| RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav and his wife, former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi, coming out of a Patna polling station after casting their votes in the last phase of Assembly elections on Saturday. (PTI)
Patna, Nov. 19: With campaigning finally over in Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav shed his inhibition yesterday morning and declared that Rabri Devi would be the next chief minister if the Secular Democra- tic Front (SDF) forms the government.
Although he has no intention of leaving Delhi, Laloo Prasad would be spending a lot more time in the state, he said, in a bid to streamline the administration.
“I have to ensure this time that central schemes and grants are utilised properly,” said the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, “and we have to fix the criminals”.
Dressed in his trademark white lungi and vest, Laloo Prasad appeared relaxed and confident as he predicted that the SDF would romp home with ease. “My party alone will get 110 seats and the Congress will get more than 20,” he said.
Reminded of his persistent complaint against the Election Commission, which he had accused of bias, the Union railway minister acknowledged that his apprehensions had turned out to be unfounded. “I feared that, as in February, the paramilitary forces would tighten the screws on our supporters but leave our rivals alone; but the election so far has been fair and it helped our supporters cast their votes,” he said. “Their supporters got in the queue late and thereby missed the bus,” he added with a smirk.
Barely a few kilometres away, at the Janata Dal (United) office, Nitish Kumar was busy giving interviews to television channels. It turned out to be an unending stream and he had to take time off to speak to the print media.
Hurt over reports that he is already behaving like a chief minister, the JD (U) leader said he would not make any predictions. But in the same breath, he added that the people have already given their verdict. “Ab Lalooji gaye (Laloo Prasad’s exit is imminent),” Nitish said.
He added that the only interest left in the election is to see how wide the gap will be between the victor and the vanquished.
The difference between the February and November elections, the JD (U) leader said, is that while the people last time had given a negative vote against Laloo Prasad, this time, there has been a positive vote for “change”.
“I can recognise the signs and the crowds this time have been predominantly of poor people. Thanks to the Election Commission, they have hopefully been able to exercise their franchise,” he asserted, hinting that the mandate would be his.
Nitish would not, however, respond when asked how confident he was about the victory of the 20-odd defectors from Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, all of whom have been fielded by his party this time. “Let me put it this way,” he said, “none of our candidates feel they are on a losing wicket.”
Laloo Prasad made light of his rival’s claims and accused the media of creating a hype in favour of Nitish. “Because I refused to speak to the media during the election, they felt my haalat is patla (I am on a weak wicket),” he said. “And when I criticised the Election Commission, they became sure that I had lost the election,” the RJD leader added with a sly smile.
According to him, the public perception created by the media actually helped his supporters rally round him. “Last time, my people were complacent and felt that losing a few seats here and there would make no difference; we did not have any alliance with the Congress either and there were far too many rebel candidates,” he recalled.
“Yet, I had lost as many as 39 seats, each by margins of less than 2,000 votes,” he chuckled.
In February, Laloo Prasad said, the NDA was at its peak in Bihar while the “secular forces” in the state were in disarray. This time, the roles had been reversed, he said, hinting that over-confidence had done the NDA in.
“The media reports suggest that the last round of polling tomorrow is going to be swept by the NDA,” Laloo Prasad said before rattling off the names of the 30 constituencies going to polls tomorrow, which, he claims, are as good as won by the SDF.
Asked about his rival, Nitish merely smiled, indicating that he was ready to meet the challenges ahead.
A few of his supporters appeared a little more worried as they discussed the impact of Saturday’s one-day match could have on voter turnout in the urban centres.