Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo and two-time Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav appears to have lost his mojo.
Though his return to the state after nearly 30 months earlier this week was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by his party faithful, he soon tied himself up in knots over ties with the Congress. And, as his maiden poll rallies after six years at Tarapur and Kusheshwar Asthan (bypolls will be held in both on 30 October) on Wednesday showed, the RJD chief seems to have lost his earlier appeal among the electorate.
Yadav, who has been convicted in the multi-crore fodder scam, was known for his sharp campaign speeches.
The RJD chief has also been known for his political acumen and his proximity to Congress matriarch Sonia Gandhi. Lalu Yadav’s inimitable campaign speeches, peppered by unique witticisms, had always moved the crowds.
But all that seems to have become history now. Soon after landing in Patna on Sunday (24 October), he attacked the Congress and used derogatory terms to describe the party’s Bihar in-charge Bhakta Charan Das.
That triggered a storm of protests from the Congress, which was quick to point out that Das was a Dalit and Yadav’s derogatory comments amounted to an insult to Dalits.
Singed by the condemnations that his comments on Das and his description of the Congress as a ‘failed party’ evoked, Lalu tried to make amends on Wednesday by doing a U-turn.
The Congress, he told reporters before leaving for the poll campaign at Tarapur and Kusheshwar Asthan, was the only opposition party with an all-India presence. Sonia Gandhi, he said, should take the lead in stitching together a coalition against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Lalu Yadav also claimed that he had received a call from Sonia Gandhi who asked about his health and the two discussed opposition unity. But this claim was rubbished by state Congress leaders, including Das, who asserted that no such conversation had taken place between Sonia and Lalu.
“Lalu Yadav is living in a dream world. He only dreamt that he received a call from Soniaji. After having abused the Congress, he cannot expect any senior Congress leader, and especially not Soniaji, to call him and ask about his health. I am the party in-charge of Bihar and would have known had such a call had been made by our party chief,” Das told Swarajya.
The RJD chief was then left with egg on his face and when reporters asked him later the same (Wednesday) evening about the Congress contemptuously dismissing his claim, Lalu irritatedly dismissed the queries and looked visibly uncomfortable and embarrassed.
Lalu Yadav had, on Sunday, dismissed the Congress and said it would not be able to win a single seat without the RJD. He hinted that the Congress was piggy-backing on his party and justified his party’s decision to field candidates from Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur.
The break in the RJD-Congress alliance in Bihar occurred over this decision by the RJD and led to the Congress walking away from the mahagathbandhan in that state. The Congress was allotted the Kusheshwar Asthan seat in assembly polls last year and the Congress candidate lost to the JD(U) nominee by a little over 7,000 votes.
The Congress expected the RJD to leave the seat to it (the Congress) this time as well in keeping with what Das termed as “coalition dharma”. But the RJD contended that the Congress’ chances of winning the seat were nil. Lalu Yadav reiterated this when he said that if the RJD were to leave the seat to the Congress, its candidate would have lost his security deposit.
A galaxy of Congress leaders then started a campaign against the RJD and targeted Lalu Yadav. Senior Dalit leaders like (former Lok Sabha Speaker) Meira Kumar were roped in for the bypoll campaign. And the trio of CPI-turned-Congress leader Kanhaiya Kumar, Gujarat Congress working president Hardik Patel and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani also participated in the campaign.
Lalu Yadav, thus, turned the battle for Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur into a bitter RJD-Congress campaign. Realising that the war of words between his party and the Congress would provide a walkover to the JD(U), Lalu tried a course correction on Wednesday by going soft on the Congress.
But, say political observers and analysts in Bihar, the damage has already been done and the bitterness between allies-turned-foes — the RJD and the Congress — has come to occupy centerstage in the the poll campaign in the two constituencies.
In a desperate bid to alter the ‘RJD versus Congress’ narrative, Lalu Yadav launched a frontal attack on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and accused him of doing nothing for the state over his successive terms as Chief Minister.
Lalu Yadav also accused Kumar of betrayal (in reference to Kumar leaving the mahagathbandhan in 2017 and returning to the NDA). Lalu also referred to the period of RJD’s rule as the ‘golden period’ for Bihar.
But there were barely any takers for Lalu Yadav’s rhetoric. Especially since his rule over Bihar still evokes memories of the lawless ‘jungle raj’ that has come to be closely associated with him.
Lalu Yadav’s talk of development and his accusations that Nitish Kumar had failed to develop the state ring hollow, coming from a scam convict and one whose years in power saw unprecedented corruption and a complete collapse of law and order.
Lalu Yadav’s speeches at the election rallies on Wednesday — his first after the rallies he addressed before the 2015 assembly elections in the state — only served to expose him as a pale shadow of his former fiery and feisty self. Looking pale and feeble, he sounded tired and jaded.
Lalu Yadav turned out to be a disappointment to many of his ardent fans at Tarapur and Kusheshwar Asthan. He has clearly lost his mojo.
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