'His style of politics is in tatters'
Lalu Prasad Yadav saw his already crumbling supremacy destroyed on Wednesday. His party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which ruled Bihar for 15 years faced such a severe debacle that it could not even hold on to the Leader of the Opposition space in the state assembly.
It couldn't get worse for Lalu. The general election rendered him irrelevant at the national level last year when his party won just four Lok Sabha seats. So devastating was Wednesday's rout that his wife three-time chief minister Rabri Devi lost both the seats she contested.
The wrath of the voter has relegated Lalu to political Siberia for at least the next five years raising questions about his future.
"Lalu has arrived at the most difficult turn in his political career," says Sankarshan Thakur, the author of Subaltern Sahib: Bihar and the Making of Laloo Yadav.
"He has been decimated, his social coalition has gone, his style of politics -- the Muslim-Yadav combination -- is in tatters but it is not curtains for him."
Lalu, who had been on a dream run aided with Muslim-Yadav votes, the MY factor, has seen the famed combination run its course.
The Muslims came out strongly in favour of the ruling Janata Dal United-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition and going by Rabri Devi's defeat it seems even the Yadavs turned their back on their former hero.
Lalu's insecurity was apparent last year itself when he contested two seats in the general eElection, losing one and just about winning the other.
Image: Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo saw his supremacy destroyed by the rout in the Bihar poll
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters
'He became a creature of power rather than a creature of the people'
Treating the state like a family fiefdom Lalu foisted his unlettered wife as chief minister on the people of Bihar when he was compelled to resign in the wake of the fodder scam, presiding over the state on her behalf.
His politics increasingly became family-centric with his controversial brothers-in-law Sadhu Yadav and Subhash Yadav ensconced in positions of power.
Rabri Devi's brothers subsequently deserted Lalu and also lost the election on Wednesday -- one as a Congress candidate and the other as an Independent -- making it evident that Bihar had had enough of the Yadav clan.
"All these factors unmade Lalu Yadav," says Thakur. "He needs to deeply introspect now. He is not the kind of person to focus on a given task. He is a creature of waves and charisma. Unlike (Chief Minister) Nitish (Kumar) he doesn't have beaver-like diligence or perseverance. Now that the state is lost to him for five years, I suspect he will concentrate on his Lok Sabha seats."
The Rashtriya Janata Dal won 54 seats in the 2005 assembly election, which fell to 22 this year.
At the national level, the party saw its best performance in 2004 when it won 24 seats in the Lok Sabha. As a result, Lalu was given the railways ministry that incidentally has been held by four Bihar MPs -- George Fernandes, Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav --- in the recent past.
"His redeeming period after 1997 was his stint as railway minister. He had an efficient set of officers and did not interfere too much," adds Thakur.
As railway minister Lalu was lauded for turning the Indian Railways around which he often mentioned in his inimitable style at political rallies. 'They used to call me a joker. Now I am invited by Harvard and Wharton to talk about management skills,' he would tell crowds on the campaign trail.
Image: Rabri Devi at an election rally in Bihar
'Lalu has the courage and skill to come back'
"But his political instinct is very strong," adds Professor Ghosh. "He has the courage and the skill to make a comeback."
Indian politics has seen several politicians condemned to the wilderness finding their back into relevance -- Morarji Desai, Indira Gandhi, Chandrashekhar -- hence it would naive to think this is the end of the road for Lalu Yadav.
"He is not going to be irrelevant, only he can do that to himself if he stops connecting with people on the ground," says Thakur. "He will miss the political centre-stage and that will prod him to do some work to get back."
"He is not the sort to vanish into oblivion, neither can he be written off because he still has 25 per cent of Bihar's vote."
One of Lalu's official addresses in the Lok Sabha directory remains the Bihar Veterinary College in Patna where he worked as an employee in the early 1970s.
"Throughout Lalu's time never did he think of sprucing this place up even though his political journey began from here and this is where he casts his vote in each election. It was only painted under Nitish's tenure," Vijay Kumar, a Patna resident, had said while driving past the college last month.
Nitish Kumar did that and more. He built foot bridges -- like the one for students from the Patna Women's College so that the girls could cross a busy road with ease; improved roads in towns and villages that Vijay Kumar now reaches his mother's village home in less than two hours; tightened law and order that Rajesh Mishra can keep his garment shop open till late in a Chhapra bazaar; ensured that mothers could send their kids to school without the fear of them being kidnapped.
Nitish did stuff that had gone to seed during the Lalu-Rabri years.
"The biggest damage Lalu did for Bihar was that he destroyed institutions and decimated any kind of hope," says Thakur.
When Judgment Day arrived on Wednesday, Lalu Yadav had to pay the price.
Image: A small crowd awaits Lalu at an election rally in Revelganj, Bihar, 2009
Photographs: Seema Pant/Rediff.com