Will RJD manage a comeback?

The Assembly elections in Bihar are a do-or-die battle for former CM Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Ritesh K Srivastava

The Assembly elections in Bihar are a do-or-die battle for former Chief Minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav who was pushed to the margins by his arch-rival Nitish Kumar of JD-(U) in the year 2005. After conceding defeat in that year’s Assembly elections, Lalu, with the support of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, is trying hard this time to rework political equations in the state to overthrow the ruling JD-(U)-BJP disposition.

This self styled, maverick leader of Bihar was born in Phulwaria, in Bihar’s Gopalganj district to Kundan Rai and Marachhiya Devi. He holds a Bachelor`s degree in Law (LLB) and has done his Master’s in Political Science from BN College, Patna.

Lalu entered politics as a student leader while studying at the Patna University and later became the president of the students union in 1973-74. He also played an important role in the student movement, inspired by Jai Prakash Narayan, Raj Narain and Karpoori Thakur.

He was first elected to the 6th Lok Sabha in 1977 on a Janata Party ticket at the age of 29 years, thus becoming one of the youngest members of Parliament at that time. In less than a decade, Lalu became a household name in Bihar and led the National Font coalition to success in 1989 General Elections and State Assembly Elections.

He superseded Ram Sunder Das to become the Chief Minister of Bihar when his party seized power in the 1990 Assembly elections. He ruled Bihar between 1990 till 2005 and held undisputed influence over the state`s caste-dominated politics by deftly manipulating minority votes and Mandal dynamics.

Yadav formed the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in 1997, after splitting from the Janata Dal.

His biggest achievement till date has been his turnaround of the Indian Railways, which was a loss making entity of the Government of India till he resumed its charge in the UPA coaltion. As a Union Railways Minister, Lalu was instrumental in making the Railways a highly profitable organisation without even increasing passenger fares – a feat for which he received worldwide acclaim.

Before the General Election in 2009, Lalu’s RJD deserted Congress and entered into an alliance with Paswan’s LJP to stage a great come-back. However, the RJD-LJP alliance suffered badly. Despite facing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, Lalu decided to continue his party’s alliance with LJP and has sealed a seat-sharing agreement with Paswan for this poll.

Standing at the crossroads of political uncertainty, Lalu is once again fuelling caste politics with an aim to garner as many secular votes as possible.

The master tactician is well aware that even though his 15-years stint in power came to an end in the 2005 elections, RJD’s vote share has not declined much. RJD’s net vote share in 2005 Assembly election slipped by only 1.5% to 23.5% - the highest in that poll.
Nearly one and half decades back, when Lalu took over the reins of the state as Chief Minister, Bihar was a backward and poverty-ridden state. The poor people of Bihar saw a ray of hope in Lalu’s leadership since he was a grass-roots level politician and equally familiar with all that was ailing the state.

However, the euphoria soon vanished when allegations of corruption and gross irregularities were levelled against him. He never kept his promises and succumbed to greed and corruption.

His gimmickry with words continued since he was an excellent orator and mesmerised everyone with his wit and humour and punchy one-liners. Instead of focussing on all-round development, building infrastructure, creating jobs for Biharis and spreading education, Lalu resorted to cheap political tactics and minority appeasement policies.

A poor infrastructure, inefficient inter-state connectivity, lack of industrialisation and rise in criminal activities together catapulted Bihar into a dark age. Roads remained bumpy and full of potholes, no major construction activity took place in rural areas, electricity eluded thousands of villages and several Biharis fled to other states in search for better living. Educational facilities remained dormant and the government never ever launched a major welfare scheme aiming for the uplift of poor. The government never announced any sops for the industrial houses and there was no motivation for corporates to invest in Bihar.

With Lalu’s open support to criminals like Shahabuddin, who had perpetrated terror in Siwan, mafia-politician nexus in the state became very strong. Incidents of loots, kidnappings, murders, and gang war increased manifolds and complete lawlessness prevailed. Bihar soon became synonymous with crime and backwardness.

Nepotism was at its ugly height as the brothers-in-law of Lalu were given a free run over the entire state. It is true that the Yadavs united in his regime, but only for their own good.

Lalu and his close associates savoured the luxury he bought with his corrupt rule and divided the society on caste and religious lines for his own political gains. In this election, the voters will once again have a chance to decide whether they would want to live under the leadership of Nitish Kumar, seen as the harbinger of change in Bihar, or take a ride on the sinking ship of Lalu.