K S Shankar/ IHN-NN
NEW DELHI: As campaign scene gains pace and heat in Bihar for the assembly polls, the chimes of a new generation are heard in the backdrop with steadily increasing tone and frequency. This is an election that rings out the old and ring in a new set of leaders, though veteran chief minister Nitish Kumar, at first look, remains in a formidable position.
For the first time in the history of the state’s assembly elections spread through three decades, voters will miss three stalwarts –Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad Yadav, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Rami Vilas Paswan and veteran socialist leader and former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh — from the campaign front.
These leaders and other political stalwarts have shaped the course of Bihar’s political landscape and were star campaigners in all the elections since the 1970s. They set the agenda, dominated public discourse, and changed the direction of the political wind with great ease and special skills, alongside another veteran, chief minister Nitish Kumar. This time, the new generation will step in to lead campaign for two prominent political establishments – the RJD and the LJP.
Paswan, LJP founder and Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, breathed his last at a private hospital here on October 8 due to various health issues and cardiac problems. Paswan, a man for all seasons and the longest-serving Union minister in the present Modi government, was an extraordinary practitioner of the craft of realpolitik. He switched sides with rare ease and remained within the power circuit. His death leaves the October-November Bihar assembly elections bereft of a part of its colour and tenor.
An eight-term Lok Sabha member, the LJP leader had entered the Guinness Book of World Records from Hajipur in March 1977 by a record margin of 4.24 lakh votes. He rode d the Janata Party wave shortly after the Emergency was lifted. Paswan was a Dalit icon and a skillful grassroots politician who enjoyed good equations will all political leaders across the spectrum. He was soft-spoken and his speeches were remarkable for their lucidity of thought and expression.
Paswan had cut his political teeth under the tutelage of legendary Sarvodaya leader Jayaprakash Narayan, former chief minister Karpoori Thakur and UP strongman Raj Narain, but his worldview and politics were inspired mainly by socialist icon Ram Manohar Lohia.
The immediate impact of Pawan’s demise would be felt on the Lok Janshakti Party’s electioneering that now fell on the shoulders of Paswan’s charismatic, actor-turned politician son Chirag Paswan. Chiraj, an MP, has not shown any major impact on the election rallies in the past despite his Bollywood background, though.
In the 2015 assembly elections, Chirag addressed a few rallies on his own and the crowd presence was less than 1,000. In the 2010 assembly elections, the LJP fought in alliance with the BJP, got 6.75 per cent of the votes and won three seats. In 2015, the party’s vote share dipped to 4.5 per cent and it won only two seats.
Just days before Paswan’s demise, the LJP walked out of the National Democratic Alliance and said it would contest the polls independently, but will remain with the BJP and fight against the Janata Dal-United led by wily chief minister Nitish Kumar.
The present assembly elections will be missing former chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose rustic styles and intonations in the campaigning arena had helped him create a solid support base for him as also the party among the rural and backward caste populations. The mercurial former CM who also served a term as Union railway minister is currently placed in the Rajendra Prasad Institute of Medical Sciences in Ranchi, due to health problems, but with police bandobast.
Convicted in December 2017 in four fodder scam cases that had their genesis in 1996, Prasad has secured bail in three cases so far and bail is eluding him in the fourth. His supporters say a jailed Lalu will be stronger than a free Lalu, and that this would show up in the present electoral arena.
On October 9, the RJD chief got bail in the Chaibasa treasury swindling case from the Jharkhand high court but will still miss the Bihar election campaign. He would be eligible for bail in the last case against him only two days before the election results are out on November 10. His two sons, Tejaswi and Tejpratap, will lead the campaign for the RJD this time.
Lalu, a star campaigner of the RJD with his witty speeches, used to hold the crowd in thrall, and was capable of changing the course of electioneering by importing issues from thin air. In the 2015 assembly elections, Lalu had addressed more than 200 rallies and road shows. He had suffered a jolt in the fodder scam case on September 30, 2013 when a trial court in Ranchi held him guilty in six cases. The conviction got him five years’ prison term, disqualification from Parliament and a ban on contesting future elections. Lalu was granted bail by the Supreme Court in December 2017. Lalu’s trouble renewed again on December 23, 2017 when was convicted and sentenced to three and a half years, five years and 14 years of jail terms in three other fodder scam cases in quick succession.
Lalu, who was prominent in the Total Revolution campaigns of Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan, was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1977. He was the chief minister of Bihar twice from 1990 to 1995 and from 1995 to 1997. As Union Railway minister in the first term of the United Progress Alliance government under the Prime Ministership of Manmohan Singh since 2004, Lalu gained more weight as a powerful administrator. He changed the railway sector in many ways and with a new vision.
Lalu had to step down as Bihar’s chief minister after securing a second term in 1995 when the CBI issued an arrest warrant in the fodder scam. Sensing that it might mean his ouster from politics forever, Lalu dusted his wife Rabri Devi out of the confines of their home in Patna and made her the chief minister. A greenhorn in politics and governance, she sat through a term while Lalu famously ran the government from behind her.
Thereafter, Lalu split from the Janata Dal and formed his own Rashtriya Janata Dal. RJD could not come to power in the 2010 assembly elections despite it having a strong vote bank. His rivals ganged up and took the wind out of his sails. In 2015, the RJD was the single largest party with 80 seats in the Grand Alliance Lalu cobbled with the JD (U) and the Congress. The Nitish Kumar-led party won 70 seats and the Congress 27.
RAGHUVANSH PRASAD SINGH
Former Union minister and a founder-member of RJD and one of the tallest socialist leaders in Bihar politics, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh will be another big-time politician who would be conspicuous by his absence from the present electoral battle. Singh, who was close to Lalu, died on September 13 at All India Institute of Medical Sciences due to coronavirus. The former rural development minister in the Congress-led UPA government, he had rattled Lalu and the RJD when he sent a hand-written resignation letter from the party on September 11.
Singh had been unhappy for some time with the RJD, mainly over the style of functioning of Prasad’s heir apparent and Leader of Opposition in Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Yadav.
Another former Union minister and Loktantrik Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav, ailing, may also miss the electioneering in the state. He had been admitted to a hospital in Gurugram, Haryana, and was discharged from there on September 1. Yadav had left the JD (U) in 2017 after the party moved away from the Grand Alliance and joined the BJP to form a new government. In May 2018, diminutive Sharad Yadav formed his own party, the Loktantrik Janata Dal. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he contested on RJD ticket from Madhepura seat and lost.
Bihar assembly elections starting from October 28 and progressing in three phases of voting will be the first election to be held in the country amid the coronavirus epidemic, and with strict restrictions. Elections for the 243-member assembly will start with polling for 71 seats on October 28 for the first phase. For 94 seats in the second phase, polls will be held on November 3; and in the last and final stage for the remaining 78 seats, polling will take place on November 7. The results will be announced on November 10. –IHN-NN
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