Patna: A poor show in two bypolls in Bihar left Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad disappointed enough to leave Patna for the national capital earlier this week, three weeks ahead of his expected departure.
He had arrived in Patna on 24 October and had announced that he would say for a month. But he took a flight back Wednesday. RJD MLC Sunil Kumar Singh said he flew off as he was called for a check-up after his kidney issues aggravated.
However, the move came just a day after the ruling Janata Dal (United) retained both the assembly seats that went to polls on 30 October — Tarapur in Munger district and Kusheshwar Asthan in Darbhanga.
According to RJD leaders, the septuagenarian party chief, who was released from jail in fodder scam cases earlier this year, was dejected since he had held election meetings in both constituencies.
“He was disappointed and it showed on his face. After all, despite his fragile health conditions, he held massive election meetings in both places and expected to win Tarapur,” said a senior RJD leader who didn’t wish to be named.
NDA leaders even went on to taunt that he actually helped the ruling JD(U), as his physical presence in a poll campaign after six years brought back memories of ‘jungle raj’ among voters.
“Lalu ji reminded the people of the ‘jungle raj’ and the dominance of one caste during the Lalu-Rabri regime,” JD(U) state president Umesh Kushwaha told ThePrint.
BJP leaders also held the same view. “Lalu ji’s visit must have given NDA votes an additional 6,000 to 7,000 votes in both assembly seats. His meetings were huge. But it was dominated by just two sections. His announcement that he would topple the Nitish government if RJD won both the seats galvanised NDA voters to come to the booth, especially women,” BJP MLA Gyanendra Singh Gyanu told ThePrint.
Lalu Prasad was the uncrowned king of Bihar politics between 1990 and 2005. But the period is mostly remembered as a lawless time in Bihar’s history.
He then lost power to friend-turned-foe Nitish Kumar, who caught on to the votes of the extremely backward classes (EBCs) that Lalu lost. The EBCs constitute 29 per cent of Bihar’s population. Lalu was left with just the Muslim and Yadav votes — over 30 per cent but not enough to win elections.
Nitish has since been the CM. The two former friends briefly regrouped during the 2015 state elections under the Grand Alliance banner but Nitish went back to the NDA in 2017 and Lalu had to go to judicial custody in fodder scam cases.
After he was given bail in April this year, Lalu moved to his eldest daughter Misa Bharti’s Delhi residence, where he had been staying for medical help he needs for the multiple ailments he suffers from.
RJD was looking for sympathy votes?
In the 2020 assembly polls, the RJD removed the face of Lalu Prasad and his wife and former CM Rabri Devi from posters and banners in a bid to detach the party from the ‘jungle raj’ legacy.
Instead of harping on the Muslim-Yadav social base, Lalu’s son and party leader Tejashwi Yadav called RJD an ‘A-Z’ party, representing all sections of the society. The strategy paid dividends and the Grand Alliance won 110 seats against NDA’s 125 and RJD emerged as the largest political party in the assembly.
The difference between the NDA and Grand Alliance was less than 12,000 votes, indicating that Tejashwi had managed to draw votes from the non-Muslim-Yadav sections of the society.
This time too, Tejashwi fought a high-pitched election battle for the two assembly seats that went to bypolls.
It was only on the last day of campaigning (27 October) that Lalu Prasad was brought in to address two large public meetings in both Tarapur and Kusheshwar Asthan.
“Lalu ji‘s long absence from Bihar and his fragile health conditions has generated sympathy for him among all sections of the society. We thought it would mean more votes. But that did not work,” said an RJD MLA who didn’t wish to be quoted.
“We began trailing in Tarapur after the 18th round because the population of Yadavs, Muslims, and Baniyas thinned in areas where counting started,” the MLA said.
BJP says Lalu can’t convert crowd into votes, RJD disagrees
Speaking to ThePrint, former deputy CM and BJP MP Sushil Kumar Modi said that while Lalu Prasad has been a crowd-puller since the 1990s, converting those crowds into votes is an altogether different matter.
“Lalu ji remains a polarising figure in Bihar politics. He only enthuses sections of his social base. Other sections remain unaffected either by his presence or absence,” he said.
“The RJD removed his picture from their posters in the 2020 assembly polls. It paid off. Now that he has been reintroduced by the RJD he has reminded people of Bihar what his regime was,” Modi added.
However, Sunil Kumar Singh, RJD MLC and a close associate of the Lalu family, called this “sheer hypocrisy” on the part of NDA leaders.
“When we removed the photo of Lalu ji, they taunted us that we were ashamed of putting up his photo. In these bypolls, he addressed public meetings, and now the NDA is again talking about ‘jungle raj’,” said Singh.
“Despite the losses, NDA leaders should realise we got more votes than in the 2020 assembly polls. In Tarapur, our vote share increased from 36 per cent to 44 per cent. Even in Kusheshwar Asthan, we got 2 per cent more votes than the Congress got in the 2020 polls. We got votes from non-Muslim and Yadav sections. This was possible due to ‘Lalu magic’,” he added.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)