Hours after the results blanked out the RJD in Bihar, in its worst-ever performance in the state, there is absolute quiet at the hospital where the man who nurtured it into a vehicle for social justice has been lodged for nine months. A TV set on high volume detailing the party’s decimation, to 0, and the resurgence of its arch foe Nitish Kumar, is the only sound at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital (RIMS) in Ranchi. The barricade at the entrance with a few sub-inspectors hanging around is the only sign that inside is a ‘VIP’.
Jailed for 14 years, Lalu Prasad is in Ward No. 1 on the hospital’s ground floor for “observation”. This was the first election since he founded the RJD that Lalu didn’t campaign. There was much chatter about how Lalu’s expertise was on show again in the caste arithmetic that the RJD and Congress stitched up into a Mahagathbandhan, and about whether it had suffered from the lack of his magic touch during campaign. Given the extent of the rout (the NDA won 39 of Bihar’s 40 seats), a cloud now hangs over both those assumptions.
“It is a Modi Tsunami,” an anchor in a news show is now shouting. One of the two security guards who is among the audience crowded around the set, Ajay Singh, says, “Modiji aa gayein hain (Modiji is back).”
A resident of Begusarai, Singh recalls how the hospital was once crowded with visitors for Lalu. “Raah chalta aadmi bhi mil leta tha (Anyone even walking by could meet him).” One time when his daughter Misa Bharti came visiting, he says, there was a “small crowd outside the hospital”. In March, newly turned Congress leader Shatrughan Sinha dropped in, he says.
According to a source, in the past 35 weeks, besides son Tejashwi and wife Rabri Devi, Lalu met Hindustani Awam Morcha president Jitan Ram Manjhi, Loktantrik Janata Dal founder Sharad Yadav and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party president Upendra Kushwaha, among others.
With the hospital emerging as almost the epicentre for political meetings, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar charged in April that Lalu was managing his party’s election plan over the phone. This prompted officials to conduct a check. Earlier too there were allegations that the the RJD chief had managed to meet some politicians without permission.
So, on April 20, jail authorities put up a notice outside Lalu’s ward curtailing visitors, citing “law and order issues”.
Now, three visitors are allowed to meet Lalu every Saturday, with “prior approval”. Among those denied permission, allegedly despite requests to Birsa Munda Jail authorities, was RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav. On April 25 he tweeted that Lalu was being meted out “inhuman treatment”, and was even being denied required tests.
Asked about Lalu, Jail Superintendent Ashok Chaudhary said, “We take care of him as per norms and orders… I cannot comment any further.”
RIMS sources said some of these tests require Lalu to be moved to another hospital block, and security needed for the same has to be provided by jail officials.
After being convicted in the fodder scam, Lalu was sent to the Birsa Munda Central Jail on December 23, 2017. Two months later, he developed health complications and underwent treatment at RIMS and AIIMS. Since August 30 last year, he has been recuperating at RIMS, making it the longest a VIP patient has stayed at the hospital. An employee says Lalu’s ward is “just like home”, with a small kitchen and a bed.
Another RIMS doctor admitted the denial of permission for people to meet Lalu was “political”. “Now that the BJP has won, there won’t be any problems in allowing people to meet,” he said.Among Lalu’s last visitors was Misa Bharti, who came on May 22, after the exit polls which predicted between four-six seats for the RJD in Bihar. Emerging, she said her father had sustained a wound on his leg, and that she did not believe in exit polls.
Misa lost from Patalipura to the BJP.
According to Singh, and another security guard who did not wish to be identified, there have been no visitors since the day of the results. “We heard that Laluji was very upset. He did not speak to anyone,” says the guard.
Even when the TV sets fell silent, the sound of the rout would have been hard to block out. An employee at the hospital said a few doctors who support Narendra Modi burst crackers outside the building where the RJD chief is lodged.