Why Lalu Prasad Yadav Remains the Focal Point of Bihar Politics
The popularity of Lalu Prasad Yadav still impacts the imagination of disadvantaged populations of Bihar.
Undoubtedly, it was a phenomenal rise for Lalu Prasad Yadav to become the Chief Minister of Bihar on the 10th March 1990, as he emerged victorious in a triangular contest for the post. He was voted as the leader of legislative party by the elected members of Janata Dal in a close contest with Ram Sunder Das and Raghunath Jha. His first term was a decisive break from the capricious past that saw eighteen chief ministers during the preceding three decades (1961-1990). From the first assembly election in 1952 to 1990, Bihar has seen 19 chief ministers who came from different social backgrounds, namely; 14 from upper castes, 4 from backward community, and one each from Muslim and Scheduled caste, who ruled the state. During 1961-1990, the CM candidates were changed sixteen times by Indian National Congress and there were four other parties that ruled Bihar for six short spans which could be seen as a short-break in the state politics; namely, Jan Kranti Dal for 330 days with one CM, Samyukta Socialist party for 36 day with two CMs, INC (O) for 5 days with one CM and finally the Janta Party for 971 days with two CMs. These years could be marked as a phase of power struggle to become chief minister, precisely because none of the CMs were able to complete their tenure during this period and the head of the state governments were changed 22 times. These changes were result of political rivalry which took place within party and also in between different parties. The masses of Bihar hardly had a clue about these frequent changes but they suffered the most on various accounts, including adverse conditions of economy and infrastructure of the state. Hence, Bihar lagged behind on socio-economic indicators as compared to other states.
The rise of Lalu Prasad Yadav also became a point of debate and discussion as he transformed the very nature of state politics from politics of accommodation to politics of assertion. He brought in a new type of mobilization with effective public connect and remained at the focal point in the state politics. First, he took assertive position on the implementation of Mandal commission report in Bihar that attracted huge popularity among backward social groups who were conceptualized for upliftment in Mandal Commission report. In response to anti-Mandal protest in the state, he appealed to protesters that ‘the march of social justice cannot be stopped come whatever it may be’ and controlled the agitation effectively. Similarly, he took note of the vested interest trying to play with the implantation of reservation policy in the recruitment processes. He brought a legislation to checkmate those elements and declared such deviations as cognizable offence. His political will to work for the development of deprived sections of the society has been reflected in the implementation of reservation for socially and educationally backward classes in government jobs. Secondly, by stopping Rath Yatra and arresting L. K. Advani in Bihar on the ground of disturbing communal harmony, he attracted huge admiration among minorities that established his secular credentials in Indian politics. In three decades of his political journey, he provided a formidable challenge to Hindutva politics and communal forces. He never compromised on social justice, secularism and socialist agenda. He took a head on collision with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on his statement regarding review of reservation given to socially and educationally backward classes and made it an issue during Bihar assembly election of 2015. It became one the most important reason for a decisive defeat of BJP.
Finally, by prioritizing and implementing welfare-centric policies in the state, he became a messiah figure among disadvantaged sections of the society. He is particularly known for giving voice to the most disadvantaged and marginalized sections of the society. He has dealt heavily with feudal forces to ensure self-respect and dignity for the poor and downtrodden. He was able to make himself the most popular politician with his wit, spontaneity and political wisdom. He used his communicative skill to reach the hearts and minds of common people. In effect he gave a formidable challenge to both the Congress by ending its rule in the state after 1990 and became the chief opponent of Bhartiya Janata Party. He completed his first term as chief minister (1990-95) and retuned with majority for a second term but he has to resign in 1997 in view of the charge-sheet filed against him in fodder scam. He broke away from Janata Dal to form a new party called Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in June 1997 and Rabri devi was chosen by the legislative party to lead the government for the rest of the term (1997-2000). Again, RJD won the next assembly election in 2000 and Rabri Devi became chief minister for second term (2000-2005). During 1990-2005, Lalu Prasad Yadav dominated the state politics for fifteen years first where he was chief minister (1990-1997) and then as the president of the ruling party (1997-2005).
During formative years of political activism in 1970s, Lalu Prasad Yadav achieved three spectacular successes consecutively that gave him a prominence position in Bihar politics. First, he became the elected president of Patna University Student Union (PUSU) during 1973-74 and managed to become most popular students’ leader. Second and the most important turning point in his political journey was that he got an opportunity to lead 24-member Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti in February 1974. He became one of the most trusted lieutenants of the popular JP Movement. Finally, he was offered Janata Party ticket to contest from Chapra parliamentary constituency in 1977 at age of 29 that he won with a huge margin. The decade of 1970s basically records his rise from ordinary student to extraordinary leader in Bihar politics. However, the Janta party experiment was short-lived and he lost his election from the same parliamentary constituency in 1980. In the same year, he got ticket from Janata Party (Raj Narain) to contest the legislative assembly from Sonepur and got elected and again got elected in 1985 on Lok Dal ticket from the same constituency. In 1988, he was able to become leader of opposition after demise of Karpoori Thakur. His political activism remained committed to anti-congress, socialism, secularism and in organizing politics for fight for the just cause of backward communities at national level. From decline of Janata Party experiment in 1980 to the success of Janata Dal in 1989, he had played an active role in forming an anti-congress front at all India level. Again, he contested Chapra parliamentary constituency on Janata Dal ticket and won there on.
