Ground slipping from under Lalu's feet? (Election Special)
RJD chief Lalu Prasad, one of the main players in Bihar's murky politics for over two decades, is facing desertion by his leaders ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Over a dozen party leaders, including legislators and an MP belonging to his traditional social support base, left him for greener pastures.
Lalu is also facing their outburst during the ongoing poll campaign. It is being seen as a crack in Lalu's support base, the main strength of his politics. Lalu, however, is putting up a brave face in public, saying he is fighting to stop "communal forces" to give a message that his support base of Muslim-Yadav, known as MY, remains intact.
But the ground reality is something else.
In the last one month, particularly in the past 10 days, over a dozen RJD leaders belonging to his own Yadav caste and Muslims, considered loyal to him, resigned from the party and joined either the ruling JD-U of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
More than a dozen other RJD leaders, mostly belonging to his traditional support base and Dalits, too left him. They accused Lalu of running the party to promote his family and having a vested interest, including safeguarding interests of the Congress.
Lalu received a major setback last week when his trusted senior RJD leader Ram Kirpal Yadav revolted against his decision to field his elder daughter Misa Bharti from the Patliputra constituency.
Ram Kirpal Yadav promptly quit the RJD after being denied the party ticket from Patliputra and joined the BJP. He is now contesting as a BJP candidate against Misa Bharti.
RJD legislator Nawal Kishore Yadav also quit Lalu's party and joined the BJP. Two former legislators, Amit Rana, son of R.K. Rana, co-accused with Lalu in the multi-crore fodder scam, and Satnarayan Yadav deserted the RJD chief.
Amit joined the JD-U and Satnarayan is contesting the Lok Sabha poll from Karakat as an independent.
Nearly half a dozen Muslim leaders, including legislators of RJD, deserted Lalu, ignoring his claim of championing secularism.
Prominent Muslims who resigned from RJD in the last two weeks are Ghulam Ghaus, party leader in the state legislative council, party legislator Akhtarul Iman, Jawaid Eqbal Ansari and party leader Abu Qaiser.
Ghaus accused Lalu of neglecting the backward Muslims while distributing the tickets. He is contesting the Lok Sabha poll from Madhubani as a JD-U candidate and Akhtarul is contesting from Kishanganj as a JD-U candidate. Qaiser is contesting from Bhagalpur as a JD-U candidate.
Lalu has fielded six Muslim candidates and nine Yadav candidates in the Lok Sabha polls. RJD is contesting 27 of 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar as its ally Congress is contesting 12 seats and NCP one seat under an alliance.
After Lalu was jailed on being convicted in the fodder scam last year, his rivals are looking at making inroads into his traditional social support base. The RJD hopes to benefit from the sympathy factor to ensure its support base remains intact.
Lalu's rivals BJP and JD-U are hoping for support from his Yadav caste, who constitute more than 11 percent of Bihar's 105 million population.
Yadavs are considered not only loyal to Lalu Prasad but are also a strong force to counter upper caste dominance in state politics.
BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra "Modi has played backward card during the three rallies he addressed in Bihar and went to the extent to woo Yadavs...It was a calculated move to influence the Yadavs, who may be in a dilemma as Lalu is no more seen as powerful. The BJP will exploit this factor to widen its support base among those of Lalu Prasad's caste", a BJP leader said.
In the caste-driven politics of Bihar, the BJP is well aware that other backward castes like Kurmis, to which Nitish Kumar belongs, are solidly behind him while the Koeris are not behind any single political party or leader.
Till date, the BJP is seen as a party that enjoys overwhelming support of the upper castes and castes like Baniyas.
JD-U leaders hope that Muslims, who constitute 16.5 percent of the population, will now be attracted towards the party, in part because of Modi.
"It is a fact that Nitish Kumar dumped the BJP over Modi and his aggressive campaign to target Modi will help the party gain more support among Muslims," JD-U leader Jawed Mahmood said.
BJP and JD-U leaders had repeatedly claimed that Lalu Prasad's vote bank was already shattered and this was evident during the 2010 assembly elections and the 2009 Lok Sabha polls in which it did not fare well.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 21-03-2014)