The RJD believes Lalu Prasad’s conviction in the fodder scam will not affect the party’s electoral future, while the JD(U) and the BJP have started to write it off. Both sides back their argument with the same piece of poll history — the RJD-JD(U)’s performance in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections, following Lalu’s previous conviction.
The RJD won 80 seats in that election and the JD(U) 71, out of 178 won by the grand alliance formed with the Congress (27) for 243 seats. For the RJD, it was a huge jump after 22 seats in the last assembly polls before the conviction — in 2010. Now, with the RJD and the JD(U) having parted ways, the former credits Lalu with ensuring the 2015 victory, while the latter credits Nitish Kumar.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that came between the first conviction and the assembly victory, the RJD won only four seats out of Bihar’s 40; it had won that few in 2009 too.
“I don’t think Lalu Prasad’s conviction will impact his voters in any way. After all, was Lalu not convicted when a leader like Nitish decided to align with him for 2015?” said RJD national vice president Shivanand Tiwari, who has worked closely with both Lalu and Nitish.
“The Lalu-Nitish combination in 2015 meant a consolidation of OBC, Dalit and Muslim votes and the result was 178 of 243 seats,” Tiwari told The Indian Express. “Nitish in NDA-II is no longer the same leader as his support base of EBC, Dalit and Pasmanda (OBC) Muslims will not remain with him. Nitish has angered the upper castes and I do not see them voting for his candidates in 2019. On the contrary, we sense that the upper castes have a soft corner for Lalu now.”
JD(U) national spokesperson K C Tyagi dismissed the argument that Lalu has emerged stronger every time he has gone to jail. “Did the RJD tally not come down in every assembly poll since the 1995 elections? The only time he [Lalu] surprised us was in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls when he got 22 seats. Ever since, it has been a fall,” he said.
“The 2015 victory was because of Nitish joining hands with Lalu. Wherever Nitish goes, he tilts the balance towards the winning combination,” Tyagi said, adding that RJD would not be the same force without Nitish. “Lalu has lost his face further. It will have to listen to the Congress at national level,” Tyagi said.
Tiwari of the RJD said the BJP and Nitish should not forget that PM Narendra Modi will fight anti-incumbency in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “In the absence of Lalu, all senior leaders of RJD will hit the field after January 14 and tell people about the BJP’s conspiracy against Lalu, Nitish’s betrayal of the mandate and more importantly how farmers have suffered under NDA rule,” Tiwari said. He added that the liquor law would dent Nitish’s SC votes. “People getting convicted under the liquor law are SC Mushahars and EBCs, some of the core Nitish voters,” he said. About the BJP, he said: “Some BJP leaders have been talking about changes to the Constitution. Atrocities against Dalits have gone up. We would ask [Bihar Deputy CM] Sushil Modi, who wants a law to end polygamy, if the BJP considers Dalits Hindus in the first place.”
Tiwari — who, incidentally, was one of the petitioners in the fodder scam — added Lalu’s support base has been more or less intact over the years and pointed out that the party won 22 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
Tyagi accepted that Lalu has been commanded 20-22% of the votes even during his biggest setbacks. He added, however: “Lalu’s absence from politics for a long time will create leadership vacuum. There is a huge generation gap between Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and leaders like Shivanand Tiwari, Jagdanand Singh, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Abdul Bari Siddiqui. One must not forget that even if Lalu gets bail, he will remain embroiled in many other pending CBI and ED cases besides three other fodder cases,” Tyagi said.
Sushil Modi, also one of the petitioners in the fodder scam, said: “Lalu has no moral authority to face the people after back-to-back conviction in fodder scam cases. It sounds preposterous when he compares himself with a leader like Karpoori Thakur, who was a leading light of honesty and probity in public life.”