The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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End of an era' Not if secular card works

Feb. 27: Hours after getting elected leader of the Janata Dal legislature party in 1990, Laloo Prasad Yadav had declared that he would flourish in Bihar like Chandragupta Maurya.

The comparison is credited by some to Congress leader Sitaram Kesri who had reportedly said: 'Bihar mein ek aur Chandragupta paida ho gaya (Another Chandragupta has been born in Bihar).'

Whatever the genesis, Laloo Prasad has lived up to his idol. Like the Mauryan emperor, he is imperious despite humble origins, bold and audacious. His campaigns have been arguably as innovative as Chandragupta's and both conquered the north and the northwest.

Even the language Laloo Prasad uses borrows heavily from war imagery. For example, during the election campaign this time, he time and again reminded his audience that he had successfully raided Delhi. 'Hum Dilli par chadh gaye' or 'Hum Dilli par chadhai kar deeye', he said, to remind listeners that he was not just the satrap of Magadh but was close to becoming the emperor himself.

Combative to the core and wilier and more flexible than most politicians, the National Democratic Alliance can hardly afford to write him off. The message of the mandate in Bihar is that there can be no government without either the Lok Janshakti Party or Laloo Prasad.

Late this evening, he did let out that the Rashtriya Janata Dal would stake its claim to form the government, leaving nobody in any doubt that Laloo Prasad will try his utmost to have a 'secular, UPA government' in Bihar, without him or Rabri Devi, if necessary. If that requires him to reach out to Ram Vilas Paswan as a supplicant, he would not be averse to do so.

Indeed, he made the first move this morning by appealing to Paswan for support so that 'communal forces' can be kept at bay. It was a clever move, making it even more difficult for Paswan to get cosy with the NDA.

In the evening, Laloo Prasad declared: 'We respect the mandate for the formation of a secular government. The NDA's dreams will never be fulfilled.'

But he bristled when asked if Rabri or he were in the race for the top job. 'I do not want to answer such questions through newspapers. But we will decide our chief minister'. And we will also install a secular government in Jharkhand.'

All day, Laloo Prasad and his chief minister wife had been glumly glued to the television, controversial MP Mohammad Shahabuddin by their side. For once, the remote control was in Rabri's hands.

An elderly staff member at the chief minister's bungalow was almost in tears. 'Is it really coming to an end' I do not understand the political game but they (Laloo Prasad and Rabri Devi) have been very good souls. They have done up this place with a lot of love.'

With the LJP, Congress and the Left, however, the RJD combination comes tantalisingly close to the halfway mark ' less than 10 short.

Those familiar with the way Laloo Prasad's mind works will not be surprised if he and Rabri Devi pay a courtesy call on Paswan to congratulate him. It is this flexibility that makes him unpredictable.

It is too early, therefore, to speak of the end of an era in Bihar. His contract to rule Bihar may not have been renewed. But trust Laloo Prasad to do everything he can to ensure that the mantle remains with forces not inimical to him. A spell of President's rule followed by a UPA government, therefore, is in the realm of possibility.

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