“Get back on track,” was Lalu Prasad’s tongue-in-cheek reply in the Lok Sabha when a fellow Member of Parliament (MP) once complained that interruptions were making him lose his train of thought during a noisy debate.
After convictionin the Fodder scam on Thursday,the question being asked is will Prasad’s own humourous advice early this year in a reference to his former Railways portfolio hold good for him in his derailed political career.
But the next time Parliament is in session,it will be short on humour and miss the wisecracks of the irrepressible Prasad who has enlivened many a proceeding.
Arguably one of India’s most colourful politicians,65-year-old Prasad,son of a milkman,is an unique figure in the hurly-burly of Indian politics and a phenomenon in his hey days. He is one politician who defied stereotypes.
Known for his quirky style and mass appeal,there were few leaders in India who could rival Prasad’s charisma and popularity in his prime.
Prasad,who rose from a clerk to become a two-time Chief Minister of undivided Bihar and then as Union Railways Minister,has in essence,provided a perfect example of true Indian rural sophistication.
His trademark lungi,short and stout body,and sprouted ears have endeared him,in both ways,to the masses of India. His lustrous career kicked off at a tender age of 29,when he got elected to the 6th Lok Sabha,one of the youngest members in the Lower House.
In a short span of 10 years,Prasad,a canny political operator,went on to become a formidable political force in Bihar,and became the Chief Minister for the first time in 1990.
During his second term,he was charged in the Fodder Scam of 1996 and resigned as Chief Minister in 1997,He elected his wife Rabri Devi,with whom he has nine children,as his successor.
Illiterate and a newcomer to politics,Rabri was nick-named “Rubbery Devi” by her critics who alleged that she was a rubber stamp for her husband and a mere figurehead. They said Prasad ran the state by remote control.
When he was riding high on the success of power,Prasad flaunted himself as the raja of Bihar. Truly,the maverick Prasad and his wife held on to his fort in Bihar for 15 long years but his political fortunes began sliding from 2005.
Prasad’s long innings in politics including many years as Chief Minister has not made a significant dent in the lives of the poor in Bihar,according to his critics.
The 2009 Lok Sabha elections proved to be another nemesis for Prasad,who is finding hard to retrieve the lost ground in Bihar.
A hugely popular politician,even though his tenure in Bihar saw crime increase and led the state to gain a dubious reputation of lawlessness,several hilarious stories revolve around him.
Prasad’s popularity even led toy stores to carry a doll modelled after him in 2005 when Assembly elections took place But he lost power.
He relies on a power base of Muslims and Yadavs,a caste community that traditionally tends cattle.
During the Congress-led UPA government’s first term,from 2004 to 2009,he was Union Railways minister,and was credited with bringing India¿s Railways back into the black,a feat that led to invitations to speak at business schools.
Prasad even found his way into the textbooksthe prestigious IIM,Ahmedabad,introduced a case study on his work in the Railways ministry for its business students.
Although ridiculed and parodied by the media and the middle class for his rustic manner of speaking,Prasad has demonstrated his wily political skills over the last two decades.
As he continued to fascinate popular imagination in Bihar and in other parts of India,he inspired many Bollywood characters and Laloo dolls,which became hugely popular with children.
Prasad was prone to wise-cracks and theatrics and often livened up India’s Parliamentary proceedings with puns and other jokes.
In his 2008 presentation of the Railway budget,Prasad appeared to make the most of his country-bumpkin image,translated his Hindi remarks into English. “Lalu Yadav has planted a fruit tree,” in particular,elicited many laughs.
Although he is an MP and remains a key ally of UPA,Prasad has lost much of his political base in the last few years.
Born on June 11,1948 in a poor farming family in Bihar,Prasad has travelled a long way from his humble origins.
Prasad,whose politics is based on mass mobilisation of the lower-caste Hindu votes,had come to be known as a champion of social justice.
As a politician,Prasad was groomed by socialist leader Jai Prakash Narayan,who led a student movement in the early 1970s.
He displayed an early interest in politics through his involvement in elections to the Patna University students union.