It isn’t 1997,but at Patnas 10,Circular Road,time stands still. Sixteen years after he pulled wife Rabri Devi out of the hat as his successor for chief ministership when he was first arrested in a fodder scam case,Lalu Prasad has again fallen back on family to get him and his party through troubled times.
Rabri,38 then,was a political novice. The son considered Lalus successor,Tejashwi Prasad Yadav,is 24 and walking gingerly in his fathers shadow. However,the RJD appears willing to rally behind Tejashwi too. The party is also convinced of once again turning Lalus incarceration to its advantage.
The doors to the Lalu household are open to all these days. Basanti Devi has come from Buxar,130 km away,to express solidarity. A RJD worker belonging to an extremely backward class,Basanti says people are very angry about Lalu being sentenced for five years.
Rabri has met over 300 party workers since the morning. The number is expected to swell as the day progresses.
Tejashwi,the youngest son and the RJDs most vocal voice,tries to meet each of them despite a sore throat. Tej Pratap,the eldest son,greets some party workers before heading to the RJD office. In the battle for sweepstakes,the two have reached a balance. Pratap,the less charismatic,has taken the back seat.
While he occasionally takes part in political activities,especially in galvanising the youth,it is clear that Tejashwi is the man in charge. Pursuing graduation from Patnas B N College,Pratap is also believed to be more religiously inclined.
Tejashwi had other interests too. A promising cricketer,he was part of the Delhi Daredevils IPL team. In new whites now,he is as much a natural. He talks about having had a ringside view of politics,and about moving ahead on his own strength. He also narrates anecdotes to establish his fathers humble origins,and claims he himself never felt privileged.
His first public appearance was at the age of six at the mammoth 1995 Garib Raila – since it was big,Lalu called it raila rather than rally – in Patna. Lalu,who headed the states Janata Dal government then,handed Tejashwi the mike briefly.
While classmates at the Patna school where he studied until Class 4 were in awe of him,he adds that once they interacted with him,they realised I was one of them.
Lalu,the family says,is as down-to-earth as the image he projects. They talk about a story recounted often by the RJD chief,of the time his mother visited him after he had become CM. My grandmother wanted my father to become a government servant. When my father said he had become CM,she asked if it was a government job. When he said no,she was disappointed, laughs Tejashwi.
While asserting that he didnt want to use harsh words against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar,Tejashwi claims the JD(U) leader had co-opted several of his fathers concepts like janta darbar and rain basera (night shelters).
Nitish Kumar is more a matter of brand projection than anything else. If the Raghuram Rajan committee report places Bihar among the bottom two states,what progress has he made in the past eight years? he asks.
The party also questions the JD(U)s secular credentials,given its alliance with the BJP.
Tejashwi adds that he has been reading up on the history of political parties and great politicians. I love reading about JP (Jai Prakash Narayan) and Karpoori Thakur. Unless I read about them,it will not be easy to understand the fine points of politics.
At the same time,the RJD is adapting. The party now has a page on Facebook along with one each belonging to Lalu and him. He himself chats every evening,Tejashwi says.
Rabri says their focus now is to build sympathy over Lalus conviction into support for the party. And Tejashwi plays down speculation about an RJD succession crisis.
The family is looking forward to November 22,when the CBI will file a counter-affidavit in court on a petition seeking that Nitish and two others also be made accused in the fodder case.
Rabri says her days at home are over and that she will be addressing public meetings after Chhath Puja,ending on November 9. The first testing of waters in the meeting with party leaders on October 6 pleased her.
Lalu still draws unquestioned loyalty,says the family,talking of an RJD worker from Muzaffarpur dying of heart attack after hearing Lalu had been jailed; another reportedly fell off his cycle right in front of Lalus residence.
The RJD media in-charge Randhir Yadav says the party can sense this anger will play a role. He also compliments Tejashwi for showing great composure. Some party seniors have already started talking about his leadership qualities, adds another leader.
Tejashwis first plan is to resume his youth meetings in the Kosi region from October 23 to 30. There is one hurdle though. Lalus greatest gift was his ability to communicate with people effortlessly. So many people tried to imitate him but failed.
Could he be the exception? No,says Tejashwi. There can be no second Laluji,he is one of a kind.