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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 24 New Delhi June 6, 2015

Laloo’s Politics of exploiting Nitish’s BJP Phobia

Saturday 6 June 2015

by Arun Srivastava

After strangulating the move for the unified Janata Parivar, the RJD chief, Laloo Prasad, is on the mission to downsize Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Laloo is more virulent in his attack on Nitish than his political rivals from the BJP. The intensity and nature of Laloo’s diatribe could be made out from the simple retort of Nitish that nobody could force him to do anything. Coming from Nitish this has wider implications; to which nature of compromise was Nitish referring?

Apparently brand Laloo still evokes response, but the fact is that he has lost much of his charisma and his rusticity has few takers. The emergence of Nitish as the symbol of good governance simply multiplied the problems for him and only added to the erosion of his political image. No doubt the Modi factor during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections had a shattering impact on Nitish, but the fact cannot be denied that even in today’s scenario the people of Bihar still bet for Nitish as the only leader who can usher Bihar into a better future.

In the wake of the Lok Sabha elections Laloo nursed the impression that Nitish was a lame duck leader and as such he could exploit the situation to his advantage. This was precisely the reason that Laloo agreed to extend support to Nitish in the Assembly and also merge his party into the greater Janata Parivar. But Nitish’s return, after Jitan Ram Majhi quit, made it clear to Laloo that the emerging political scenario was detrimental to his interest and it would not be smooth sailing for him. In fact an insight into the process of unification of the Janata Parivar would make it candidly explicit that Laloo always created obstacles and delayed the process.

Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav, the brother of Mulayam, saying “merger of Janata Parivar will not be possible before the Bihar Assembly elections, which are scheduled to be held later this year” ought to be seen in this backdrop. It was the lingering possibility of Laloo Prasad getting marginalised in Bihar politics and losing his say in ticket distribution in the wake of the floating of the unified Janata Party, that prompted the Samajwadi supremo, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief of the new proposed new conglomerate, to postpone the merger.

The reason cited for the delay was not plausible. Yadav had said: ”There is a technical problem. The problem is that if political parties tell the Election Commission that they are going to merge and form a new party, then the original name and symbol of the party will be frozen. The Bihar elections are near and the merger cannot be done in a hurry.” Apparently Ram Gopal may appear to be right: but the intent was certainly not politically correct.

By implication Ram Gopal wanted to convey that the people of rural Bihar were naïve and would not understand and identify the election symbol of the unified Janata Parivar. There are many instances when a new party had to go to the elections with a new symbol. The AAP is the latest example. Ram Gopal’s observation “Voters will be confused, especially in Bihar” ought to be read in the proper perspective. He also said: “The better option at this point of time is that both the parties come together, they share the seats and fight the election jointly. We will be signing the death warrant of our party if we do the merger in a hurry.” If the Samajwadi Party leadership was so concerned of the future of the new party, why did it not clear the merger earlier? It should have provided enough time to Nitish and Laloo to manoeuvre the things and popularise the party and its symbol.

Ram Gopal came up with this assertion only after the seat-sharing process between the JD(U) and RJD turned contentious. Strategically the RJD had agreed to Nitish Kumar as the CM nominee despite resentment from some quarters. Laloo knew that projecting someone from his family would prove to be counter-productive and only add to the strength of the BJP. Ram Gopal’s announcement brought the curtain down on the move of the unified command. Ironically only ten days back the RJD and JD(U) had agreed in principle over seat-sharing paving the way for a formal announcement of the name, election symbol and flag of the new party. It was agreed that the party’s flag would have a green stripe in between two red stripes, with a bicycle at the centre. But the latest announcement has put the entire process in the deep freeze.

This controversy was yet to die down, when Laloo fired a fresh salvo at Nitish. Laloo slapped a list of demands to Nitish and questioned why his government was not moving the Supreme Court against the Patna High Court decision quashing reservation in promotions for SC/ST employees. His move was quite intriguing for the reason that as the Chief Minister he never bothered for the Dalits and Harijans. He never supported the Dalits and Harijans fight for their rights and against the oppression of the landed gentry. If he was really concerned of the miseries and plights of the Dalits and Harijans, he should have asked the Nitish Government to approach the Supreme Court against the High Court order acquitting the Ranavir Sena goons allegedly involved in the killings of the Dalits and Harijans in gruesome massacres during his regime itself in Patna and Bhojpur.

It appears that Laloo was not aware of the steps initiated by Nitish in the matter of reservation in promotion. Nevertheless Nitish clarified: “We had decided to go in for appeal the very day the Patna High Court delivered its verdict. We are seeking legal opinion and, if required, the government will also take advice from the Attorney-General of India. Giving reservation in promotions to employees from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was our decision. We are the first State to start this. There was no need (for Laloo Prasad) to make such a demand. I don’t think anyone apprised him of our move.”

The fact of the matter is that Laloo has been performing the task of real Opposition. He has been quite harsh and aggressive in comparison with the BJP. Some interpret this as a tactical move of Laloo to deny the opportunity to the BJP just on the eve of the elections to the Bihar Assembly. But this is fraught with dangerous implications. This is again the fight for one-upmanship; Laloo intends to wrest the initiative from Nitish and deny him the political space he deserves. As if this was not enough, Laloo asked Nitish to hold talks with the striking teachers. The fact of the matter is that the strike was petering out as most of the teachers were against the strike call in support of the contractual teachers.

Not only that. The seniormost RJD leader, Raghuvansh Singh, came out with the claim of contesting 143 Assembly seats. This he was doing just after the leaders of the two parties had reached an agreement to contest 100 seats and leaving the rest 43 to the allies, the Congress and CPI. Singh stressed that the 2010 Assembly poll results should not be the criteria for seat-sharing among the RJD and JD(U) and instead the strength of the party on the ground should be taken into consideration in deciding seats. Interestingly, the RJD leadership did not elaborate on the situation on the ground. Nitish, however, retorted; “Why only 143? He (Raghu-vansh) can stake claim to all the 243 seats.”

Even while the State was braving shock waves in the aftermath of the recent Nepal earthquake with hordes of people getting killed, Laloo did not raise the issue of lack of proper relief and rehabilitation measures of the Modi Government. The State was already reeling under the impact of the failure of the crop when the quake took place. The BJP has been trying to make relief a major issue. Laloo, instead of countering the BJP propaganda, was targeting Nitish. Being an ally of Nitish, the RJD leadership should have foiled the BJP attack. In fact the Modi Government has been building on the goodwill. It has been sending Minister after Minister to Bihar, particularly to the areas bordering Nepal. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, on the other hand, is guarding against any confrontational approach. He has gauged the public mood and refrains from crossing swords with the Centre at this juncture.

A deeper look at the machinations of Laloo makes it explicit that he has been ready with his own game-plan: he intends to join hands with the HAM of ousted Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and float a non-JD(U) forum along with the Congress and other Left parties. Laloo is aware of the fact that any combination of this nature would be able to take on both the BJP and JD(U). Laloo in fact does not intend to give the impression that he was suffering from BJP phobia; instead he was working to form a genuine anti-BJP front. His close aides confide that the merger of the RJD, SP, JD(U) and others manifest that they were suffering from BJP phobia.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com