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How many lives does Lalu have?

24 October 2010 View Comments

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)

Leader: Lalu Yadav
Election Symbol: Lantern
Alliance Partner: LJP
Contesting: 168 out of 243 seats

Lalu Yadav is fighting a battle for political survival, with his back to the wall. He has been in similar situations before. Several times in the past, his political career seemed to ebb, but he always managed to bounce back. First, mid way through his second term as Chief Minister of Bihar in 1997, when he was arrested by CBI in Fodder scam, people wrote him off. But he sprung a surprise by anointing his illiterate wife as Chief Minister and still managed to rule by proxy for another 8 years. Even after 15 years in power, when he lost the assembly elections in 2005, the opposition could not muster enough numbers to form a government, forcing the imposition of President’s rule. By then he was already installed in the Centre as Railways Minister in UPA – I government headed by Manmohan Singh. Towards the end of the year, in a repeat election, when he decisively lost and along with Rabri Devi had to vacate 1 Anne Marg, the official residence of Chief Minister, it again looked like curtains for him. Yet he managed to rise again and create a larger than life image as Railways Minster. He seemingly turned around the near bankrupt Railways and became the cynosure of IIM students and corporate honchos alike, teaching them management lessons. It however ended with his party badly losing the 2009 Parliamentary Elections and Congress dumping him from the cabinet. The Bihar Assembly Elections 2010 present him with an opportunity to redeem lost glory.

Lalu Yadav, Ramvilas Paswan

Lalu embraces Paswan after alliance

However this time around, the political context seems to have changed dramatically. Five years of Nitish’s administration have modified the rules of the game. Consequently he has had to reinvent himself, off loading many of his earlier positions. During his hay days, he would scorn any talk of development deciding political fortunes. He himself never felt the need to perform because of his claim of having given the backward communities respectability and the courage to stand up to the dominance of forward castes . Too bad that they now want development too. Earlier he could win elections simply because he was the flag bearer of secularism protecting the Muslim community from the saffron marauders. He famously strung the Yadavs and the Muslim community together in his ‘MY'( pronounced as ‘maai’ in Hindi meaning mother) vote bank. His grasp over the twin community was so strong that he could afford to ignore everyone else. Right from the start, Nitish went on to work to systematically demolish Lalu’s hold over the Muslim community. He positioned himself as a ‘doer’ as opposed to Lalu who he claimed only rendered lip service. In between, Mamata Bannerjee, the new Railways Minister in the Congress led UPA – II government brought in a white paper that debunked Lalu’s claim of turning around Railways as mere financial gimmickry. Besides his common dose of development, Nitish went on to launch specific schemes such as ‘Hunar’ to directly target backwardness, illiteracy, and unemployment among Muslims. Besides this he also made sure that communal harmony in the state was not spoiled by hardliners. In doing so he demolished Lalu’s claim that only he could protect the community from BJP. He also matched Lalu step for step in tokenism by appointing Muslim Ministers and Bureaucrats to important positions, nominating a Muslim to the Rajya Sabha, participating prominently in their festivals, roping in Aligarhh Muslim University to start an extension centre in Bihar etc.

Another ghost from past that has come back to haunt Lalu, is his bad mouthing of forward castes. Right from his student days he had consciously moulded himself as the savior of backward communities by ridiculing and cutting the forward castes to size. This time around unfortunately, with his ‘MY’ vote bank in jeopardy, he has had to look towards them in a bid to strike at Nitish’s strength. He even engineered a major coup d’état by having the disgruntled Prabhunath Singh join hands with him. He has also tried to sow the seeds of suspicion among forward castes about the unreliability of Nitish Kumar and has in turn promised a 10% reservation for them. He has also made many other promises, some of which are risque’ such as his proposal to give motorcycle to students to counter Nitish’s highly acclaimed bicycle scheme for school students. His promises are in sharp contrast to his past when he had to hardly make any promises to win elections.

To be fair he has cleaned up his stables this time by evicting his two infamous ‘salas'(brother in laws) – Sadhu and Subhash Yadav. He even tried to do a ‘Rahul’ by introducing his 20 year old, younger son, Tejaswi into political internship. Desperate to strike a deal with Paswan for his Dalit vote bank, he agreed to part with 75 seats whereas earlier he only used to given 40-50 seats to Congress and left combined. Unlike the past, when he was full of self-assurance and waited for the other side to blink first, this time around he is out to please everyone. He promises to undo his past mistakes and claims that he will shine Bihar just like Railways. With Ramvilas Paswan and Prabhunath Singh, he has extended his appeal from the traditional  Muslim-Yadavs (MY), to Dalits as well as Forward castes. Even if he is able to carry fraction of these communities together, he would be home. If push comes to shove and the elections throw up a hung assembly in the end, he is prepared to play the secularism card,and seek the support of Congress. He is hoping that like the nine offsprings that he has, he might just have nine lives in politics too.

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