Patna: Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who has returned to Bihar after a gap of three and a half years, firmly believes that his party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, will “ultimately” form the government in Bihar as there will be a “bhagdar” (stampede) in the ruling NDA “after it loses” the two assembly bypolls slated for 30 October.
Convicted in a fodder scam-related case in 2017, Lalu was released on bail in April, but had been undergoing medical treatment in Delhi since, while staying at his Rajya Sabha MP daughter Misa Bharti’s residence. He returned to Patna Sunday evening, having last been in Bihar in April 2018, on parole from his jail term in Ranchi, to attend son Tej Pratap’s wedding.
The constituencies where the bypolls are to be held are Kusheshwar Asthan in Darbhanga and Tarapur in Munger. Both were held by CM Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), but the sitting legislators’ deaths earlier this year necessitated these by-elections.
“There will be a bhagdar in the JD(U) and its allies. After all, both these seats were held by the JD(U). Ultimately we will form the government,” Lalu told ThePrint in an interview.
The NDA camp originally had the support of 128 MLAs in the 243-member Bihar assembly after the 2020 elections — with the JD(U) contributing 43 members, the BJP 74, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha and Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaan Party four each, one Independent offering support, and the lone MLAs from the Lok Janshakti Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party joining the JD(U). But if the JD(U) fails to retain the two seats in the bypolls, Nitish will have to keep the HAM and the VIP in good humour to maintain a majority in the assembly.
Lalu is closely monitoring the RJD’s campaigning for the bypolls under the leadership of his son Tejashwi. “I saw a video today… there was a large presence of women,” he remarked.
The controversy over Bhakt Charan Das
Lalu courted controversy Sunday by using a derogatory term to refer to the Congress’ Bihar in-charge Bhakt Charan Das, while answering a question on the latter’s recent comments on the state of the RJD-Congress alliance in Bihar.
Asserting that his party was not part of any “mahagathbandhan” (grand alliance) in Bihar, Das had told the media last Friday: “When RJD could not spare just one seat of Kusheshwar Asthan to Congress to contest the bypoll, which has been our traditional seat, then where is the mahagathbandhan?”
Lalu had retaliated Sunday by asking: “Should we have parted with a seat so that the Congress loses it and forfeits its deposit?” He then went on to use a derogatory term for Das. Many have since criticised Lalu’s language, including former Lok Sabha speaker and senior Congress leader Meira Kumar, who said Monday that his comments had hurt “the self-respect of the Dalit community in Bihar and the country”. Das is a Dalit leader.
Meira Kumar had also demanded action against Lalu under the SC/ST Act.
RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari has claimed that the word used by Lalu in reference to Das could not be classified as abuse, and was merely a slang term used for absent-minded people.
Asked about the state of the Congress-RJD alliance by ThePrint, Lalu responded by asking: “What value does Bhakt Charan Das have in Delhi?”
“The trouble begins when Congress leaders in Bihar think Nitish has more votes than me. In the past, former (Congress) state president Anil Sharma convinced late Congress leader Sadanand Singh to fight alone (in 2009 general elections). (In 2020 assembly elections) they contested 70 seats and stopped the formation of the mahagathbandhan government because they won just 19 seats,” the former CM said.
“Why should I give Kusheshwar Asthan to Congress? Should I have given the seat so that they can lose their deposit? Ashok Ram (senior Congress leader whose son, Atirekh Kumar, is contesting on a Congress ticket) had come to meet me in Delhi and was pleading for his son to be given an RJD ticket. I refused because Ram has no influence there,” Lalu said.
Return to rallies and differences with Nitish
Lalu is scheduled to hold public meetings at both Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur Wednesday — his first public rallies in six years. The last time he held an election rally was in 2015, when he and Nitish Kumar had joined hands to fight the Bihar assembly elections against the BJP and its allies.
“I am excited. I missed out on the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2020 assembly polls,” he said.
While there has been routine speculation about Lalu and Nitish joining hands against the BJP, the former Bihar CM denied any such possibility between his party and the “PM material”, a term he uses to taunt Nitish Kumar, since leaders of his party have declared him to be so.
State RJD president Jagdanand Singh, who was present during ThePrint’s interview with Lalu, reiterated: “Do you want us to give a written stamp paper on this?”
Lalu added: “When I was in AIIMS, undergoing treatment, political leaders from across parties called to enquire about my health. The ‘PM material’ never bothered to even give a telephone call to enquire about my health. When he (Nitish) was with us in the ‘mahagathbandhan‘ and would come to meet me, I would always put a teeka on his forehead. It was a symbolic gesture to convey that I trusted him. And see what he did.”
Asked about the condition of governance in the state under Nitish, Lalu alleged, “What governance? Murders are happening every day and everywhere.”
Son against son
Asked how he felt about returning to Patna, Lalu said: “It’s all the same wherever I am. My lifestyle has been restricted by doctors. I always walk in the morning hours. Even today, I went to the park for a walk”.
What he does not want to talk about is the dispute between his two sons — Tejashwi and Tej Pratap — for control over the party.
Even when he arrived in Patna on Sunday evening, Tej Pratap alleged that he was not allowed to enter Lalu’s 10 Circular Road residence, declaring that he would have nothing to do with the RJD as long as Jagdanand Singh was the state president, alleging that Singh had manhandled him at the Patna airport (where he had gone to welcome his father) and prevented him from spending time with the RJD chief.
It was past midnight when Lalu and his wife, former Bihar CM Rabri Devi, went and pacified their angry son. “It is a problem that Laluji will have to deal with while he is in Patna,” admitted a senior RJD leader.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)