Rise Of The Phoenix

Lalu Prasad, one of India’s most colourful politicians, is in jail for embezzling state funds intended to buy food for cattle while he was Bihar chief minister. But the jail term hasn’t affected Lalu’s morale– he is meeting party leaders and cadres regularly and discussing personal issues and political mechanisations with them. He has maintained his charm amongst his party cadres and jail inmates too with his style of humour, writes MAHENDRA KUMAR from Patna and Ranchi

The distance between Patna and Ranchi has somewhat shortened these days. At least politically. The axis of Bihar politics, Lalu Prasad, is lodged in Ranchi Jail these days. He was sentenced to jail by a CBI court that was investigating multimillionrupees’ worth Animal Husbandry Scam. Almost every day he appears in the court, and then goes back to his barracks. He is allowed to meet three people on one single day in a week. That day used to be Monday earlier; now it is Tuesday.
Although his sentencing has but a brake on the political activities for the time being, it has also reinforced the fact that his role in Bihar politics in particular, and national politics, in general, cannot be enough overstated. His going to jail has filled the RJD cadres with great enthusiasm. Leaders from other parties too are seen visiting Ranchi these days. These meetings contain everything from personal issues to political mechanisation. According to people close to Lalu, he is preparing grounds for the future battle with BJP-JD(U) alliance.
According to Kailash Yadav, general secretary of Jharkhand RJD, jailterm has not affected Lalu’s morale. If anything, it has only invigorated him.
Lalu is mindful of his importance and understands the value of time. That’s why without ruing over his fate, he spends time discussing alliance strategy with his allies, particularly Congress. Although he is no spring chicken anymore, he keeps a rather close tab on the political developments inside the country. Says Subodh Kant Sahay, excabinet minister and ex-MP from Ranchi, “The jailterm has affected neither his political acumen nor his political activities. In fact, his political activities have seen an upswing in the last few months.”
What’s more, he has started to make his presence felt in Jharkhand politics too, where his opposition to the policies of Raghubar Das has started to find traction among the masses. His comments and critiques make for a great read, and locals keep looking forward to his quips, much to Das’s chagrin.
Ex-cabinet minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has visited him a couple of times. On both the occasions he told the waiting mediapersons that RJD stands strongly with Lalu and that electorates of Bihar will drub BJP-JD(U) alliance in the next elections. “Laluji being in jail means nothing. Electorates know how he was framed, and they are waiting for the opportunity to extract revenge,” he added in good measure.
Those who came to visit Lalu in jail include Sharad Yadav, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha chief Babulal Marandi, Jharkhand State Congress Committee president Dr Ajay Kumar and veteran leader Vrishin Patel. By engineering the defection of JD(U) MLA Sarfaraz Ahmad, Lalu has mounted a warning volley to JD(U). He has been declared the candidate for Araria Lok Sabha constituency. Apart from this almost every week he meets with one leader or the other trying to create the grounds for the alliance. He also eggs on other leaders from his party to work towards this goal.
A normal morning for RJD supremo starts sharply at 6:00 am. A couple of hours are spent jogging and doing yoga. A bath and a quick meal follow. Following which, he sets for the court. At the court, there is hardly a day when his supporters are not present. He chats with them on the go and returns back to his barrack. In the barrack, the afternoon meal follows a siesta. After the evening walk, he chats with other inmates, many of whom are seen mesmerised by his very presence. He follows this with an hour of the TV programme and then sleeps following the dinner.

Although lAlu PRAsAd is no sPRing chicken AnymoRe, he keePs A RAtheR close tAb on the PoliticAl develoPments inside the countRy

