Friday, 21 August 2015

THE BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL

In the nineties and the early 2000s, he was the undisputed 'king' of Bihar's political landscape; apart from being the leader of the electorally influential Yadav community in the state, he also won the hearts of the Muslims by halting Lal Krishna Advani's Rath Yatra in Samastipur in 1990. It was precisely due to the backing of this formidable M-Y combination that Lalu Prasad Yadav won an unprecedented three consecutive state elections during that period. In fact, he was also a force to reckon with in national politics too during this time when the Congress hegemony on the post of the Prime Minister of India was being challenged on the one side by the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the loose coalition of regional satraps in various avatars on the other. After all, he was the one who blocked the elevation of another strong Yadav leader - Mulayum Singh Yadav from Samajwadi Party (SP) to the post of the PM in 1996. Moreover, when he had to resign following his conviction in the multi-crore Fodder Scam, he 'abdicated the CM's chair' in favor of his wife Rabri Devi and later went on to become the Railway Minister in the first innings of the Congress led UPA in 2004.

Though he was at the height of his political power at around this time, he seemed to have completely miscalculated the mood of the people on the ground. The days of caste ridden and representative politics were numbered and the masses wanted their political leaders to deliver on issues that mattered the most including good roads, water supply, electricity, employment, education, law and order and poverty elevation. And this was certainly not the RJD chief's forte. In what can be described as the biggest political surprise of 2005, the Nitish led NDA comprising of the JD-U and the BJP comfortably beat the Yadav led UPA to finally end the 'Lalu era' or what his detractors refer to as the 'Jungle Raj' in Bihar. Unfortunately for him, this was just the beginning for what would be a decade of electoral losses and political setbacks. As Nitish Kumar ushered in a wave of development in the north state, Lalu's vote base and political fortunes began to decline exponentially. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the NDA won 32 parliamentary seats while the RJD-LJP combine could muster just four. In the state polls held in the next year, further humiliation followed; the RJD was reduced to 22 seats and many were left wondering if Lalu would ever emerge from this spate of electoral defeats and resurrect his political career. As if this was not enough, the Supreme Court in 2015 upheld his conviction in the Fodder Scam by a CBI Court, making him ineligible to contest any polls for five years.

Lalu Prasad Yadav - Facebook
When all doors seem to be closing on the former CM, an opportunity came knocking post the split in the NDA after Nitish broke off all ties with the saffron outfit following the elevation of Narendra Modi as the BJP's nominee for the post of PM in 2014 General Election. The RJD chief seemed to be ready to cash in. Apart from 'rectifying' his mistake of having dumped the Congress in 2009, he also flaunted his 'secular' credentials to counter the NaMo mania. In the triangular contest that followed, the NDA painted Bihar in saffron, winning a staggering 31 seats while leaving the warring regional parties - the RJD and the JD-U with four and two seats respectively. In what seemed to be a scene right out of a Bollywood blockbuster, friends turned foes - Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar who had fought each other for nearly two decades 'kissed and made up' in an attempt to remain relevant in the 'Modi Era'. As the various constituents of the erstwhile Janata Parivaar (JP) initiated proceeding to merge into a single entity to counter the rise of the BJP, the new found allies won a sweet victory over the NDA in the August 2014 Bihar by-polls where they were assisted by the Congress and the NCP. Besides, the two parties have managed to put the differences of the past behind them and are gearing up to face the NDA in the high stakes 2015 state polls which in many ways could decide the fate of one of the most popular yet controversial leaders of our times - Lalu Prasad Yadav.

An Uneasy Calm: Though they have put up a united front while addressing rallies or press conferences, it is clear that all is not well between the Lalu and Nitish who were at the opposing end of the political spectrum for over 15 years during which they have fought several bitter battles and accused each other of various wrong-doings. From the perspective of the RJD chief, it was Kumar who broke his iron grip over Bihar in 2005, thereby relegating him to the sidelines both in the state and central politics. Though Lalu may have joined hands with the JD-U for now, there is no doubt that the bitterness from the past is still strong and the deep distrust between the chieftains refuses to die down in spite of the two parties being together for nearly an year now. Perhaps, what hurts the RJD chief all the more is the fact that he plays 'second fiddle' to the incumbent CM in the fight against the BJP. As we know, it is Nitish Kumar who was anointed by the JP to lead the 'Secular' Front in Bihar and the two regional outfits got equal number of seats in spite of the RJD's demands for more considering their relatively better performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But then, does Yadav have any choice? The answer is a 'No'. At this critical juncture when many are raising doubts over his future, Lalu has no choice but to stick with the mega coalition and focus on beating the NDA. All that the former Railway Minister can do to vent out is frustration is make sarcastic remarks like the one he made when asked about the appointment of Kumar as the alliance's CM candidate, "I am ready to drink all kinds of poison to crush the cobra of communalism".

A much needed victory: The one leader whose fate virtually hangs in the balance in the upcoming Bihar state polls is the RJD chief. At 67 years of age and having undergone a heart operation, he is certainly not getting any younger. As election results in the past nine years have shown, his once formidable M-Y combination seems to be gravitating towards his political rivals. The charges of corruption against him and his family as well as the horrific tales of lawlessness in Bihar under the RJD have completely tarnished his image. The charisma that won him many admirers in the past is vanning away whereas Yadav and the RJD have failed to re-inventing themselves or their ideologies so as to stay relevant in the minds of the state's youth. Moreover, his outfit just does not have any second rung mass leaders who are capable of getting the votes while his own children are yet to make their mark. With so many factors working against him, it is easy to understand why a victory is what Lalu Yadav needs at this juncture. Not only will it help him heal some of the scars of the past but will give him time, influence and power to put his party in order and pass on the baton to his sons and political successors - Tejaswi Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav who have taken the lead as far as the campaign is concerned.

While winning the 2015 state polls is Lalu's primary agenda, the ideal scenario for him is if he manages to win more seats than the JD-U. Consider this scenario wherein the JP manages to go past the halfway mark but the RJD gets a higher tally than the JD-U, making it indispensable as far as the formation of a non-NDA government in the state is concerned. In this case, there is no doubt that Lalu will use his numbers to make sure that Nitish does not get the CM's chair. Even if he does allow the JD-U supremo to continue in the post, expect him to keep the Kurmi leader on the tenterhooks all the time.

A defeat = The End: A defeat for the 'Secular' Front will possibly be the final nail in the spectacular political career of Lalu Prasad Yadav. Following that sting of political losses, the conviction in the Fodder Scam and the image of a 'power-drunk and corrupt' politician that seems to have stuck with him for long, it will be pretty much safe to dip our pen in black ink and write Lalu's political obituary. Yadav's outfit - the RJD is in tatters and another defeat may prompt a mass exodus of most of the cadre towards other parties, further destroying whatever little is left of it. Lalu's eldest daughter Misa who was beaten by former aide Rajkripal Yadav from Patliputra parliamentary seat by a margin of 40,000 votes has been maintaining a low profile ever since. Meanwhile, his two sons are too young and politically naive to lead an immediate resurgence. While speaking to some journalist years agao, Lalu had famously remarked "Jab tak rahega samose mein aloo, jab tak rahega Bihar mein Lalu". Unfortunately for him, a flop show in 2015 may mean that the once powerful Bihari satrap is relegated to the fringes in state politics forever even as potatoes continue to embellish one of India's favorite snack.