The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Even Lalu’s poor look for an alternative

Pandrah Saal

Bura haal

Naya Bihar

Nitish Kumar

(Fifteen years/Grief & tears/For a New Bihar/Nitish Kumar.)

The NDA slogans, it would appear, struck a chord with the electorate who decided to give an emphatic mandate to the man promising them a better Bihar.

In sharp contrast, Lalu Prasad appeared to be caught in a time warp, confining his campaign against “communal forces” and a perceived conspiracy to dislodge him from power.

The spectre had worked in the past. But whatever credibility he had was lost in his feeble defence that no development was possible earlier because of Delhi’s step-motherly treatment. With the UPA government at the Centre and he himself in the railway ministry, Lalu Prasad sought to reassure his voters, the time had come for development.

The NDA mandate is remarkable for more than one reason. First, because even at the peak of his popularity, Lalu Prasad had never secured anything like this. The highest number of seats he could garner was 163 in 1995 when Jharkhand was a part of the state and the strength of the Assembly was 324 and not 243.

In February, the first election after the creation of Jharkhand, he won only 75. Nine months later, he has failed to hold on to even that.

Second, pre-poll wisdom was that with polling being low, victory margins would be relatively small. While many constituencies have seen victories by wafer-thin margins ranging between 500 and 2,000 and odd, most NDA candidates appear to have romped home far more convincingly. The margin of their victory at Ghosi was 30,000, even higher at 45,000 in Harnaut and 25,000 in Biharsharif.

In contrast, the Lalu Prasad-Congress alliance has bagged several constituencies by a whisker. In Lakhisarai, it won by just 82 votes while it was only marginally better at Kesaria (400 votes) and in Jehanabad (447).

Drawing lessons from the February debacle, Lalu Prasad made an effort this time to pick better candidates. But, clearly, it was too little, too late. Even the rainbow coalition of MY (Muslim-Yadav) did not work in his favour.

“It was an FMY coalition,” says Ali Anwar, a leader of the Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz, which had lent its weight behind victorious Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), explaining that only “forward castes among Muslims” and the Yadavs gained from Lalu-Rabri rule.

At least some sections of the pasmanda (backward) Muslims, he believes, voted against Lalu Prasad this time. The Yadavs, too, he points out, voted against Lalu Prasad wherever the NDA put up better Yadav candidates. That would explain the defeat of Udit Rai in Chhapra, Chandrika Rai in Parsa and Avadh Behari Choudhary in Siwan. These were the regions where Lalu Prasad had expected to win around 10 seats. His final tally is said to be two.

Tactical voting by the upper castes is also cited as a factor responsible for the dramatic result. Whenever the choice was between two OBC candidates, the upper castes rallied around the NDA. Most Backward Castes and the Extremely Backward Classes, till now supporting Lalu Prasad en bloc, also developed cracks. The Koeris (OBC), ignored by Lalu Prasad, appear to have hit back with a vengeance, leading to the defeat of a Koeri stalwart like Shakuni Choudhary.

A veteran observer of Bihar politics and social activist, Vinayan, recalls: “The village I work in has a substantial Yadav population, but this time even I failed to persuade them to go out and vote. An old lady told me that a victory for Lalu made no difference to her as she would still have to scrounge for food.”

His constituency, Lalu Prasad often boasted, was the poor. The result would indicate a revolt by the poor, who somewhat incongruously aligned with the haves to deliver a drubbing. Little wonder Lalu Prasad finds the result so hard to swallow.

“My constituents were deceived and taken for a ride,” he declared on Tuesday afternoon, barely able to conceal his disappointment. “Give them two months and they will realise the mistake they have committed,” he asserted, looking increasingly like King Lear.

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