar, fighting the assembly elections while out of power for the first time in 15 years, went down mainly due to the anti-incumbency factor.

 

The man, who first ruled the state personally and then by proxy through his wife whom he pulled out straight from kitchen with nobody in the party daring to protest, weathered many a political storm, including the fodder scam, to retain a firm hold on power.

Lalu's partner in the Centre's ruling UPA, LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan, despite best efforts in the last assembly elections, failed to rein in Lalu's RJD, which emerged as the single-largest party with 75 seats.

The RJD strongman had banked on consolidation of secular votes with Congress, which had entered into half-baked alliances with both RJD and LJP in the last polls.

Though the Congress jettisoned the LJP and allied with RJD to see him through, it had little fathomed the magnitude of the anti-incumbency factor which finally did him in.

What Paswan's determined bid to chip away Lalu's assiduously nurtured Muslim votebank could not not achieve, was done by the anti-incumbency factor built up over 15 years.

The Lalu-Rabri regime, which the NDA chose to describe as 'jungle raj' was marked by allegations of nepotism, non-development and a series of financial scandals.

But a master of social engineering, Lalu dexterously managed caste equations in his favour to dominate the state's political landscape for a decade and a half.

His rustic demeanour was a major asset as he appeared one among the dispossessed. He meticulously cultivated this image to stay in power: "I gave self-respect and self-esteem to the masses suffering in the feudalist society of Bihar," he often said.

The Ram Rath Yatra of BJP in early 1990s, saw him emerge as one of the greatest champions of Muslims after he arrested BJP President LK advani at Samastipur.

The Lalu-Rabri reign will go down in history as one in which no major communal riot took place in the state.

As several parts of India saw communal conflagrations in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition, Bihar remained peaceful and this earned Lalu the sorbiquet of 'the Messiah of Muslims' apart from being 'the Messiah of the poor' and not without reason.

The life of the 57-year-old leader, born into a poor milkman's family at Phulwaria village in Gopalganj district in the rural backwaters of Bihar, is a saga of huge successes.

Lalu, who was elected as president of the Patna University Students Union in 1973, had his baptism in big-time politics under legendary Jayaprakash Narayan who is said to have persuaded Lalu to lead the students' agitation.

This ultimately blossomed into a mass movement that led to the imposition of Emergency and subsequent installation of the first non-Congress government at the Centre.

Lalu made his debut in electoral politics in 1977 contesting the Chapra seat which he won as an anti-Congress wave swept north India and Congress was completely wiped out from Bihar.

Though Lalu won the Sonepur assembly seat thereafter in 1980 and 1985, his real ascent to power began in 1989 when, backed by V P Singh, he stepped into the shoes of socialist leader Karpoori Thakur as the leader of the opposition in the state assembly.

However, though a pro-Janata Dal wave swept across Bihar like many other states following the Bofors scandal, Lalu, quite unsure of getting chief ministership in the event of his party coming to power after the assembly elections, contested and won the Chapra Lok Sabha seat in 1989.

Ascent to the chief minister's post was, however, not not easy for him when Janata Dal along with its left allies emerged victorious in the 1990 assembly polls.

Prime minister VP Singh, seeking to portray himself a leader in Gandhian mould, backed Ramsunder Das, a Dalit, who had had a brief stint as chief minister in 1979-80, for the top job.

VP Singh contended that since Lalu was not even a member of the state assembly he should not be in the race and paved the way for Das to become chief minister.

As things got tough for Lalu, he approached Chandrashekhar who almost always ready to do anything that would undermine VP Singh's authority, and jat patriarch and Haryana chief minister Devi Lal. Lalu was backed in his endeavour by Sharad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The Bihar leader, who would practise to perfection the art of divide and rule in his later years as chief minister and RJD president, forced a contest for the top job.

Chandrashekhar, in his effort to weaken VP Singh, asked his protege Raghunath Jha to enter the fray and, in a three-cornered contest, Lalu won by a whisker.

Combining his Mandal mantra with his aggressive brand of secularism, Lalu led Janata Dal to victory in the assembly polls in 1995.

In 1997, he split the Janata Dal following irreconcilable differences with Sharad Yadav and formed the RJD.

Faced with imminent arrest after being chargesheeted in the Fodder scam, in one masterstroke, he installed Rabri Devi, as chief minister on July 25, 1997.

So complete was his hold over his party that though Rabri had no political or administrative experience there was not even a murmur of protest.

Serious corruption charges and incarceration could not wean away his popularity, particularly among Muslims and Yadavas.

In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, he decided to contest from Madhepura, the seat held by his bete noire Janata Dal chief Sharad Yadav and won.

In the assembly polls in 2000, through RJD lost majority winning only 124 of 324 seats, he forged a post poll alliance with the Congress and with the help of CPI-M, other smaller parties and independents succeeded in re-installing Rabri at the helm.

In February 2005 Assembly polls, his party emerged as the single largest party, but as he failed to get an RJD-led government installed, he allegedly 'masterminded' the dissolution of the House without a single sitting.