Lalu gathers force as Nitish yatra turns flop show
By Ajay Kumar - PATNA
Published: 07th Oct 2012 10:44:27 AM
Opportunity has come knocking at the door of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s friends (BJP) and foe (Lalu Prasad). Nitish is facing mass public outcry and the ‘Adhikar Yatra’—conceived as an empowering journey for Nitish’s weakened image—has been interrupted by catcalls and shoe missiles in almost every public meeting. These incidents have emboldened the BJP, his ally in the government that has been chafing at its subservient status and Nitish’s attacks on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, to expose corruption at every level in the government by organising public programmes. It also went ahead to invite Modi to attend the proposed ‘Hunkar Rally’ on March 15 next year much against the wishes of Nitish.
The man who has been electrified by the anti-Nitish sentiment is the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu. He had been completely marginalised following a complete rout in 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the 2010 Assembly elections in the state. Now the huge crowds are back; turning up at his meetings in Munger and Bhagalpur, enjoying his vernacular wisecracks and deadpan political humour.
The sharp reactions of anti-Nitish protestors have given Lalu enough ammunition to barrage his arch enemy and win over his old social constituency. He now reminds the masses that the man who they trusted so much is so arrogant that he cannot tolerate protests by his own people. At every public meeting, Lalu accuses Nitish of conspiring against the demand of special status for Bihar.
Lalu reminds his audience that his wife, the then chief minister Rabri Devi, had demanded special status for Bihar at a public meeting of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on February 3, 2002 at Gandhi Maidan, Patna. Vajpayee, who was there to inaugurate several railway projects, had assured her in public that the demand would be considered. Lalu alleges that Nitish—who was then Railway Minister—told Vajpayee that if the demand was fulfilled, it would be the Rabri Devi government that would reap the political benefits. Returning to Delhi, Vajpayee, while talking to media at the airport, then had categorically stated that no special status would be given to Bihar; rather the state would get only special package. Even that did not come, says Lalu.
At most of his public meetings now, Lalu draws applause from responsive crowds as he takes on Nitish on how the government policy to open liquor shops in every nook and corner of the state has made villagers habitual boozers, although it has fattened the state exchequer through excise duty. Lalu’s main public rhetoric against Nitish is based on his typical political social justice plank that the poor under Nitish are helpless and only government officers have been empowered. He is also wooing the upper castes—which he had antagonised during his tenure as chief minister—by visiting their villages. To a great extent, his traditional support base consisting of Yadavs, and to some extent Muslims, has not disowned him.
Lalu is an expert at sensing the popular pulse and is capitalising on this opportunity to galvanise the support of all anti-Nitish forces under his umbrella.
“Though Nitish has performed well in his first term and people were impressed with his initiatives and trusted his good intentions, his second term is marked with total red tapism and rampant corruption at every level,” says a villager Umesh Singh.
Political sources in Patna feel that Nitish is failing to match the very high expectation level generated after his massive victory in the last assembly polls, and he is very much focused on how to grow out of Bihar and become a major national player. His political team, mostly consisting of deserters from Lalu’s camp, has totally failed to carry his message to the masses. The bureaucracy is ruling the roost much to the despair of people, especially in the rural areas, where cases of official corruption are tumbling out of babudom’s closets. The current political churning would decide the political fate of the state, and especially Nitish’s in the 2014 general elections.