From 1990 to 1995, he was able to enhance the vote share of Janata Dal from 26.61percent in 1990 to 28 percent in 1995. Since the formation of RJD in June 1997, he fought five assembly elections in 2000, 2005 (Feb.), 2005 (Oct.), 2010 and 2015 with a vote share of 28.3 percent, 25.07 percent, 23.45, 13.10 and 32.91 percent respectively. Except 2010 assembly election, his party stood first in terms of vote share as compare to all political parties in the state. In February 2005 and 2015, RJD was the single largest party and it remained the main party of opposition in Bihar legislative assembly since February 2005. Similarly, of the six Lok Sabha elections that RJD contested since its formation, it had highest vote share as compared to other parties in the state in 1998, 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha with 17 seats and 25.2 per cent votes, 28.2 percent with seven seats and 30.67 percent with 22 seats respectively; whereas in 2009, 2014 and 2019, RJD could get 19.31 percent votes with 4 seats, 20.10 percent votes with 4 seats and 15.36 percent votes without a seat respectively. The vote share of parties like the BJP and the Samata party who were opposing the RJD rule during 1990-2005 failed to challenge the charismatic influence of Lalu Prasad Yadav on the common people. The first two elections that Samata party contested under leadership of Nitish Kumar could not reach double digit in terms of vote share; during 1995 assembly election in alliance with left parties had just 7.1 percent of vote share and during 2000 assembly elections in alliance with BJP it got just 8.8 percent of votes. Similarly, the six assembly elections since the formation of RJD that BJP contested during 2000-2015, its vote share revolve between 21.81 percent in 2015 and lowest being 10.7 percent in February 2005 assembly election.
The Bihar assembly election 2020 is going to be held in a terrifying situation where society is under the continuous fear of Covid 19 pandemic. All political parties except BJP and JDU have raised concern over pathetic conditions for electioneering process and had submitted a memorandum for postponement of the poll for a while. However, the election commission had insisted on holding the elections with proper precautions and guidelines. Both the political parties and the voters are in the process of making up their minds to participate in the electoral exercise. The political parties will be faced with a lot of limitations while propagating, mobilizing and wooing the voters whereas voters will have to get mentally prepare themselves to participate in the great democratic festival. The NDA have given indications to go to the poll with a debate ‘15 years Lalu Yadav versus 15 years of Nitish Kumar’, with an intention to revive the narrative of jungle-raj. However, the RJD and its alliance will focus on various failures of NDA government in the last fifteen years to mobilize voters in their favour. In particular, mismanagement in health infrastructures to combat Covid-19, the apathy of BJP-JDU combine towards the suffering of migrant labourers and students stuck up in others states during lockdown, the issues of unemployment, floods devastation and reliefs, messed up education system, corruption and degrading law and order situations especially the case of Srijan scam, Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case and liquor ban. The failure to meet the promised package of 1.25 lakh crore, special status to Bihar and central university status to Patna University will also be among the difficult chapters for ruling coalitions to respond.
However, the voters of Bihar will have fresh memories of pains about multiple problems that include adverse conditions of health infrastructures, the problems of migrant labourers as well as those located in Bihar per se. The past five months have been nightmares for everyone in general and poor sections of the society in particular which will be viewed by the people as the government’s failure. Under these circumstances, the voters of Bihar will certainly look for alternatives. The RJD being single largest party with a sizeable vote share reflected in its performance in last eleven elections since 1997 that includes elections to assembly as well as Lok Sabha might become natural choice of the voters. The social upliftment, communal harmony, political empowerment, profitable railway along with welfare oriented policies like Garib Rath, employment opportunity for coolie, use of Kulhars and khadi curtains in railways, no-hike in fare, setting up of three factories in Bihar & MNREGA scheme during UPA-I is considered to be strong chapters of RJD’s success story in last three decades. The popularity of Lalu Prasad Yadav still impacts the imagination of disadvantaged populations of Bihar. Bihar hasn’t seen anything substantial development on employment, agro-based industry and investment in industrial sector during 2005-20 to meet NDA’s promise of development and good-governance. On the contrary, the reports of NITI Aayog on development indicators have noted Bihar as the poorest performer and the data of NCRB on crimes are alarming too. Hence the narrative of ‘sushasan’ and ‘vikash’ of JDU and BJP’s new campaign project of ‘Atmanirbhar Bihar’ will be looked up as cliché and the burden of anti-incumbency will push them further down in the voter’s gaze.
Dr. Nawal Kishore is National Spokesperson of RJD and teaches political science at Rajdhani College, University of Delhi.