| Lalu Prasad |
Jhanjharpur (Madhubani), Nov. 30: His party gasps for resuscitation, Lalu Prasad screws the tap on oxygen even tighter.
At a time when the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) rank and file expect their boss to invest more time and resources in what’s clearly a survival battle, Lalu appears to have turned his back on even the barest necessities.
“He is in a suicidal state of denial and we are the unpaid pall-bearers,” complained a top RJD leader sent out to organise the campaign in Laukaha which voted to fill the vacancy created by the death of panchayati raj minister Hari Prasad Sah today. “He wants everything to be business as usual, what he is not prepared to understand or concede is that the party does not have business-as-usual kind of resources. Even leaders like me have been commanded to the field without any means of sustaining such basic things as my stay in the constituency. How long can Laluji expect leaders and workers to invest personally in his revival effort?”
That Lalu swept in and out of Laukaha on a two-day chopper trip, leaving his beleaguered ground force mired in an uphill struggle, seems to have irked party ranks even more. One of them was driven to turning caustic: “If he has the means to hire helicopters for himself, surely he has enough in his coffers, surely he could shower some of it down.”
Another leading RJD MLA, who won his seat defying the pro-Nitish tide last winter, said his campaigning effort was mere “attendance marking”, no more. Returning to Patna from Laukaha, he told The Telegraph: “Aadesh mila thha isliye gaye, bina gaadi-ghora ke kya khaak campaign hoga. (I went merely because I have been instructed to, what sort of campaign can you conduct without any resources?)”
Caught in directionless drift since the RJD’s second successive defeat in last year’s Assembly election, some of them are beginning to openly voice their disgruntlement.
Former MP and socialist veteran, Vijay Krishna, who left Nitish Kumar’s side to join Lalu Prasad on the eve of the 2010 election, is believed to have voiced his disappointment with Lalu’s style of functioning repeatedly in party meetings. RJD sources quoted Vijay Krishna as telling a recent gathering of party brass, “Leaders who cannot bear to get down to the ground and struggle and who assume the masses are with them no matter what are eventually cast in the dustbin. Our leaders should remember that all the time, else this party is headed for worse days.”
Few of those present had any doubt who Vijay Krishna’s caution was aimed at. Lalu’s long absences from Bihar — in fact his refusal to accede to requests that he come to Patna and assume active command of the RJD — have become a sore grouse. “This is when the party needs him most, but he is never there,” said a senior functionary. “How can we hope for a revival when the leader himself is absent from the scene?”
He skipped the RJD’s foundation day ceremonies last year, played truant at successive party meetings and did not even bother coming for Chhath puja this year. His junior ally, Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party, is much more active in comparison. He schedules meetings every month, addresses rallies and has maintained a much better profile as Opposition voice. Within three hours of the chief minister presenting his annual report card last week, Paswan was addressing his own news conference, boring holes in the Nitish government’s governance claims.
The RJD, which is the main Opposition, took longer to frame its response. And Lalu Prasad was not there to articulate it. The job was given to state party chief Ram Chandra Purbey. “The growing perception is that Lalu is not even interested in playing the role of the main opposition party,” a colleague said. “If he shows little interest in Bihar’s affairs, why should the people of Bihar, or even his party, show any in him?”
There is also a growing sense of unease in the party that despite six years in the Opposition — and despite retaining the support of a substantial voter base — Lalu Prasad has not been able to craft a credible alternative plank to Nitish Kumar. “He continues to rely only and completely on his Muslim-Yadav votebank,” says Dr Sanjay Singh, a local medical practitioner who also dabbles in politics on the side. “Nitish Kumar is a smart man and has shifted the goal-posts of electoral politics from votebanks to governance issues. Lalu is not even pretending to play catch-up.”
The content of Lalu’s campaign in the Daraunda bypoll, which he lost, and in Laukaha, which he is likely to, bears out Singh in fair measure. And it is evidently not working. Muslims are increasingly not willing to be persuaded by Lalu’s fear-mongering about Nitish being in partnership with the BJP. The minorities, especially the pasmandas, or backwards among the Muslims, have openly broken away and voted Nitish. Lalu’s rash lambasting of Nitish’s governance record too has proved counter-productive. It does not lie in Lalu’s mouth to criticise Nitish, most believe, because he himself did little while he held power. “He needs to say something new if he is to make us listen to him, his jokes and jestering have become boring,” said Rampravesh Mahto, a Laukaha sharecropper.
Privately, even RJD leaders agree. Said an MLA: “Since we lost the elections last year there has been no discussion in the party on strategy,” he said. “Laluji announced a six-month moratorium on protests in the name of giving Nitish Kumar time. The moratorium lapsed and no new direction was forthcoming, naturally we are demoralised, how long can we go on doing MY-MY (Muslim-Yadav, Muslim-Yadav)?”