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Can Lalu still change Bihar's power dynamics?

By Satyavrat Mishra
July 21, 2021 09:00 IST
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Prasad can still influence the power play in Patna if not change it, reports Satyavrat Mishra.

IMAGE: Lalu Prasad Yadav addresses party workers via a video call during the RJD's silver jubilee foundation day in Patna, July 5, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

On July 5, there was a crowd in Bir Chandra Patel Marg, one of Patna’s busiest roads.

The tent inside the bungalow was packed with people despite this being a humid day.

This is the office of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the occasion was to celebrate the 25th birth anniversary of the party.

The day was special more because party chief Lalu Prasad was making his first political appearance after being sent to jail following conviction in the fodder scam case four years ago.

“The Modi government doesn’t want him among us. They know the mass appeal of Lalu. That’s why they kept him locked up on false charges. Meanwhile, those accused in the Srijan scam and Rafale scam are roaming free,” said Uday Narayan Chaudhury, former speaker of the Bihar legislative assembly.

Prasad, who joined via a video call from his daughter and party MP Misa Bharti’s home in New Delhi, looked frail.

The 73-year-old politician is suffering from several ailments.

He spoke for a little over half an hour.

While he smiled a few times during his speech, his customary wit was missing and at times he looked strained.

The gathering cheered him, with many supporters teary-eyed.

“They (his political opponents) used to say ‘Jungle Raj-Jungle Raj’ because it was the raj of the poor and the downtrodden. Sadiyon se roti ek taraf se pak rahi thi, humne use palat diya (We flipped what had been the norm for generations),” said Prasad.

Prasad also promised he would return to Patna soon.

“I shall make my presence felt not only in Patna, but in every district of Bihar. Please be patient,” he said.

But will his return to Patna change the power dynamics in the state?

Major upheaval ahead

While his political opponents are brushing aside the impact of his return to Bihar’s politics, it can surely be felt in the ferocity with which they are reacting.

The reason is also simple enough -- Prasad can still influence the power play in Patna if not change it.

Recently the Hindustani Awam Morcha’s Jitan Ram Manjhi and Vikassheel Insan Party’s Mukesh Sahani spoke to Prasad and it only added fuel to the speculation of an upcoming political upheaval.

Manjhi’s son Santosh Manjhi and Sahani are ministers in Nitish Kumar’s Cabinet in Bihar.

After the meeting, Manjhi and Sahani were vocal about their reservations on the poor handling of the jobs crisis and the second wave of the pandemic in the state.

Each party has four MLAs and they are considered “weak links” in the ruling National Democratic Alliance in Bihar.

The NDA enjoys a thin majority in the assembly -- 127 MLAs in the 243-member house.

The grand alliance, on the other hand, has 110 members, only 12 short of the required majority of 122 MLAs.

The prospects of Prasad’s return to Bihar politics have given fresh enthusiasm to the RJD.

Many leaders concede the point that losing the closely contested assembly election last year was disheartening for party workers.

“With the ashirvaad of Laluji, we will win the next election,” said Raju, a young worker from Bhagalpur, in an emphatic tone.

Humara sher wapas aa gaya hai. Aab Nitish Kumar ki khair nahi,” said sexagenarian Sudama Yadav from Vaishali.

The return of Prasad will also help in his heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav’s vision of expanding the RJD’s social base from just MY (Muslim-Yadav) to all segments of society.

While MY form the biggest support base for the RJD, their dominance is often seen as a reason that dispels other social groups from standing behind the party.

Will Prasad be enough?

Political commentators say the biggest limitation for the RJD is that the next assembly elections are scheduled for 2025, which is some time away.

“There is no alternative government possible until Nitish Kumar or the Bhartiya Janata Party breaks the alliance. Nitish Kumar will not try this in the near future, and after the drubbing in West Bengal, the BJP knows better,” said a JD-U functionary.

“Manjhi and Sahani will not try anything rash until they are sure that the alternative will succeed.”

The grand alliance, even with Manjhi and Sahani on their side, will have 118 members -- four short of the majority.

Yadav senior will also have to settle the dispute between his sons.

He has made it clear that Tejashwi will lead the party after him.

His elder son, Tej Pratap, however, expressed his displeasure about the affairs of the party.

“Party leaders don’t take me seriously. They often ignore my calls. They mock me when I speak. There are many in the party who bear ill-will towards me," he said.

BJP leaders say Prasad doesn’t have the force to impact the politics of Bihar.

However, political commentators disagree.

Political analyst Ajay Kumar said: “He can make an impact on the state’s politics anytime.”

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Satyavrat Mishra in Patna
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