Wednesday, Apr 01, 2015

A Lalu-shaped vacuum

Written by Santosh Singh | Published on:October 2, 2013 12:44 am

The RJD chief’s traditional constituencies may not change sides so fast.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s response to RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s conviction must be read between the lines. Though he stands to gain politically from the conviction,Nitish merely said it was a part of a judicial process and did not warrant a reaction.

There could be several reasons why the Bihar CM was restrained in his reaction. Perhaps it was because he is among the few who have witnessed Lalu Prasad’s political journey at close quarters — from student leader to Yadav leader to OBC leader to “champion of social justice”. Nitish had been Lalu’s trusted lieutenant and second-in-command,until he left before the 1995 polls to chart his own course as a Kurmi leader. Nitish knows by now what it takes to make the transition from a politician with a narrow caste base to a pan-Bihar leader. He had started outwitting Lalu in the 2005 assembly polls,routed him in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and completely decimated his one-time mentor in the 2010 assembly polls. Nitish’s reactions are also guarded because he knows it is dangerous to write off Lalu. It will not be easy for Yadavs to completely shift their allegiance to another leader. It will not be easy for Muslims to repose full trust in a leader who is “secular on second thought”. The shift has begun but it will be no smooth ride for Nitish.

Lalu’s wife and former chief minister,Rabri Devi,has put up a brave front,saying “mother and sons” can take care of the party. She might have been prompted by her husband,who had seen his conviction coming. Rabri Devi and the couple’s youngest son,Tejaswi,have been briefed to keep the party together. But the JD(U) and the BJP can make major inroads into Lalu’s vote bank only if the RJD chief fails to get bail. If that happens,the party faces political oblivion. The RJD’s Muslim and Yadav voters will not warm to a campaign that does not feature Lalu Prasad.

Tejaswi is too young to step into his father’s shoes. Rabri Devi has never been a speaker,forget good speaker. The Bihar of 2014 will not entertain them. The state had moved on to a new brand of politics even before Nitish. Lalu does have effective second-rung leaders in sitting MP s Raghuvansh Prasad Singh,Prabhunath Singh and Jagdanand Singh. But they are all upper-caste Rajput leaders and do not fill the Lalu slot. The party has a good Muslim leader in Abdul Bari Siddiqui,but none of them has a pan-Bihar image. Plus,the internal wrangles between these leaders could prevent the party from putting up a united front.

There has been talk of Nitish gaining from the vacuum in the RJD and drawing much of its Muslim vote bank into the JD(U) fold. The Narendra Modi factor will also be crucial here. Already,a section of RJD workers are prepared to support Modi in the Lok Sabha and then distance themselves from the BJP before the 2015 assembly polls. The BJP continued…

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