When former Bihar Chief Minister and RJD national president Lalu Prasad was convicted in 2013 in a fodder scam case, several political pundits started writing his political obituary. His close confidante at the time and now BJP Union minister Ram Kripal Yadav had vociferously defended Lalu Prasad pointing out that the RJD chief’s mass base was intact since he usurped Bihar throne from Congress in March 1990.
Lalu Prasad’s sons, Tej Pratap Yadav and Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, had sounded a bit nervous then, but perhaps it was because they were much younger. Party leaders were confident that Lalu’s conviction would make little difference to the party’s electoral strength. RJD managed to retained its four seats in 2014 Lok Sabha despite Narendra Modi wave. Even in adversity, Lalu Prasad’s party got over 22 per cent votes on its own.
And when Nitish Kumar chose to align with Lalu and Congress in 2015 Assembly seats, the combination stopped the Modi juggernaut in Bihar by winning 178 of 243 seats and emerged as the single kargest party with 80 seats, pushing Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) to 71 seats in a battle of supremacy between two “socialist brothers”.
So how will Lalu Prasad’s second conviction in the fodder scam cases impact the party? Is the political template different now with Nitish rejoining the NDA and Congress showing little signs of improvement?
The answer is between the two. When Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, leader of Opposition in Assembly and natural claimant for RJD’s CM nominee for 2020 Assembly polls, says they have started preparing for 2019 battle, he is dropping enough hints that RJD will try to make political capital out of Lalu’s conviction. The party has already given a caste angle to the verdict after former CM Jagannath Mishra’s acquittal in the same case.
Top RJD leaders like Shivanand Tewary have been talking about inadequate representation of lower castes in the higher judiciary and in turn, insinuating heavy presence of upper castes in higher judiciary. The entire Lalu clan has been playing vendetta politics to the hilt and putting the large share of blame on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for being a active party to “scheming” BJP.
Though they may well be referring to last year’s CBI raids at Lalu’s residence and making Lalu, Rabri Devi and Tejasjwi accused in 2006 case of land-for-hotel case, Tejashwi and other leaders are trying to put the BJP and JD (U) on the back foot by asking that if Lalu can be convicted in the animal husbandry case, why cant Nitish Kumar and his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi be accused of the similar Srijan scam in Bhagalpur.
Certainly, the RJD has lost its moral face in the media, Opposition, the intelligentsia and Twitterati, Lalu’s Muslim-Yadav vote base is hardly impacted by the second conviction of their leader. The RJD has been playing the victim card very effectively. Tejashwi has been taking tough questions and is coming out with answers couched in Lalu’s social justice mound.
Elder Lalu son Tej Pratap has also mellowed down his aggressive brand of politics. He has his personal ambitions too and adversity will likely keep the two brothers together. Most likely, Lalu will get bail and things will get back to normal for RJD. Lalu’s anti-Modi politics will keep getting him attention at national level.
The 2019 elections are still some time away for Lalu. He has enough time to regroup. The only question is if there will be a combined Opposition for the 2019 battle against BJP. RJD knows that it will be tough in a two-way fight. Nitish reuniting with BJP does threaten the RJD, but the RJD certainly scores over Nitish Kumar staying loyal to its ideology.
Despite his conviction in the fodder case, Lalu continues to claim to be a flag-bearer of secularism. The future will depend on how Congress takes up Opposition unity and more importanly, how its new president Rahul Gandhi treats the RJD.
Lalu’s conviction is further likely to consolidate its cadre vote. Some Muslim votes which had gone to Nitish, would likely come back to RJD. But the party is worried about the ED and CBI cases agaist Tejashwi and Misa Bharti. Their disposal will, however, take their time. Till then the RJD will dish out political vendetta and Nitish’s grand betrayal in the old wrap of socialism and secularism. Along with Nitish, the BJP will be its rival.
One should think twice before thinking of writing Lalu’s political obituary.