Without the Left, Lalu Prasad's fortunes plummet — and so do the UPA's.
With 24 MPs, Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is the most important and powerful constituent of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). It is, therefore, worth asking how the break with the Left will affect this, the biggest, UPA element.
One thing should be clear. Lalu Prasad did not want UPA to break with the Left. His whole speech in the trust motion was extolling the Left parties, cajoling, pleading and affectionately blackmailing them. They heard him stone-faced. He was like a friendly puppy, ingratiating for a scrap, his speech studded with Bhojpuri sayings and Hindi film songs.
The CPI saw through all this and abandoned Lalu Prasad a long time ago in Bihar. The CPI(M) in Bihar is trying to recommend ploughing a lonely furrow, but Delhi doesn’t want to hear all that because it figures it owes Lalu Prasad for his role in arresting BJP leader LK Advani during his rath yatra and incarcerating him in Samastipur in 1990. But given the RJD’s miserable standing in Bihar today, Lalu Prasad should be in a bit of panic, hence his ardent efforts to ensure the CPI(M) stays by his side.
If proof about the RJD being in dire straits in Bihar is needed, it lies in two facts. First, from November 2005, when the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal(U)-BJP government came to power, till today, the RJD has not managed to win a single election — not panchayat, not mayoral, not Lok Sabha (bye-elections) and not even Vidhan Sabha (bye-elections).
Second, Nitish Kumar’s efforts at revamping his government by effecting a cabinet reshuffle a few months ago, that saw many BJP and Janata Dal(U) ministers getting the marching orders, created a huge ferment and seriously strained ties between the two allies. But despite all the anti-Kumar dissidence, RJD was unable to break away even a small section of the JD(U). The only rebel who can be spotted on the horizon is Ram Swaroop Prasad, the MP from Nalanda, who contested and won the seat when Kumar vacated it after he became chief minister. Prasad wanted his son to be made MLA (as he was the MLA earlier) but did not get the seat, so he joined the UPA in the trust vote.
The RJD has also not been able to sponsor any prolonged agitation by any section of disgruntled state government employees (and there are many, especially after Kumar undertook State Electricity Board and health sector reforms).
So, the fact that the RJD is absent from people’s consciousness should be worrying Lalu Prasad. Equally important is the fact that the numbers in Bihar reveal he cannot afford to do without allies. In the November 2005 assembly elections, Nitish Kumar and the BJP managed to get 142 seats in the 243-member state assembly with just 19.85 per cent and 15.38 per cent of the vote respectively. But the Secular Democratic Front [that comprised Lalu Prasad, the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and the CPI(M)] polled 31.08 per cent of the votes but got just 65 seats between them. This was largely a result of a division in secular votes because Ramvilas Paswan and the CPI contested separately and nibbled away the vote.
If Paswan and CPI were able to do so much damage, how would the exit of the CPI (M) impact the RJD ? This is what is keeping the best-known Yadav in the world awake at night.
Delimitation presents its own challenges. The Gopalganj constituency, occupied by his brother-in-law, Sadhu Yadav, has become a reserved one. Patna has been bifurcated into two. The outlines of several constituencies have been redrawn, including Begusarai, changing the caste and religion profile. This is as important for Lalu Prasad as much as it is for others. While sections of upper-class Muslims and Yadavs continue to support him, changes in where they live could represent the difference between winning and losing the constituency.
This is only the cynical, numbers part of politics in Bihar. The performance of the Nitish Kumar government is another matter altogether. There is a feeling that the government is trying to make efforts towards state-building. Although Patna still feels it is a victim — contractors building roads there were sacked before they could finish the job and tasks attendant to roadbuilding (sewerage, etc) were not carried out, leading to the current flooding — expectations in the rest of Bihar are so low that anything the government does gets a full-throated welcome. Criminal-politicians are being put away like never before. In the last six months, at least three Members of Parliament have been convicted and jailed for charges of murder, kidnapping and extortion, sending a signal that the state is back in command. True, there is a feeling among MLAs that the chief minister’s faith in the bureaucracy is rendering them powerless and castes that are well-represented in the bureaucracy are the ones getting empowered. But the Opposition seems unable to launch a people’s movement against this.
Lalu Prasad is the unchallenged sole leader of the Yadavs of Bihar. The same cannot be said about Nitish Kumar and the Kurmis, a middle caste that is highly educated but continues to be considered socially backward. Kumar is not — and would not like to be considered — a caste leader. His efforts at cobbling together a caste-religion coalition of upper castes as represented by the BJP, non-Yadav middle castes and most important, the Pasmanda Muslims — poor Muslims engaged in low caste occupations — endures.
Little wonder then that Lalu Prasad is sending ardent messages to the Left to save secularism. Without the Left, Lalu Prasad’s fortunes plummet — and with his, so do the UPA’s.