Except for some obvious ones, there’s hardly any change in his daily routine in jail from the one that he followed outside. He still retains his penchant for quintessential wisecracks and the sense of humour that brings it about. His sense of humour does not leave him even in the adverse environment, like when he is in the court for the hearing. He keeps asking his cadres to remain in touch with the people on the ground and mobilise them against Nitish’s policies. Something which is noteworthy that he gives precedence to party workers and leaders from other political parties over his own family when it comes to meeting people in jail.
He is also keeping a keen eye on polls scheduled for Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad and BhabhuaVidhan Sabha constituencies. The party deputed him to select candidates for these seats, and he promptly did his duty.
But not all is hunky-dory with him. His stay in the jail was not without controversy. When he went to jail, it was alleged that two of his supporters also surrendered on some small charges and lodged themselves in the same jail in order to serve him. The incident was probed and both the supporters were quickly released on bail. It, however, did not affect Lalu one bit, for there is no dearth of people inside the jail who are more than willing to do his daily chores. Lalu, after all, remains the messiah of poor and downtrodden, the kind which forms the majority of the inmates.
The insiders say that there is no dearth of sweets and dry fruits inside the jail these days. Those who come to meet Lalu never come empty-handed, and the same is deposited with jail stock. Lalu then distributes these among the inmates. He also sometimes walks into the kitchen and teaches the inmates a trick or two about cooking. In fact, rumour is circulating now that a few inmates from poor background are not going for bail since their life is better inside the jail because of Lalu. Although there are many dreaded inmates too lodged here but jail administration is not worried about them. They know what kind of influence Lalu has on people. They know that he can more than fend for himself.
“He has been framed because of the political conspiracy. But they don’t know that he will emerge stronger,” says Annapurna Devi, state president of RJD.
Back in Patna, Rabri Devi seems to have gotten a new lease on life. She is busy preserving the political capital and heritage of her husband. In her efforts to blow new life to RJD, she is assisted by her two sons– Tej Pratap and Tejashwi– and veteran leaders Shivanand Tiwari and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh. Meetings take place almost every day at her residence in Patna, where she takes stock of daily developments. She talks with her husband every few days and asks about his health. The balancing act that she does with her husband and the party is winning her new fans every day. RJD’s leaders believe that he will get bail from the high court. But they are keeping their fingers crossed.
When Lalu fielded both his sons in the last assembly polls, experts had declared this move suicidal. But not only did they win their seats, they also participated in the government. Although their accession was branded as political compulsion, Tejashwi won many accolades from even his detractors for the way he performed in the short period he was the deputy chief minister. He also showed more political maturity than his older brother and took every step after much deliberation. He also kept himself away from giving senseless or provocative comments. In totality, his tenure was appreciated for its maturity.

When lAlu fielded both his sons tejAshWi And tej PRAtAP in the lAst Assembly Polls, exPeRts hAd declARed this move suicidAl

Although he lost power later, his experiences seem to have made him a mature politician. He challenged Nitish Kumar in the House following his betrayal and was promptly made the leader of the opposition. His performance as the leader of the opposition has further surprised those who were writing his political obituary. His statements are always within the ambit of general decency even when he is attacking his opponents. His statements are often crisp, to the point and well thought out. He has made a veteran leader like Sushil Modi searching for words several times, and that too without showing even an iota of disrespect.
These days Tejashwi is busy with his first big political event. He has started his ‘Nyaya Yatra’ and is roaming every constituency in Bihar. He has become politically more aggressive in absence of his father. However, the best part is, he shows a rather unprecedented civility even in his aggressiveness. There is no doubt that it is him, and not his elder brother, who is going to take over his father’s political mantle.
There is certain freshness in his politicking too. His speeches have improved several folds, and it was evident in his recent rallies in and around Araria and Katihar. His rhetoric is also very fresh for Biharis. Here’s the leader who almost never talks about caste or religion, and almost always about development. His style and rhetoric are becoming difficult for Nitish to challenge. Even Ramvilas Paswan’s attempt to project his son Chirag as Tejashwi’s counterweight has fallen flat.
Senior leader Shivanand Tiwari believes that there is a certain spark in Tejashwi that is difficult to put a finger on. His audience has changed, and so has his rhetoric. Gone are the days when Lalu’s humour and sharp sarcasm used to sway the masses. Today’s audience is accustomed to listening to clear messages, and that is what Junior Yadav offers them. His popularity is so widespread that even youth leaders from other parties begrudgingly agree that there is something special about him. His popularity is also spreading fast among the old guards of his party. And the same can be said about bureaucrats as well.
However, this is not to say that Tejashwi has a fait-accompli. He still needs to prove his worth in electoral politics. How much of his popularity can he convert into votes is anyone’s guess? But here is a leader who has a fresh message to give, and has a style that is winning people over. Nitish Kumar cannot claim that this guy is not giving him sleepless nights.