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How Lalu killed 3 birds with Soren's stone
August 02, 2004
Has anyone gained anything out of the Shibu Soren affair? Not poor Dr Manmohan Singh, whose 'Mr Clean' image has taken a beating because of the amount of time it took before he acted. Not the Opposition; in all honesty I didn't get any sense that the charges against the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader were a matter of great public concern. (I hope I have misread the public mood!) And certainly not the taxpayer, who has just seen Parliament – whose upkeep costs several lakh rupees every day – disrupted for a week.
In a supreme irony, the only man left smiling at the end of the day is our beloved railway minister. With elections to the Bihar and Jharkhand assemblies due in less than a year, Lalu Prasad Yadav has been given the rare opportunity of taking the moral high ground. (Or of preaching morality at any rate!) This, I am sure, was behind his well-publicised appeal to the absconding Union coal minister to 'do as I did, and surrender when an arrest warrant was issued in the fodder case.' (There is, however, a rumour doing the rounds of Delhi that the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader had previously advised his Jharkhand Mukti Morcha counterpart to avoid arrest at all costs; if true, this would rate as a masterpiece of deviousness.)
Lalu Prasad Yadav had three goals in mind when he sought to take advantage of the hue and cry over Soren. The first was to take the wind out of the BJP's sails, the second to tweak Shibu Soren's tail in return for some old insults, and the third, and main, goal was to increase the dependency of the Congress on him. He has, I think, succeeded in achieving all his objectives.
Lalu Prasad Yadav is sure to accuse the Arjun Munda ministry in Jharkhand of pursuing a political vendetta against Soren. He will sarcastically wonder why the BJP government in the state saw fit to revive a case that had been lying dormant for well over two decades. This, he thinks, will serve him well in Jharkhand, a state where the BJP could win only a single seat, Kodarma, of the state's 14 Lok Sabha constituencies.
The case against Soren will also, Lalu Prasad Yadav hopes, keep the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader busy for the immediate future. The Rashtriya Janata Dal chief has hopes of reviving his party's influence in the state (which was part of Bihar until less than four years ago). The railway minister had fought to keep Jharkhand's mineral wealth firmly under Bihar's control, going so far as to come up with a wacky proposal to set aside a portion of Jharkhand's revenues for Bihar even after the Jharkhandis achieved 'mukti.' This is a wonderful opportunity for the Rashtriya Janata Dal boss to rebuild his house in Jharkhand at his colleague's expense.
But, as I said, the major target was the Congress. The railway minister's one fear was that Sonia Gandhi would act decisively once the warrant for Soren's arrest was issued. When the Congress hemmed and hawed, refusing to act until Dr Murli Manohar Joshi wondered why Dr Manmohan Singh was 'absconding' from the Rajya Sabha, Lalu Prasad Yadav went before the cameras to deliver a pious homily to Soren.
Neither the Congress nor the Left Front likes the alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal. But they know that they can write off most of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar unless they can present the BJP with a united front. Lalu Prasad Yadav, who has no illusions about their feelings, is determined to cut his 'allies' to size. He allotted only four seats to the Congress in Bihar in the general election, and was appalled when it went on to win three of them.
The Congress has lost a potential ally since Shibu Soren will now be too tied down to campaign in Bihar's tribal belt, which means the party must now depend even more on Lalu Prasad Yadav himself. Sonia Gandhi will also, I suspect, be forced to give the Rashtriya Janata Dal more seats to contest in the Jharkhand assembly polls.
The CPI-M's decision to exercise 'power without responsibility' had already ensured that Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal would be the second largest party in the ruling United Progressive Alliance. The eclipse of Shibu Soren probably means that he is beautifully set to capture a fourth successive term in Bihar.