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Lalu shocks media pundits What Next?

Updated: November 19, 2015 11:42 am

There are two clear inferences one can draw from this overwhelming victory of the Grand Alliance of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad, JD-U of chief minister Nitish Kumar and the Congress party—one, in politics don’t write off anybody, be it Lalu Prasad or the Congress party.

For close to two decades now Lalu Prasad has been a butt of derisive jokes by the BJP, the saffron biased media and generally the urban, aspirational upper caste as a corrupt country bumpkin. This even when he has been scoring some remarkable victories, be it in the successive state assembly elections from 1994 onwards when the national media would return from Patna and proudly announce the extinguishing of RJD election symbol, the lantern before every poll. Together with the Congress and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, Lalu also swept the 2004 general elections in Bihar and Jharkhand. But the chatterati and the media all along grudged him his victories and achievements, even as the country’s most successful Railway Minister. Of course for ten years now, 2005-15, his political fortunes were on the downswing.

By this election, Lalu had also been convicted in the fodder scam and barred from contesting elections. The so-called well-wishers of Nitish Kumar, and there were many among the “secular chatterati “ including the Left, sections in the Congress and the media, regretted Nitish decision to align with Lalu and felt that Nitish may find it difficult to carry the baggage of Lalu with the latter’s reputation as a corrupt politician of ‘Jungle raj’ fame. Till the final results came no media pundit was willing to believe that Lalu would lead this victory against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah’s shrill and divisive political campaign.

Modi addressed 27 rallies in this campaign setting a record of sorts for any Prime Minister to campaign in any state assembly election. That includes even Modi’s past record of campaigning in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir and also Delhi.

Like Lalu, Rahul Gandhi too shocked his critics and media pundits who had written him off as incapable of leading the main Opposition party in Parliament– the Congress party. By winning 27 out of 41 the Congress party as the third pillar of Grand Alliance, showed a mirror to Amit Shah and Modi who spared no opportunity to make fun of Sonia and Rahul. Of course the credit for this alliance goes more to Sonia than Rahul because if it were not for her the anti-Mandal forces within the Congress would have persuaded Rahul, like on previous occasions, to go it alone and definitely not with Lalu.

But a bigger lesson in all this is for the media, particularly the TV channels including the English language ones, who suffer from a coloured vision and refuse to see the light even when it’s shining directly in their faces. Except for one Today’s Chanakya pollster, no one else was showing any leads for the BJP. Most reporters in the field wrote of disenchantment with Modi for his non-performance, and of Nitish Kumar being popular for doing some good work. Yet the channels were just not willing to accept that Modi was losing. The field reporters were also writing how Lalu was getting highly responsive crowds. Yet the visual media bosses here in Delhi seemed determined to secure a victory for Modi. None took note of the fact that when Modi asked in his public rallies if they get electricity in their homes, people would say ‘Yes’ shocking Modi. One prominent news channel (CNN-IBN) refused to carry a commissioned survey which gave over 170 seats to the Grand Alliance. Similarly NDTV’s Prannoy Roy declared Modi a victor on November 6, based on one can’t say what because the same morning his Cadillac brigade fellow traveller who toured Bihar with him and the other hoi polloi, Surjit Bhalla had given the Grand Alliance over 170 seats and the NDA less than 60. Yet in the early tidings the channels went ballistic showing a grand victory for the NDA and a rout for the Alliance. More than an apology, which none of them rendered, they owe an explanation to their viewers about their biases and prejudices. In the end Bihar has really made the secular polity of India proud by snubbing Modi and Amit Shah’s vituperative and divisive campaign.

What was their running theme? That the Musalman is a terrorist (the Darbhanga module that Modi brought forth in his campaign), owing allegiance to Pakistan (Amit Shah’s pronouncement that if the Grand Alliance won there would be celebrations in Pakistan), he slaughters our Gau Mata and eats beef and these Lalu and Nitish are not just protectors of such an enemy of Mother India but are out to give away your reservation to this “other.” In that sense this is a victory of social justice forces, which by their very nature are secular in their outlook.

Immediately as the gravity of the situation sank in into the minds of our great analysts, there was concern about the future of such an alliance. Pandit Yogendra Yadav, never short of Gyan, who predicted a rout for the Grand Alliance and remained adamant on it almost till the end, grandly pronounced in English on one of the TV channels, “I have all along said, whoever wins in this election, Bihar loses” and explained it thus that while Modi’s victory would have ushered in communal forces in Bihar, Lalu’s would imply return to Jungle Raj. Now Yogendra is a posh Haryanvi Yadav, embarrassed by Lalu’s rustic style and has all along spoken disdainfully of Lalu Yadav, thereby gaining acceptability in the drawing rooms of the urban elite, who listen to his punditry very carefully.

But Yogendra is not alone in this. There is a large section, not just the Savarnas of Bihar, who feel alarmed at the re-empowerment of the Yadavs under Lalu’s leadership. It is true that Lalu had ended the monopoly of the Bhoomihars, Brahmins, Lalas and other Savarans over the three symbols of Power in Bihar’s country side, namely the Thana, the Bank and the Block and these were replaced largely by Yadavs and even Muslims to some extent which was unpalatable. The BJP succeeded in restoring the old order to some extent in its nine year rule with Nitish Kumar. Lalu’s victory has sent alarm signals among the upper caste fearing their disempowerment yet again and justifiably so. But then Nitish Kumar has proved himself an able and fair administrator and has already announced that he would not discriminate against anybody.

But would Lalu try to do back seat driving? Conventional wisdom says yes and that is what Yogendra Yadav expressed. But Lalu is also a very perceptive politician. He has been out of power for 10 years and incarcerated from contesting elections for next couple of years. His cases are still being heard in various courts. He has secured the future of his sons by sending both of them simultaneously to the state assembly. There are unconfirmed reports that his daughter Misa Devi the eldest of his siblings may be inducted by Nitish as a minister. She is a MBBS doctor and may well turn out to be an able administrator. So therefore Lalu and Rabri Devi need not worry unduly over the fate of Lalu’s large family.

He has himself announced that now that he is free from election campaign, he will travel all over India to revive the Mandal agenda. He said his first destination will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi where he will go with his party symbol lantern to examine the state of the OBCs and Dalits there.

Actually the Mandalites have a readymade issue in their hands. The Modi government released the communal data of the 2011 Census with alacrity. But this time round on the insistence of the likes of Lalu and Sharad Yadav the then UPA government had to concede their demand for a Caste Census. This data once out, will expose the myth of reservation, peddled freely by the upper caste of them being deprived of their share on account of reservation (an issue recently raised by Hardik Patel in Gujarat).

That’s an issue which has come in handy for Lalu Prasad. Lalu is temperamentally a rather laid back politician who doesn’t move easily. This time though he demonstrated tremendous energy. If he maintains the same energy level, he really need not look back at Bihar for the next few years and may even give Nitish a free hand to govern Bihar. After all if the Grand Alliance government succeeds in giving good government in Bihar as Nitish has done in last ten years, Lalu and his RJD also share the credit. But these are still some imponderables and in the realm of speculation.

By Faraz Ahmad

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