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"Too early to write off Lalu"

Abhay Kumar, October 6, 2013, DHNS:
Shaibal Gupta

Shaibal Gupta, a social scientist and political analyst, is member secretary of Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute. He spoke to Abhay Kumar of Deccan Herald on the current political situation emerging in Bihar after Lalu’s conviction and jail term in the fodder scam. Excerpts: †

Lalu Prasad has been awarded a jail term of five years, will be disqualified as Lok Sabha member in lieu of Supreme Court order and debarred from contesting elections for the next six years from the day he comes out of jail. In such a situation, many have started writing his political obituary. Do you feel the same?
No. It’s too early to write Lalu off. It’s too premature to comment on the recent developments related to fodder scam verdict.

Why so?
Precisely because of three reasons: First, Lalu† will move his bail petition in the high court. What will be the HC stand on the entire matter, you don’t know. Whether it will stay the lower court ruling and give him some relief, or it will go by the CBI court judgement? Secondly, will Lalu favour family-centric succession or allow a group of senior leaders to run the show? Thirdly, what will be the approach of the Congress towards the RJD in the changed circumstances?

Can you elaborate on Lalu’s family-centric succession plan?
I don’t know what step exactly Lalu will take in the next few days. But I feel if there is an attempt to impose some one from his family to head or run the party, chances are the party will eventually disintegrate.

But Rabri is on record saying that Lalu, as party president, will call the shots even from jail. And RJD general secretary Ram Kripal Yadav has reiterated that the party remains united even during this hour of crisis. Do you still feel that the ruling party JD (U) will make attempts to split the RJD because that’s not a Herculean task given their poor numerical strength (22 MLAs) in the Assembly?
It makes a huge difference if Lalu is behind bars and if he is outside the jail. His grip on the party will not be same if he remains incarcerated. But then, I can’t predict what will happen tomorrow.

But there are reports that attempt is being made by the ruling dispensation to wean away a sizeable number of RJD legislators into the JD (U) fold so that Nitish, who, as of now, enjoys a wafer-thin majority in the Assembly, gets a comfortable majority?
I can’t comment on speculation.

Having watched Bihar politics so closely, do you think corruption is a major issue these days? Because recently when Jagan Reddy, who was lodged in jail on corruption charges, was set free, he has been getting a rousing reception in Andhra.
Jagan’s case is different. He is reaping rich political dividends for the efforts his father YSR had put in. In Lalu’s case, his contribution towards social justice remained incomplete. It (social justice) was carried forward sincerely by Nitish who took along all the Most Backward Classes (MBCs), Minorities, Mahadalits, women (by giving them 50 per cent reservation in civic bodies) and non-Yadav backward castes.

But Lalu too claims that his traditional supporters Muslim-Yadav (MY) and Paswans have returned to his fold….
I do not agree with anyone who says that Yadavs or Muslims or for that matter upper caste groups vote en bloc for a particular party. Had it been so, how could a Yadav-dominated backward party like RJD have upper caste Rajputs as three MPs out of four? I also do not agree when someone says that upper caste will vote en bloc for the BJP. Have the upper castes not benefited from Nitish’s good governance? The road connectivity throughout the State, better health facilities in hospitals and improved law and order has benefitted upper castes as much as it has helped the OBCs, MBCs or any other marginalised sections within the society.

In that case, do you see a triangular contest among the BJP, JD(U)-
Congress combine and the RJD-LJP alliance?
Too early to say. Precisely because till the Congress decides whom it will eventually ally with, the picture remains hazy.

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