It would be pre-mature to write off the Rashtriya Janata Dal after three and a half years jail to its president Lalu Prasad on January 6. There is no dearth of political pundits who predicted his end when he first went to jail in July 1997 or when he was convicted for five years in September 2013 by another CBI court.
Unlike in July 1997, when he had to hand-pick his home-maker and barely literate wife Rabri Devi for the post of chief minister, today he has somewhat mature–though young–Tejashwi Prasad Yadav as the leader of opposition.
Though the court ruling of 2013 blocked his entry in Parliament, yet his party had bounced back to the political centre-stage in 2015.
It has now been established that the fodder scam cases, as such, have not damaged Lalu politically. A close analysis of some recent elections suggest that he had lost not because corruption cases are going on against him, but because of the failure of his party––the RJD––to stitch up a broad-based electoral alliance in Bihar.
Be it the two Assembly elections in 2005 (February and November) or of 2010 or the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 and 2014 Lalu’s party performed poorly because it could not get suitable electoral partner(s). In contrast the RJD, Congress and LJP alliance nearly swept the 2004 Lok Sabha poll in Bihar by winning 29 out of 40 seats and thus in a way contributed immensely in the defeat of the then Vajpayee government.
Though the Congress, RJD and LJP were the constituents of the United Progressive Alliance between 2004 and 2014 the LJP deserted RJD just before the 2005 Assembly poll. The three parties did not contest the 2009 and 2010 elections together as well.
Had the LJP been with RJD the Rabri Devi government would not have been voted out of power in 2005. Similarly in 2009 Lok Sabha and 2010 Assembly elections the RJD and LJP joined hands but the Congress stayed away.
Till early 2014 it started appearing that the Congress, RJD and LJP would together fight against Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-led BJP. But that was not to be. Ram Vilas Paswan switched side at the final moment leaving both RJD and Congress high and dry.
A year later Lalu made a big comeback when RJD, Congress and JD(U) joined hands to form the Grand Alliance. The trio won 178 out of 243 seats, in the state Assembly election held in October-November.
It is true Nitish Kumar had walked away with his JD(U) to return to the NDA fold in July 2017. Besides, LJP is already in the saffron camp. Thus on paper the Grand Alliance has become weak.
Yet the situation is somewhat different than in the past as RJD has got rejuvenated after the 2015 Assembly election and the recent Gujarat result has given a boost to the Congress rank and file. A loss in one or two Assembly elections by the BJP later this year may reduce the bargaining position of the saffron party and would thus lead to desertion from the NDA. The process has actually started in Bihar.
The Sharad Yadav faction of JD(U) may be weak but it has made its option quite clear. There are at least two dozen JD(U) MLAs said to be close to Sharad but they are not leaving the JD(U) as they would lose their membership of the House under anti Defection law. It is feared that they may ditch the party on the eve of the 2019 Lok Sabha or 2020 Assembly poll.
Former Speaker of Bihar Assembly Uday Narayan Chaudhary, who was till a few months back a strong supporter of Nitish Kumar, and former minister Ramai Ram, both the Dalit faces of the party, have openly revolted against the chief minister. All the JD(U) rebels are upset over the way Nitish returned to the NDA, though he got mandate under the banner of Grand Alliance.
Three hours before January 6 ruling on Lalu the former Speaker Chaudhary took part in a citizens’ march in Patna organized by Loktantrik Jan Pahal against the attack on Dalits at Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra. This was done in open defiance of the party.
Another prominent Dalit leader and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has not forgiven Nitish on the way the latter humiliated and insulted him after making him the CM in May 2014. He has good relationship with Lalu Prasad and would not mind crossing over once the BJP’s graph goes down before the election.
However, the saffron party may not like to lose him and may make some lucrative offer to him.
Rumours are also doing the rounds that Union minister of state Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party may cross over to the Grand Alliance. This is simply because Upendra and Nitish can seldom go together. He is considered as the leader of the Kushwahas, who are numerically second strongest backward caste in Bihar after Yadav.
The January 5 court ruling is not going to stop this process of political realignment. Grapevine has it that a couple of months back Kushwaha had secretly met Lalu–though RLSP denies all such report.
The RJD camp has tried to make full political capital out of the court ruling aginst Lalu as the same court has acquitted Dr Jagannath Mishra. In 2013 fodder scam ruling by another court Lalu was sentenced for five years while Dr Mishra got four years term. The RJD has already spread the message that Lalu has been convicted because he is a backward while Dr Mishra was acquitted because he is a Brahmin and his son is now in the BJP.
(Soroor Ahmed is an eminent journalist based in Patna)