After Lalu Prasad became the Bihar chief minister at the age of 42 in March 1990, he went to his Phulwaria village in Gopalganj district and broke the news to his mother Marachhiya Devi, saying in Bhojpuri: “Mai, hum mukhyamantri ban gaini (mother, I have become CM).” Unimpressed, she asked him what was this post. When Lalu explained that it was even bigger than the “zamindari estate of Hathua Maharaj”, she took a deep sigh and said, with sadness in her voice: “So you could not manage to get a government job.”
Lalu, who turns 74 on Saturday, would often refer to this conversation with his mother to highlight his modest background and his long struggle to reach the state’s top post that he would often describe as “Raja of Bihar” in his heydays.
On July 5, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is going to commemorate its 25th birth anniversary. On this day in 1997, Lalu had broken ranks with his then colleagues and top Janta Dal leaders such as Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan to form his own party, the RJD, and install his wife Rabri Devi as the new CM a few days later. The journeys of the 25-year-old RJD and its 74-year-old founder president map an intertwined political saga marked with ups and downs, twists and turns, and accomplishments and failures.
Even as Lalu, who has been convicted in five of six fodder scams and is an accused in IRCTC and land-for-railway job cases, has been ailing for a long period, he has not lost his political heft and salience. He is one of the leading Opposition faces, who has continued to be a fierce critic of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government. In a recent virtual address to his party leaders, he cautioned people against “Emergency and civil war-like situation in the country”, stressing on the need for having the Opposition’s unity. His repeated convictions in fodder scams seem to have little bearing on his supporters even as the RJD, currently Bihar’s principal Opposition party, continues to be a formidable force in state politics.
Lalu’s younger son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, is firmly at the helm of the RJD affairs. While he fights illness and court cases, he has handed over the party reins to Tejashwi, even as his elder son Tej Pratap Yadav remains a sulking and maverick political player. Lalu has however managed to transfer his political legacy and support base to Tejashwi, who has taken the centre stage of Bihar politics in his own right now.
A two-time CM and ex-Union minister, the RJD patriarch has been playing the role of a guide for Tejashwi and his other party colleagues for a long time now. He has not been politically active since the 2015 Assembly polls due to his deteriorating health. But he is still the last word in the RJD in crucial matters like the selection of its candidates for various elections at the state and central levels in sync with the party’s social coalition priorities.
With Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) supremo Nitish Kumar also ageing, the Tejashwi-led RJD has now started gearing up for future electoral battles with the BJP-led NDA alliance in the state and central elections. Currently, the RJD, which emerged as the single largest party in the 2020 state Assembly polls, does not have a single MP in the Lok Sabha. The Bihar Assembly election is due in late 2025, but the Lok Sabha polls are slated for early 2024, which Tejashwi is eyeing in a bid to emerge as a serious challenger to the NDA at all levels.