Life seems to have turned a full circle for former Bihar chief minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav who suffered a major blow on September 30 when a special CBI court convicted him in a 17-year-old fodder scam case.
The man who once ruled Bihar for fifteen years, now faces the ignominy of facing jail and also being disqualified from Parliament, after the Supreme Court order on convicted lawmakers.
Though he can appeal in the higher courts, the fact is that more likely than not, Lalu will be out of the electoral arena for couple of years. It is said that Lalu had gone to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi days before the Union Cabinet cleared an ordinance to save convicted MLAs and MPs from disqualification and it was reportedly agreed that the ruling combine would come to the aid of the RJD chief. However, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi left no options for Lalu when he termed the ordinance as ‘nonsense’ and something that should be torn and thrown away.
Thus, while BJP and JD(U), rivals of RJD in Bihar have welcomed the judgement, which was pronounced in Ranchi, the Congress said that law had taken its own course.
However, the moot question is what is the road ahead for Lalu and whether he can bounce back and still be relevant politically, both at the state and the national level, if he is sent to jail for couple of years.
Though, the RJD leaders said that they would challenge the judgement and while Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi maintained that she would run the party along with her sons, the way Sonia Gandhi and Rahul guide Congress, the fact remains that the court order will hit the party hard, especially with General Elections 2104 just months away.
Lalu has two sons, Tej Pratap and Tejaswi Yadav, who are looked upon as the heir apparent of the RJD chief but they are new in the arena of politics and the public in Bihar is yet to judge their political acumen. Also, with all the criticism Lalu has faced in the past, regarding corruption and misrule in Bihar, he was considered a shrewd politician who could successfully tap into the pulse of the people and wooed them to vote for him, at least for 15 years. But whether his sons can walk in his footsteps is yet to be seen.
And Rabri, who was pushed into centrestage in 1997 despite being a mere housewife and no political experience when Lalu chose her to replace him as CM in the wake of fodder scam, then had her husband and her brothers and top RJD leaders to guide her (some would say - to misguide her). However, that was a time when the so-called Lalu wave was in Bihar and the RJD was a major political force in the state.
But, much water has flown under the bridge since then. Lalu’s party was trounced by the BJP-JD(U) combine in 2005 and then again in 2010 and Nitish Kumar replaced him at the helm. Though the BJP and JD (U) have parted ways in the recent past, Lalu has been a fringe player in state politics for years now. And if he was hoping that the separation of the two NDA partners would probably make him relevant in state politics again, then the verdict has poured water on that too. As far as the Centre is concerned, though the RJD chief was an ally of the Congress in UPA-1 and was made the Railways minister, in UPA-2 he was sidelined by the grand old party and was not given any portfolio, even though his party continues to support the government.
Given the above scenario, it will be not be wrong to say that Lalu’s fortunes as a politician to reckon with has been on a decline for a while now and the latest conviction in the fodder scam will only hasten the slide. Moreover, the winds of change are blowing in the country. The Congress-led UPA government is facing serious credibility crisis and has been accused of scams and policy paralysis. It is also staring at the arduous task of going to the electorate with a decade of anti-incumbency. On the other hand, the Narendra Modi wave is said to be blowing in the country. In such a situation, if the BJP comes back to power in 2014 and is able to cobble together a coalition, then Lalu and his party will be rendered all the more irrelevant.
Also, with the Congress going all out to entice the JD(U) and with Nitish’s known aversion for Modi, who knows that a new alliance may be in the offing, even though the Bihar Chief Minister has held anti-Congress stand in his entire political career.
Lalu has none but himself to blame for his plight and spending a couple of years behind bars may give him the chance to introspect as to where he went wrong. It is ironical that the man, who learnt his politics from Jayprakash Narayan and was an integral part of the famous JP movement against corruption in the seventies as a student activist, is staring at couple of years in jail on charges of graft. After Lalu came to power, what did he do? The way he ran the state was a complete anti-thesis to what his mentor’s ideology was.
The fact that he milked the Muslim-Yadav combine to the hilt and played caste politics to get power was not so much of a problem as was the fact that under his rule Bihar is considered to have gone back to dark ages. If he is accused of non-governance and criminalisation of politics in Bihar, then there is a point in it. If crime was at an all-time high in the state and the image of Bihar had nosedived in the country, then there is also a point in it. He let criminals rule the roost and he allowed his notorious brothers-in-law become law unto themselves. So much so that those, who did not have political patronage, lived in fear during the RJD rule. I know because I come from that state.
No wonder, when the incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar offered people a new brand of politics in Bihar, Lalu’s core vote bank deserted him and voted for the JD(U) leader. To be fair to Nitish, he has more or less lived up to the expectations of the people and the state since then has seen a massive reduction in crime and has been surging ahead as far as growth and development is concerned.
Identity politics has a limit, and though caste and religion still matter in the Hindi heartland, the fact is that the voting pattern in India is fast changing and the likes of Lalu will find themselves increasingly marginalised if they do not deliver to the electorate what they have promised.