Sun Sets on Lalu Era

The jail term comes at a time when the RJD supremo has been work­ing hard for a come­back. Is it the end of the road for him?

India Today - - INSIDE - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

The jail term comes at a time when the RJD supremo has been work­ing hard for a come­back. Is it the end of the road for him?

At 11.10 a. m. on Septem­ber 30, when CBI Spe­cial Judge Pravash Ku­mar Singh pro­nounced Lalu Prasad Ya­dav guilty in the fod­der scam case in a packed court­room in Ranchi, the shocked Rashtriya Janata Dal ( RJD) chief blurted out: “Ye kya ho gaya ji.” He had hoped for a re­prieve on D- Day, as had his fam­ily, which had as­sem­bled at his 10, Cir­cu­lar Road res­i­dence in Patna, 340 km away. It was not to be. The boxes of fire­crack­ers, or­dered by his older son Tej Pratap and fer­ried into his home in an­tic­i­pa­tion of an ac­quit­tal, lay un­used.

On Oc­to­ber 3, the CBI judge con­victed Lalu for five years. Min­utes af­ter the verdict, Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi de­fi­antly de­clared that RJD would move the higher court and also reach out to peo­ple. But un­less the verdict is over­turned, the po­lit­i­cal ca­reer of the 66- year- old vet­eran is ef­fec­tively over. Lalu is also set to lose his Lok Sabha seat, af­ter the July 10 Supreme Court judg­ment that man­dates im­me­di­ate dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of law­mak­ers if they are con­victed. He will re­main in­el­i­gi­ble to con­test elec­tions for at least six years af­ter his re­lease. He is in ju­di­cial cus­tody at a time when RJD, buoyed by its by- elec­tion vic­tory in Ma­hara­j­ganj and the split be­tween BJP and Janata Dal- United ( JD- U), was look­ing to make a come­back. With his en­e­mies di­vided, his vote bank in­tact, and Bi­har set for a multi- cor­nered con­test, it was ad­van­tage Lalu. But now, with his con­vic­tion, ri­vals BJP and

JD( U) will step up their moves to win over his vote bank even as Congress plays foot­sie with ri­val Ni­tish Ku­mar.

RJD’S core vote base of Mus­lims and Ya­davs can be un­der strain if his ju­di­cial cus­tody is ex­tended. JD( U) is work­ing over­time to woo the state’s 16.5 per cent Mus­lims, while BJP is try­ing to win over the Ya­davs, who, at 15 per cent, are Bi­har’s sin­gle largest caste group. BJP also knows that sec­tions of the up­per- caste votes, es­pe­cially Ra­jputs, who form 16 per cent of the vote with Brah­mins, Bhu­mi­hars and Kayasthas, and had aligned with Lalu in the re­cent past to set­tle scores with Ni­tish, will re­turn. In Bi­har, 30 per cent of vot­ers are from Ex­tremely Back­ward Castes, 16 per cent are SCS ( of which 11 per cent are Ma­hadal­its). Oth­ers,


in­clud­ing STS, form 6.5 per cent.

But be­fore he can worry about his vote bank, Lalu needs to sort out his po­lit­i­cal legacy. On the home front, Lalu is still un­de­cided about nam­ing Rabri Devi as RJD’S pres­i­dent in his ab­sence. Hours af­ter his con­vic­tion on Septem­ber 30, Rabri Devi, in her first re­ac­tion to the me­dia, said she and her sons would run RJD as the Gand­his run Congress. She had changed her stand by Tues­day, clar­i­fy­ing that she would ac­tively work for RJD with­out seek­ing any post in the party.

The rea­son is not hard to fig­ure. 2013 is not 1997, when Lalu was con­sid­ered elec­torally in­vin­ci­ble. To­day, three RJD Lok Sabha MPs— Prab­hu­nath Singh, Raghu­vansh Prasad Singh and Jag­danand Singh— are said to be un­will­ing to ac­cept Rabri Devi’s lead­er­ship. All three favour a “col­lec­tive lead­er­ship”. Raghu­vansh, RJD’S most se­nior leader af­ter Lalu, has subtly ex- pressed his dis­ap­proval to al­low­ing Rabri to take the helm in Lalu’s ab­sence. Lalu needs to main­tain a del­i­cate bal­ance to keep his flock to­gether.

On the po­lit­i­cal front, Lalu’s big­gest con­cern is Congress’s next move. Rahul Gandhi’s dra­matic tear- and-throw in­ter­ven­tion to at­tack the or­di­nance favour­ing crim­i­nal law­mak­ers has sent out a clear sig­nal that Congress is un­likely to stitch an al­liance with RJD in Bi­har, es­pe­cially now that it is headed by a con­victed politi­cian. Al­ready, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Congress and JD( U)’ Ni­tish Ku­mar has

S shown signs of warm­ing up. While four Congress MLAs are back­ing Ni­tish’s mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment in Bi­har since June, JD( U) has also ex­tended is­sue- based sup­port to UPA at the Cen­tre, as in the case of UPA’S food bill and the adop­tion of the draft JPC re­port on the



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