RJD chief Lalu Prasad on Sunday rose like the proverbial phoenix from his ashes as he helped script a resounding victory for the Grand Alliance in Bihar and revived the fortunes of his moribund party.
On the verge of being written off as also ran after his party’s dismal performance in the 2010 Assembly polls when it was restricted to a humiliating 22 seats in the 243-member Bihar House, Mr. Prasad pulled off an emphatic victory for the RJD, which was all set to emerge as the table topper.
Ousted in 2005 after a 15-year stint in power, the 2010 poll defeat sent the man who once lorded over Bihar virtually to the doghouse.
The once seemingly invincible RJD, with its massive Muslim-OBC vote bank, was not even eligible to claim the Leader of the Opposition post as the NDA under Nitish Kumar won an astounding four-fifths majority in the Assembly, winning 206 seats and restricting the RJD to a paltry 22, the latter’s worst-ever tally.
Mr. Prasad’s conviction in a fodder scam case in 2013 came as a personal blow to him as it led to his disqualification from the Lok Sabha and a ban from contesting an election at least for six years.
The 2014 Lok Sabha election was a crucial test for the backward class leader which he was to lead as a non-playing captain for the first time.
The results came as another jolt to the RJD and Mr. Prasad, with the party managing to win only four of the State’s 40 seats.
The successive defeats, however, carried seeds for a future reunion with friend-turned-foe Mr. Kumar, whose JD(U) had also been humiliated in the 2014 election, managing to win just two seats after parting ways with 17-year-old ally, the BJP, in June 2013 over Narendra Modi’s anointment as the party’s campaign spearhead for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Acutely aware of Mr. Modi’s personal charisma and the BJP’s growing popularity in the State, they started moving closer after the Lok Sabha debacle.
With Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav playing the role of a peacemaker, the two backward class heavyweights resolved their differences and decided to contest the 2015 Bihar polls in tandem.
Mr. Prasad, the wily practitioner of realpolitik, after initial reluctance, agreed to accept Mr. Kumar as the Grand Alliance’s chief ministerial candidate.
With he himself not eligible to contest elections, his wife Rabri Devi unwilling to return to the hurly burly of politics, and sons Tejaswi and Tej Pratap too young to handle the pressure that comes with the hot seat, Mr. Prasad declared Mr. Kumar will be the Chief Minister even if the RJD won more seats than the JD(U).
When RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat suggested a review of the reservation policy in an interview to Sangh organs Organiser and Panchjanya , Mr. Prasad, one of the most enduring mascots of post-Mandal politics, was quick to pounce on it and raise an alarm about a move by the Modi government to scrap quotas.
Mr. Prasad repeated the charge, rally after election rally, and Mr. Modi’s counteroffensive about the Grand Alliance favouring a dilution of quotas for Dalits, tribals and OBCs to give 5 per cent reservation to Muslims failed to cut much ice with the electorate.
After the Dadri lynching incident, Mr. Prasad made the controversial Hindus-too-eat –beef remark, which the Prime Minister tried to use to the hilt to ensure alienation of the RJD’s Yadav vote bank, still largely engaged in cattle rearing in the State, from him.
However, Mr. Modi failed to make any substantial dent in Mr. Prasad’s Yadav support base.
While there was an apparent consolidation of backward class and Muslim voters in Grand Alliance’s favour, the beef talk by the leaders of the NDA, particularly the BJP, including Mr. Modi, failed to bring about a consolidation of Hindu votes in the favour of the centre’s ruling alliance.
Mr. Prasad promptly declared the poll as “Mandal Raj Part II” and a fight between the “backwards and forwards”, ensuring a rapid polarisation along caste lines, something which had kept the RJD in power for 15 years in the politically volatile State.
With the JD(U)-RJD-Congress Grand Alliance’s victory, the man who once ruled Bihar like a king, will now be the kingmaker.