Patna: Campaigning in Bihar is threatening to be a dreary affair in the absence of one man — Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.
For the first time in 29 years, when he emerged on the political scene, Lalu, in judicial custody in Ranchi after being convicted in the fodder scam, will not be physically present during campaigning for an election.
Lalu has always dominated campaigning in Bihar since 1990, even in ones he has lost, by ridiculing opponents with witty nicknames and captivating crowds in his rallies with his rustic humour and pithy one-liners. He famously said in the 90s that as long as a samosa has aloo (potato), Bihar will have Lalu.
It was the RJD chief who came up with ‘Paltu Ram‘ for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, once dubbed Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi as a mukademebaaj (habitual litigator) and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan as a rajnitik mausam vaigyanik (political weathervane).
“Who else can mimic PM Modi the way Lalu does?” says a former RJD MP.
“During a rally at the Gandhi Maidan in August 2015, Lalu mimicked Modi, saying ‘bhaiyo behano bijli aayee, bijli mili‘, before advising the Prime Minister not to stress so much in his speech or his blood vessel would puncture. It not only had the crowds laughing but even had Sonia Gandhi on the edge of her seat.”
RJD leaders say Lalu’s gift is that he manages to weave his political message with humour. When EVMs were first introduced, an RJD MLA recalls, Lalu would address public meetings with a replica of the machine.
“Press the button on the hurricane lantern (the RJD’s poll symbol). The machine will make a noise beep, beep,” he would tell voters. “If it does not make a sound then you should know that there is a ghotala (scam).”
Even in the 2015 assembly polls, Lalu would wave the book of RSS ideologue Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar stressing that the BJP was against a quota for the downtrodden.
“The dramatics hit bull’s eye as the downtrodden consolidated in favour of the Grand Alliance and BJP leaders were on the defensive,” said an RJD MLA.
In 2015 Nitish and Lalu were allies. There were demands from even JD(U) candidates for Lalu to campaign for them.
Also read: How Lalu Prasad is plotting to defeat Modi in Bihar from a jail in Jharkhand
‘Sons are no match for Lalu’
In Lalu’s absence, the mantle of the party’s chief campaigner has passed onto his younger son Tejashwi Yadav. Although Tejashwi has begun to draw large crowds in his rallies, RJD leaders admit that he is not a patch on his father when it comes to sense of humour.
“Laluji is Laluji. There is no replacement for him,” RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari told ThePrint.
“Tejashwi Yadav speaks well and puts out the facts before the crowds but he has a long way to go before he catches up with Lalu,” says another RJD MLA. “There is no wit or satire or the rustic language that Lalu uses to make an instant connect with his voters.”
Party leaders point out that Tejashwi’s older brother Tej Pratap is more like Lalu in terms of oratory skills. “But the tragedy is that both brothers do not trust each other,” the RJD MLA added.
This, however, does not mean that the RJD chief is not involved in the poll process. Even though he is in judicial custody in Ranchi, Lalu has been meeting potential allies such as the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha, Mukesh Sahani of the Vikasshil Insaan Party (VIP), the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi and Sitaram Yechury among others.
His efforts are also not confined to Bihar. Even Jharkhand leaders such as the state Congress chief Ajay Kumar, former Jharkhand CMs Babulal Marandi and Hemant Soren and others have visited him in an effort to form an alliance in the state, which holds 14 Lok Sabha seats.
Strangely, even Lalu’s arch political foe, the BJP, is “missing him”.
“We had wanted Lalu Prasad to be outside of jail. But that is not in our hands,” Deputy CM Modi told ThePrint. “Lalu’s presence helps us polarise voters. People are reminded of the 15 years of jungle raj and his very presence results in Muslims and Yadavs voting in his favour and the rest consolidating against him.”
Even Modi acknowledged Lalu’s oratory skills. “Tejashwi Yadav has a long way to go. In that respect it is advantage NDA.”
Also read: Why political parties are scared of Lalu Prasad Yadav