If it is a do-or-die battle for Nitish Kumar, it is a matter of existence for Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief and former chief minister of Bihar Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Lalu Yadav, a mass leader and arguably one of the country’s most colourful politicians, was a dominant force in Bihar’s politics in his hey days and had his presence felt equally at the national stage.
This 65-year-old leader of Bihar’s Yadav community is a unique figure in the hurly-burly of Indian politics and a politician who defied stereotypes during his long career.
Known for his quirky style and mass appeal, there are only handful of leaders in India who could match Lalu's charisma and popularity. Lalu, the son of a milkman, rose from a clerk to become a two-time Chief Minister of the undivided Bihar and is also credited for reviving the fortunes of loss-making Indian Railways during his tenure as Union Railways Minister.
Known for his trademark lungi, short and stout body, and sprouted ears, Lalu Yadav has till date maintained this image as he continues to woo the masses of India. His lustrous career kicked off at a tender age of 29, when he got elected to the 6th Lok Sabha, then one of the youngest members in the Lower House. In a short span of 10 years, Lalu, a canny political operator which he was, went on to become a formidable political force in Bihar, and the Chief Minister for the first time in 1990.
During his second term, he was charged in the Fodder scam case of 1996, which forced him to relinquish his post as chief minister in 1997. Undeterred by the sudden twist of fate, Lalu chose to rule Bihar as proxy chief minister by electing 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 Lalu’s political rivals who alleged that she was just a rubber stamp for her husband and a mere figurehead.
Despite all allegations of running the state by a remote control, Lalu Yadav managed to rule Bihar till corruption allegations against him gathered steam and forced him to quit his party for years the Janata Dal in 1997.
After quitting his party, Lalu set out to chart a different course and floated a new political outfit - the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
When he was riding high on the success of power, Prasad flaunted himself as the ‘Raja of Bihar’. Truly, the maverick Lalu and his wife held on to his fort in Bihar for 15 long years but his political fortunes began sliding from 2005.
Despite his long innings in politics and stint as Chief Minister, Lalu miserably failed to bring a significant improvement in the lives of the poor in Bihar.
During Lalu Yadav’s alleged ‘Jungle Raj’, the state became synonymous with bad politics, poor governance, lack of development and complete lawlessness – a stigma which took years for Nitish Kumar to end.
Strangely, despite a rising crime rate, lawlessness and anarchy, Lalu continued to be a hugely popular politician through his excellent oratory skills, his fine-tuning with media and his camaraderie. To cash in on Lalu's popularity, toy stores in Bihar began to sell a doll modeled after him in 2005 when Assembly elections took place but he lost power.
The 2009 Lok Sabha elections further eroded his mass support base among the Muslims and the 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 for bringing Indian Railways ‘back on track’, a feat that flooded him with invitations to speak at prestigious business schools.
The maverick politician even found his way into the textbooks - the 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, Lalu 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 scriptwriters to sketch characters based on him.
Lalu is prone to wise-cracks and theatrics and has often enthralled the parliamentarians with puns and spicy jokes.
Although he is an MP and remains a key ally of UPA, Lalu has lost much of his political base in the last few years. Born on June 11, 1948 in a poor milkman’s family in Bihar, Lalu has travelled a long way from his humble origins. Lalu, 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, he 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.
Lalu Yadav is today trying to regain the lost ground and is now relying on his two sons – Tej Pratap and Tejaswi – to carry forward his legacy.
While his elder son Tej Pratap Yadav, who handles the social media team of Rashtriya Janata Dal, failed to create an impact with his words during 2014 election campaigns, Lalu is inclined more towards his younger son Tejaswi, who is media savvy and has nerve to handle the crowd.
With an eye on Lalu’s vote cache, BJP has this time fielded 22 Yadavs to eat into the votes of the community staunchly aligned with him. AMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi's plan to make a loud debut in Bihar, and the refusal of SP and NCP to acquiesce to "humiliating" terms offered by him and Nitish Kumar for accommodation inside the 'secular' grand alliance has further made his task difficult.
During a noisy debate in Parliament earlier this year, Lalu once advised the MPs to ‘get back on track’, can the same be expected for him and his party after the counting of votes on November 8.