| Lalu Prasad |
Patna, Sept. 28: Lalu Prasad, who got L.K. Advani arrested during his Ram rath yatra 21 years ago, has decided to march to Raj Bhavan on October 11 when the senior BJP leader is scheduled to embark on his 40-day rath yatra against corruption from Sitab Diara.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar, who had at the time strongly backed the arrest of Advani who was on his way from Somnath to Ayodhya, will flag off the BJP leader’s yatra at Sitab Diara, the birthplace of Jaiprakash Narayan in north Bihar’s Saran district.
Advani has decided to begin his yatra from Bihar in October, the month in which he had been arrested at Samastipur in 1990.
“Laluji will lead a march to Raj Bhavan against Advani’s rath yatra. He will even try to stop the yatra if he feels even a whiff of communal tension building up,” RJD general secretary Ramkripal Yadav told The Telegraph. “Advani’s yatras have always whipped up communal frenzy in the past.”
Advani, on his Ram rath yatra on way to Ayodhya, where the Babri mosque still stood intact, had emerged a champion of the hard-liners in the Hindi heartland. By getting Advani arrested, Lalu, the then chief minister in Patna, had emerged a “hero” of the Muslims who constituted the “mainstay” of his power that lasted for 15 long years.
Will Lalu’s opposition to Advani’s campaign from Bihar turn him (Lalu) into a hero of the Muslims again? “Times have changed,” said JD(U) general secretary and MP Shivanand Tiwari, “and so have the issues. Advani has been carrying out his campaign this time on the issue of corruption. His yatra against corruption that Nitish has agreed to flag off has hardly anything against the Muslims. Lalu’s decision to oppose it with eyes on the Muslim vote will not work this time.”
Lalu has of late been trying to win back the Muslims — once part of his formidable support base along with the Yadavs — by bracketing Nitish with the “communal” BJP or painting his government as being “anti-Muslim”.
The RJD chief tried hard to make the police firing at a Forbesganj, in which five persons belonging to the minority community died on June 3, into a big issue and even addressed a public rally there. But his move appeared to have backfired with the JD(U)-supported BJP nominee winning the Muslim-dominated Purnea seat, barely 35km from Forbesganj.
Nitish has made efforts to reach out to the Muslims — handing out punishment to the perpetrators of the infamous 1989 Bhagalpur riots, announcing life-long pension to the riot victims, accommodation of Muslim leaders in the JD(U) — all of which have reaped electoral and political dividends.
Nitish has consolidated his gains by keeping out his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi, who was at the helm at the time of the 2002 riots in the western state, from any election campaign in Bihar. Nitish, it is believed, agreed to flag off Advani’s yatra only after securing the BJP’s assurance that the party would not project Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, at least for now.
What may not allow Lalu derive political mileage out of his opposition to Advani’s campaign against corruption is also the change in perception at the popular level that Modi has replaced Advani as the symbol of “hard-line politics” in the BJP. Ironically, in spite of running the government in alliance with the BJP, Nitish has emerged as a “prime symbol” of opposition to Modi whereas Lalu’s campaign against Advani has been relegated to history.
However, Lalu has political support with several political parties backing his opposition to Advani’s rath yatra beginning from Bihar. The Congress, CPI, CPM and CPI ML-Liberation have all opposed Advani’s yatra on the plea that it would “vitiate” the communal atmosphere in the state.