‘Mass leader’ Lalu takes backseat in campaign

Updated - November 29, 2021 01:12 pm IST

Published - September 03, 2015 02:05 am IST - PATNA/BHAGALPUR:

As the Bihar Assembly election schedule is likely to be announced anytime from now, the fight between Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led grand alliance is getting shriller. But Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad has been absent from the campaign blitzkrieg.

When this correspondent travelled from Patna to Bhagalpur to cover Mr. Modi’s fourth Parivartan Rally on Tuesday, the 280-km stretch was lined with huge billboards, hoardings and posters of Mr. Modi and Mr. Nitish Kumar.

The leaders of Mahagathbandhan (the grand alliance) were absent from the posters and banners, except Mr. Nitish Nitish Kumar with his index finger raised towards the crowd. Even Mr. Lalu Prasad, the “mass leader,” was left out.

Mr. Lalu Prasad turned out to be the biggest crowd puller at the Swabhiman (self-respect) rally of the grand alliance in Patna on August 30. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Samajwadi Party leader Shivpal Singh Yadav and Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav and Mr. Nitish Kumar attended the rally to display the unity among the leaders. “About 70 per cent of the crowd was from the RJD, yet we’ve not been given adequate representation in the seat-sharing arrangement,” said a senior RJD leader and former MP. The rally proved “who still is the mass leader of the alliance,” he said.

Political observers reckon that it was because of the large number of RJD supporters at the rally that Mr. Lalu Prasad was billed as the last speaker, and the organisers feared that if he spoke earlier, most of the participants would leave the venue sooner. Mr. Lalu Prasad was happy at the presence of a large number of his supporters and called upon the Yadavs to “remain united despite all rumours”.

At Bhagalpur too, there was not even a single poster of Mr. Lalu Prasad or any other leader of the grand alliance; the posters of Mr. Nitish Kumar dotted the city, vying for space with those of Mr. Modi. “Its quite surprising that a mass leader like Mr. Lalu Prasad has been relegated in the campaign. Despite all adversities, Mr. Lalu Prasad is still the biggest crowd puller among the grand alliance leaders,” said Avinash Mandal, a doctor at Sultanganj, some 30 km from Bhagalpur.

Is it a deliberate design to push Mr. Lalu Prasad to the backseat for his tainted image or the RJD chief himself has kept a low profile to make the battle straight between Mr. Nitish Kumar and Mr. Modi? Both appear plausible as Mr. Nitish Kumar pushed himself hard to become the face of the grand alliance and Mr. Lalu Prasad has been keeping a low profile because even in a worst result, his party would improve on its tally of 24 seats. But nobody can deny that Mr. Lalu Prasad still commands strong support among the 14 per cent Yadavs in the State. This was the common refrain in different places from Patna to Bhagalpur.

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