|Lalu, Rabri at Misa's marriage (Source Rediff)|
For decades, he had ruled people’s hearts with his earthy quotes, canny quick-wittedness and the “gift of the gab” as the poor and the underprivileged classes considered him one of their own. This time, however, colourful Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad faces his biggest-ever challenge - of having to prove his hold over voters while out of the political arena for the first time in 37 years after being disqualified from contesting elections in view of his conviction and subsequent sentencing in the multimillion-dollar fodder scam case.
The two Lok Sabha seats where Mr Prasad’s prestige is at stake are Saran and Patliputra, in the eastern state of Bihar, which sends 40 MPs to
While Saran (previously known as Chapra) was his home constituency since 1977 when he became one of the youngest parliamentarians elected to LS at the age of 29, he also tried his luck from a second constituency, Patliputra, which came up after delimitation, during the last LS polls. He won Saran but lost Patliputra to his one-time colleague Ranjan Prasad Yadav.
Now, he is in dire need of victory at both places because it is his wife and daughter who are contesting. Wins in the two seats will give his career a boost, while a defeat will mean vindication of critics who have targeted him for nepotism.
In Saran, Mr Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi is locked in a straight contest with former minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the Bharatiya Janata Party although Salim Pervez of Janata Dal-United is trying hard to turn this into a triangular battle by upsetting the traditional Yadav-Muslim vote bank of Mr Prasad. The former Union Railway minister has made an emotional appeal to members of his caste to support him at this critical juncture.
Mr Prasad represented this constituency four times in the past.
Muslims voters look even more polarised this time with Narendra Modi leading the charge of the BJP, coupled with the party’s move to rake up the old, contentious issues of construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya.
Last week, a dozen prominent Muslim organisations held a meeting in the Phulwarisharif locality of the state capital where they issued a formal “advisory” to the community, asking them to strongly vote against “communalism”.
Community members were asked to identify “dummy” Muslim candidates and to vote only for candidates fielded by “secular” parties, and to prevent division in secular votes. Rabri, who had entered politics when her husband was jailed in 1997 and twice became Chief Minister of the state, was forced to contest this time because of his disqualification. But she may be on a slightly less sticky wicket than daughter Misa Bharti, who is locked in a bitter triangular fight with two former strongmen who defected from her father's party, the BJP's Ram Kripal Yadav and JD-U nominee Ranjan Prasad Yadav. Misa, like her mother, is making her parliamentary debut. While the JD-U candidate banks on chief minister Nitish Kumar’s development agenda, the BJP nominee hopes to ride the “Modi wave” and anti-incumbency factor of both the UPA government at the Centre and Nitish Kumar government in
This constituency too has significant number of Yadav voters but there is a possibility of a split in the votes with three candidates from this community in the fray. It was for this reason that the RJD chief had to rush to relatives of an alleged criminal, Ritlal Yadav, to stop him from throwing a fourth Yadav hat into the ring. Ritlal, lodged in jail on charges of murder and extortion, agreed after Mr Prasad appointed him a general secretary of his party and promised to give his wife a ticket in the next assembly election.