Music back with lakh-plus triumph - Prabhunath victory gives lease of life to Lalu, opens debate on secular ally

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By NALIN VERMA AND DIPAK MISHRA
  • Published 6.06.13
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Patna, June 5: The music is back for Lalu Prasad.

The beleaguered RJD chief won a decisive victory at Maharajganj where Prabhunath Singh trounced the Janata Dal (United) candidate P.K. Shahi by 1,37,126 votes — one of the most humiliating defeats faced by Nitish Kumar since his triumphant march to Patna’s power corridors in November 2005.

Prabhunath polled 3,81,452 votes against Shahi’s 2,44,326 votes. Congress’s Jitendra Swami secured 33,905 votes, ranking a poor third. Swami’s father, RJD leader Umashankar Singh, had held the seat but his death in February had necessitated the bypoll.

Lalu Prasad has not had much to cheer about over the past seven-and-a-half years — the drubbing he received in the 2010 Assembly elections posed serious questions about his political fate and future.

Today’s resounding victory — loser Shahi is the state’s education minister and among Nitish Kumar’s trusted lieutenants — has given a new lease of life to Lalu at a time when his party and cadres were gasping for survival. Lalu, who had been looking tired and haggard for some time, was back to his bubbly and witty self, the song back on his lips.

Mere pairon mein ghungroo bandha de, phir meri chaal dekh le,” he crooned at his post-victory chat with reporters. He would often sing the Rafi number from Sangharsh during his 2010 election campaign, but at that time no one seriously believed he could walk the political talk even if the anklets of power were again put on his feet.

Lalu has not only got his old caste equation of Muslim and Yadavs together again, but also managed to put an end to the rivalry of Yadavs and Rajputs in Maharajganj.

For Lalu, the emphatic victory — the RJD has upped its vote share to 54.43 per cent from 35.3 per cent in 2009 — has once again armed him with the strength to impress upon the Congress that he, and not Nitish, is a better bet as an ally.

“Make no mistake, Sonia and Congress are die-hard secular. The Congress, RJD, LJP and other secular parties will join hands to dislodge the communal forces in the 2014 elections,” the RJD chief said. “Where will Nitish go? He is a helpless creature…he is there despite the BJP making clear that Narendra Modi is its prime ministerial candidate.”

What would be worrying for Nitish is the fact that the RJD’s winning margin in 2009 was a little over 2,700 votes. But Shahi’s comprehensive defeat in all six Assembly segments across the seat has set off the alarm in the JD(U). In all these segments —Taraiya, Baniyapur, Majhi, Ekma, Maharajganj and Goreakothi — the RJD has scored over the JD(U) by huge margins ranging from 17,000 to over 30,000 votes.

The Bihar result has posed a dilemma for Nitish. The numbers suggest that Muslims have not voted for him — a situation that can worsen if he remains in alliance with a BJP that is left with little choice but to anoint Modi as its candidate for Prime Minister. But Nitish will need an alliance with the BJP if he has to win back the Rajputs.

Nitish’s first problem is to decide his future — does he go with the BJP or without it. “Nitish is seeking the Muslim votes and yet he is not snapping ties with the BJP. How can he expect the Muslims to vote?” asked a JD(U) MP. However, it is not only the Muslims that Nitish has to seek support from.

The upper castes, which formed the nucleus of his support base, are angry as reflected in the massive margin of the victory of the RJD. The alliance in the state is no longer the same that won the 2010 polls — regular verbal duels between the partners have taken their toll. Unlike in 2010, neither Nitish nor any JD(U) senior asked the BJP leaders to campaign. A few who did, like deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, went voluntarily.

But in spite of the reversal, it is too early to draw a big picture on any trend emerging for the 2014 elections. The north Bihar region across the Ganga comprising Saran, Maharajganj and Siwan has been relatively difficult for Nitish. The NDA suffered in all three Lok Sabha seats in 2009 — Lalu had won Saran defeating BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Umashankar Singh had won Maharajganj and Omprakash Yadav had triumphed at Siwan, where the JD(U) had trailed in third position.

JD(U) leaders pointed out that the story would be different in a state known for its caste diversity. Moreover, they pointed out, Nitish would launch a course correction in the same way he did after losing a number of Assembly seats in bypolls held ahead of the 2010 Assembly elections, in which he won a landslide.