A hitherto unnoticed aspect of two highly successful rallies of Lalu Prasad––the Gareeb Rally of March 18, 1996 and Bhajpa (BJP) Bhagao, Desh Bachao Rally––is that they both evoked enormous response because they were held within months of his name figuring in any alleged scam.
It was in the last week of January 1996 that the infamous fodder scam was unearthed. The opposition parties, especially the BJP, were quick to point the accusing finger towards Lalu himself.
Perhaps the turn-out in the Gareeb Rally might have been less had the BJP and other opponents not targeted Lalu then. Whether he was actually involved or not is not the debate here; what is true is that his supporters chose to strongly rally behind the leader when he is in crisis.
Lalu was at the peak of his political career then as he had won the 1995 Assembly election in a big way and in January 1996 he was elevated to the stature of the national president of the original Janata Dal. This was despite the fact that Deve Gowda (then Karnataka CM), I K Gujral, Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan etc were its big leaders.
Two months later the result of Lok Sabha election threw up a fractured verdict. Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the prime minister for 13 days as he failed to prove the majority on the floor of the House. The BJP then had the support of only three parties, Akali Dal, Shiv Sena and Samata Party of Nitish Kumar.
However, on June 1 the same year Lalu, along with other leaders, helped Deve Gowda become the prime minister of the country. But a year later Lalu had to quit and surrender before the court leaving behind the post of CM to his wife Rabri Devi. Ever since then the trial is continuing. For how long, one does not know.
Twenty-one year later the decision to organize August 27 rally was taken in the first week of May when Lalu and Nitish were once again together. Apparently things appeared to be going smooth though the BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi had started levelling old charges of corruption against Lalu. But this time the charges were levelled against his sons and daughters too.
The crowd in August 27 rally might have been a bit smaller had Nitish Kumar not crossed over to the BJP leaving Lalu high and dry. A close analysis of both Gareeb Rally and BJP Bhagao, Desh Bachao Rally would reveal that, among other things, sympathy factor did work in favour of Lalu.
According to some estimate this time the turn-out was even higher than Gareeb Rally of 1996 when Bihar and Jharkhand were one state and Lalu was in power.
If, in spite of flood, such a huge crowd turned out almost spontaneously and without Lalu mobilizing them––as he had to frequently appear in the CBI court in Ranchi––then it certainly is a big achievement.
The successful rally would not only electrify RJD’s war machine, but may compel many fence-sitters to re-draw their strategy. The number of dissident JD (U) legislators may swell. At present they would not desert the party as they will––as per Anti-Defection Law––lose membership of the House. But they may leave the party only on the eve of Assembly election and after weighing all the options. If RJD remains strong till then they may simply cross-over to its side; if not things may turn the other way round.
Post-rally there is no doubt introspection within a strong section of JD (U) that Nitish Kumar has committed a political hara-kiri. Yet the game is still wide open.
Apart from that the rally has established the leadership of Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who along with his elder brother, Tej Pratap Yadav, undertook the Janadesh Apmaan Yatra in a few districts of Bihar, which were not hit by the flood.
The brothers have grown in confidence as their father could not accompany them due to court hearings. Tejashwi, in particular, is a much taller leader than Tejashwi as deputy CM under Nitish Kumar. The presence of such a large number of youths in the rally confirmed this factor further.
Besides, even if half of those who gathered at Gandhi Maidan on August 27 were Yadavs and Muslims––as some in the media felt––who were the other half. The number of other half too is in lakhs. So it means that RJD is not just the party of Muslims and Yadavs––as is being propagated––but gets support from other sections too.
Much would, however, depend on the way RJD keeps its tempo alive till election and how the opposition parties unite at the national level. Otherwise, it may prove an exercise in futility.