Patna, Sept. 30: The conviction of Lalu Prasad has dealt a body blow to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), a party that was already gasping for resuscitation.
“It’s a big blow for the RJD. But we will fight till the end,” said senior leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, one of the RJD’s four members in the Lok Sabha.
Lalu’s younger son Tejaswi, who at the age of 24 faces the daunting prospect of taking over the reins of the doddering organisation, declared that his party would put up a tough fight in the coming elections. Brave words. But the despair gripping the party showed through when Ram Kripal Yadav, Lalu loyalist and Rajya Sabha member, broke down in tears.
“Never has the future of our party and our leader Lalu Prasad been under such strain,” conceded a senior leader, who did not wish to be named. “Not even when he went to jail earlier. The very survival of the party is now at stake.”
Like in 1997, when Lalu’s arrest became imminent, the party did what it does when faced with such a crisis. Turn to Rabri Devi.
Hours after the verdict was announced, former minister Veena Shahi went to Rabri’s home at 10 Circular Road and requested her to take up the leadership of the party. “It will be temporary, while Laluji is not with us. Laluji is Laluji. It is immaterial if he is an MP or not,” said Shahi.
After being convicted by the Ranchi court, the RJD chief is reported to have spoken to Rabri over phone and advised her to “rise to the occasion” to face the situation.
What worries RJD leaders most is the prospect that neither Rabri nor Tejaswi has displayed the ability to fill Lalu’s shoes; keeping the core flock will be a challenge.
Already, there is speculation that around a dozen of the party’s 22 MLAs are ready to cross over to the JD(U). “We need Rabri Devi and her sons to play the role of Jagan Reddy’s mother and sister in Andhra. Jagan was in jail for 16 months. But his family members kept the spirit of party workers and leaders high,” said a former RJD MP.
He said it would be a more difficult role for Rabri Devi than what she performed as chief minister. “In 1997, the party had just been formed. Lalu still had the aura of invincibility around him. Now the situation is very different.”
The party, which has been caught in directionless drift since the hammering in the 2010 Assembly elections, is also resigned to the fact that the Congress is more keen on having Nitish Kumar as an ally than Lalu. “We have to carry the RJD-LJP alliance forward,” the former MP said.
RJD’s core votebase of Muslims and Yadavs is also under strain. Already, Muslims have shown an inclination to go with Nitish after the JD(U)’s divorce from the BJP.
BJP leaders from the state claim Narendra Modi has already begun to impact the “backward (read Yadav) vote” in Bihar.
A favourable factor for the RJD is that it still has a set of seasoned such as Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Jagadanand Singh, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, Ram Kripal Yadav and Shakuni Choudhary — all capable of guiding the party workers collectively. “However, the party has been tuned to listen to the voice of just one person for so long that it is difficult for anyone else to take control. It’s a tough road ahead,” said the former MP.