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Lalu remains major election issue
Anand Mohan Sahay in Patna | October 20, 2005 12:45 IST
No matter which party campaigns in Bihar, the only issue they take up seems to be Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi bashing.
Whether it is the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, Ramvilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti-Communist Party of India alliance, the Samajwadi Party, CPI-M or Bahujan Samaj Party, this seems to be the predominant election plank to woo voters.
If nothing else, they blame Lalu and Rabri for all the ills in Bihar - the bad roads, electricity crisis, lawlessness, criminalisation of politics, poverty, backwardness and corruption.
Even the BJP president, L K Advani urged people to vote for the NDA combine in order to end the Lalu-Rabri 'jungle raj', the widely used description for their 15 years of rule.
Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj defended their Lalu-Rabri bashing by saying - "Who else is to blame for the sorry affairs in this state?"
Nitish Kumar cautioned people that Lalu was just fooling them with false promises to return to power and he urged them not to vote for the RJD if they want development and freedom from crime.
Advani, in his last two days of campaigning, attacked Lalu more than anyone else. He urged people to teach Lalu a befitting lesson for his misrule and ruining of Bihar. "People should not forgive Lalu this time," Advani repeated in almost over a dozen election meetings he addressed across the state.
"Lalu-bashing is compulsion of his rivals because it woos the anti-Lalu voters. There are large sections, including the middle class, urban elite and others who have been voting against him," Kamal Singh, Janata Dal (United) leader said.
"In Bihar polls, nothing clicks like Lalu-Rabri bashing because it has wider acceptability among a powerful section represented by upper castes, who were opposed to them since day one," said Satyanarayan Madan, an activist with socialist background. "It's not a new trend as it started the day Lalu came to power in 1990. It's the outcome of a mindset to hold him responsible for everything."
Some say that anti-Lalu feelings have to do with caste equations in Bihar. The BJP has a strong base among the upper castes, which were opposed to Lalu's policy of social justice, his main poll plank. Similarly, Nitish Kumar enjoys the support of Kurmis (his own caste) and Paswan is regarded as a Dalit leader.
Some political analysts feel, however, that the media has also contributed to anti-Lalu sentiments, especially in sections opposed to him over the years for his rustic style.
The RJD state president Abdul Bari Siddiqui said that rivals were suffering from Lalu phobia to such an extent that if they could, they would blame Lalu for all problems across India.
"They have been propagating against Lalu for over 15 years but the poor and downtrodden people stand solidly behind Lalu and would return us to power again," Siddiqui said. Many RJD leaders feel that this Lalu-bashing works in their favour.
In deeply caste-conscious Bihar, they say that neither the media nor Lalu's rivals realise that he enjoys the support of thousands, mainly the poor in the rural belt.
Lalu himself is confident that the party's famed Muslim-Yadav support base, which some insist adds up to over 30 percent of Bihar's 80 million people, has not deserted him as much as is being claimed.