When Bihar's 'political doctor' tasted his own bitter pill!

In Bihar’s fast-unfolding political scenario, a feeble Lalu would only catalyse the polarisation between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi

Kanhaiya Bhelari | March 11, 2014



Illustration: Ashish Asthana

At the height of his glory as Bihar chief minister, Lalu Prasad credited himself with the epithet of a “political doctor”. And this was a well-earned reputation of a political leader who carried out surgical operations in other political parties, severed them vertically, and transplanted their limbs to fortify himself.

Lalu Prasad was adept at breaking political parties to save his minority government since 1990. Towards the beginning of 1991 he got the BJP split under the leadership of Inder Singh Namdhari. The BJP had 39 legislators, and 13 MLAs were needed to ensure the split. Lalu managed support of 12. The signature of Jawahar Prasad, the MLA from Sasaram, was forged to reach the required number of 13.

“I can swear before god even today that my signature was forged by Lalu Prasad in 1991,” Jawahar Prasad told Governance Now over phone.

Lalu also engineered a split in the CPI (ML) Liberation in 1993.The radical Left party had six legislators, of whom four turned rebel and joined Lalu. Once again he got the CPI split into two and mustered enough support to command majority in the house. His knack of political surgery got sharpened in 2000 when, after a seven-day Nitish Kumar regime, Lalu Prasad won over five BSP legislators and continued to be the de facto chief minister behind the shadow of his wife, and de jure chief minister, Rabri Devi.

As the saying goes, “as you sow so shall you reap”. In 2014, Lalu Prasad met more than his match in his old engineer colleague and political rival Nitish Kumar. The manner in which 13 RJD legislators declared their severance of ties with the legislature party of 22 MLAs was quite similar to the operations carried out by Lalu Prasad in the past. However, rebels could not muster enough courage to sustain their dissidence.

Till the time of writing this piece (February 25), Lalu Prasad managed to win over nine dissidents while only four rebels were left to raise the banner of revolt. This has created a peculiar situation for assembly speaker Udai Narayan Chaudhary, who granted recognition to the rebels as a separate group. Apparently the speaker’s decision goes against the anti-defection law, which stipulates that rebellion by two-third of the legislature strength is required to cause a split.

Lalu Prasad took to the street against the speaker’s decision and cried hoarse over alleged attempts by Nitish Kumar and his confidants to split his party.
Nine of the rebels who figured in the list of 13 MLAs given to the speaker claimed that their signatures were forged. This seems a familiar script as Lalu resorted to a similar strategy when he broke the BJP in 1990. On the other hand, Nitish Kumar maintained a discreet silence and distance from the events that unfolded in Patna. His colleagues described it as an internal matter of the RJD.

The unsavoury episode in Patna has certainly exposed chinks in Lalu Prasad’s armour at a time when he has been preparing to stage a comeback after getting increasingly marginalised in Bihar politics. Since his conviction in the fodder scam, Lalu has been fighting with his back to the wall. He cannot contest elections after his conviction and is seen as a protector of his family’s interests. He has been desperately trying to pass on the baton to his sons whose experience in ground-level politics is quite tenuous.

RJD veterans are also frowning upon his attempt to foist the trend of leadership through lineage in the party. At the same time his attempt to cobble together an alliance with the Congress and Ram Vilas Paswan has not materialised so far. There are indications that Ram Vilas Paswan is more than keen to join ranks with the BJP and desert the secular alliance. In such a scenario, a feeble Lalu would only catalyse the polarisation between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi in Bihar.

These are obviously not healthy symptoms for the political doctor of Bihar.

(This story appeared in the March 1-15, 2014 print edition)

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