Patna, July 5: The charges were the same but the voice sounded tired, even jaded.
Lalu Prasad sought to rev up the morale of RJD workers on the 16th foundation day of his party by unleashing a tirade against the Nitish Kumar government, mocking the chief minister for making a pitch for “secularism” and even making a startling revelation that the ruling JD(U) had approached incarcerated don Mohammed Shahabuddin to switch sides.
But the function, celebrated beneath a pandal put up behind the state party office, was colourless — Lalu Prasad’s speech was lacklustre without his usual dose of humour. The only time he had the crowd of RJD legislators, ex-MLAs, leaders and workers breaking out into peals of laughter was when he spoke of the JD(U) having spokespersons with the same name. “One of them jumped from the LJP to JD(U) (a reference to Sanjay Singh) and the other crossed sides from the BJP (a reference to Sanjay Jha) … I also saw a picture of him being held in an embrace tightly by the chief minister. The chief minister is using the two persons to speak against me,” the RJD chief, triggering a few guffaws.
Lalu claimed that the JD(U) had asked Shahabuddin, the don of Siwan-turned-RJD leader who is now in jail, to change camps. “They approached our party leader, Md Shahabuddin, languishing in jail ever since the NDA came to power, to join the JD(U). They are framing him in one case after another to coerce him to join the communal combination. But Shahabuddin has preferred to stay in jail rather than compromise with the communal forces,” the RJD chief said.
JD(U) leaders scoffed at the allegation, but stopped short of issuing an outright denial. Bihar JD(U) president Basistha Narayan Singh told The Telegraph: “Our party does not believe in any kind of harassment and we do not harass anyone in the party. The people are chosen on the basis of facts. We do not have any tradition of harassing people — either a common man or politician.” Party spokespers-on Sanjay Singh added: “Is La-luji an astrologer that he will know about such a move?”
The broadside on Shahabuddin apart, the RJD function saw weary leaders pledging their commitment to Lalu. Responding to his diktat to increase the membership of the party in the state to one crore, RJD leaders came out with astronomical figures on the number of new members they are going to enrol. The youth and EBC cell chiefs each claimed they would be bringing 25 lakh members each, prompting a jibe from their boss. “This is more out of bravado than conviction,” remarked Lalu.
If Lalu had one solace in the four-hour-long programme, it was the presence of Jagadanand Singh, the party’s MP from Buxar. For the past few months, the three Lok Sabha members of the RJD apart from Lalu Prasad have skipped party events organised in Patna.
Jagadanand Singh declared he had come to put at rest media speculation about his commitment to Lalu and the RJD. “An MP has a lot of work and it is not necessary for him to be present at every party programme,” he explained to the 700 and odd RJD functionaries present.
Lalu’s speech itself was replete with oft-repeated charges against the Nitish government, specifically questioning the chief minister’s secular credentials.