The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Off hotseat, Rabri’s not much good
- Whispers heard in RJD questioning former CM’s credentials to head Opposition

Patna, Nov. 27: When Lalu Prasad made his wife chief minister, there was hardly a murmur of protest from his party. Now that she is leader of the Opposition, some Rashtriya Janata Dal leaders are ready to whisper “nepotism”.

A chief minister can function by proxy, they argue, but not a leader of the Opposition.

As head of the government, Rabri Devi had an easy time with senior ministers helping her inside the House and husband Lalu Prasad doubling for her outside. In her new role, she must perform on her own.

She faces a stern test because the RJD, with only 54 MLAs ' one less than arch-enemy BJP ' needs massive rebuilding if it is to remain in the reckoning for future polls.

An RJD source said the “reservations” over Lalu Prasad’s decision have become “critical” because the party has at least half-a-dozen experienced hands, including at least two Muslims, who could have lent more teeth to the Opposition inside the legislature.

To add to Rabri Devi’s problems, poll allies Congress and CPM have already begun distancing themselves from the RJD, obliquely blaming its 15 years of “non-performance” for the National Democratic Alliance’s impressive victory.

“We fail to understand why Lalu Prasad was so keen on making Rabri Devi the leader of the Opposition,” a RJD leader said. “It cannot have been because of the perks associated with the office as she was anyway going to get an official bungalow as a former chief minister. Perhaps the party chief did not want the post to slip out of the family’s hands.”

The CPI (ML), which today renewed its appeal for a larger Left unity in the light of the poll results , also questioned the decision. “The leader of the Opposition represents all those who are not part of the government. We do not think Rabri Devi would be able to generate any degree of confidence among the Opposition members,” general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said.

A senior Congress leader played up the contrast between Rabri Devi and Lalu Prasad, who had been leader of the Opposition before becoming chief minister.

“His lung power, theatrics and capacity to raise even inconsequential issues very forcefully used to be a major worry for the Congress governments of that time,” he said. “On many occasions, Lalu Prasad had to be physically removed. None of that looks possible now.

“A leader of the Opposition cannot perform by proxy.”

Lalu Prasad seemed to be in a great hurry to announce Rabri Devi’s name for the job. The first indication came on November 22 itself ' the day the results came in ' and an informal announcement followed the next day. A formal meeting of the legislators took place two days later.

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