Patna: From 'Bihari boor' to the man who presided over 'jungle raj' to the 'messiah of poor' and 'Mandal mascot', the legend of Lalu Prasad spawned varied epithets, some bordering on veneration, but mostly uncouth.
Defeated in 2005 after a 15-year stint in power and decimated in 2010 polls that saw his once seemingly invincible RJD shrink to 22 seats in the 243-member Bihar assembly, the effervescent backward class leader is back to the centrestage once again, helping the grand alliance reap a bountiful electoral harvest and emerging as the king maker.
The 67-year-old leader cut his political teeth in students politics when he was first elected general secretary of the Patna University Students Union and then its President in the early 1970s.
As Bihar and Gujarat saw violent protests by students against the Indira Gandhi government in 1974, Lalu grew in stature and is widely believed to have persuaded socialist icon Jayaprakash Narayan, then leading the life of a recluse, to spearhead the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti's agitation.
The students' agitation grew in sweep and scale after declaration of Emergency on June 25, 1975 and culminated in formation of the first non-Congress government at the Centre in 1977.
Lalu, then aged 29, was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1977, but lost the subsequent election in 1979 when Congress staged an emphatic comeback. He got elected to the Bihar assembly in 1980 and 1985. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the second time in 1989, when riding anti-Congress sentiments following the Bofors scandal, V P Singh formed the National Front government.
In 1990, when Janata dal won Bihar, the wily political craftsman, whose rusticity cleverly masks the guile, persuaded Haryana Chief Minister Devi Lal, the man who had significantly contributed to building of the National Front, to force an internal election for choosing the Chief Minister after V P Singh favoured Ram Sundar Das and Chandra Shekhar plumped for his protege Raghunath Jha.
Lalu, who had become the Leader of Opposition in 1989 after the death of Karpoori Thakur, felt he had a natural claim to the hot seat, and won.
There was no looking back for Lalu, whom former Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf had once described as an "artiste of a politician", thereafter.
V P Singh, whose coalition government was supported from outside by BJP, got dusted the Mandal Commission report of 1978 and announced implementation of 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes, apparently in an attempt at consolidating the OBC voters behind the Janata Dal and checking BJP's growing influence among Hindus, marking the beginning of the 'Mandal versus Kamandal' politics.