Debating India

BIHAR

RJD’s winning combination

Venkitesh RAMAKRISHNAN

Wednesday 23 June 2004, by RAMAKRISHNAN*Venkitesh

RASHTRIYA Janata Dal (RJD) president Laloo Prasad Yadav may not fit in with everybody’s idea of an analyst on international affairs, but the former Bihar Chief Minister was so inspired by his four-day visit to Pakistan last August that he started compiling a book, which self-professedly sought to present "a unique people-oriented formula to settle India’s troubled relations with its neighbour".

Laloo Prasad perceived great merit in recounting his experiences in Pakistan and evolving a theory based on people-oriented politics. According to some of his friends, Laloo Prasad sees the exercise as his first major foray into international affairs and one that will prepare him for "a bigger and more important role in national politics".

The RJD president’s penchant to go beyond the sectarian concerns of a regional chieftain and play a significant part in national politics has been in evidence for nearly a decade and a half - from the time he, as Chief Minister, stopped Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani’s first Rath Yatra in 1990 by arresting him. Two characteristics were central to the socio-political interventions Laloo Prasad and his party made during this period. One, a steadfast commitment to secularism and a consistent opposition to the Hindutva brand of politics. Two, a resolute advocacy of the social rights of sections of backward castes and Dalits.

Laloo Prasad’s initiatives, as also those of his party, in the context of the Lok Sabha elections follow the same socio-political path. All through the tenure of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the RJD has emphasised "the need to build a broad front of secular and like-minded parties to confront and defeat the Hindutva forces represented by the BJP and its cronies, who form part of the NDA". Another constant in the RJD’s political positions in the last six years has been its opposition to the BJP-NDA campaign seeking to bar Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi’s claim on constitutional office because of her Italian origin. The RJD was the first regional force to reject unequivocally the queries on Sonia Gandhi’s credentials to hold a constitutional office and it continues to maintain that position.

In Bihar, the party has more or less lived up to its own exhortations to form a broad-based anti-NDA alliance. The RJD-led coalition includes Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the Congress(I), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Although the combination does not include secular forces like the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), political observers are of the view that the RJD-led alliance not only presents a forceful political combination against the BJP and the NDA, but also promises to bring about a unique social combine in Bihar comprising Muslims and the backward caste Yadavs - the core support base of the RJD - and the Dalit Paswan community, the main source of the political strength of the LJP. "The manner in which the LJP has been accommodated honourably in the alliance with as many as eight seats," observers say, "should impart a new thrust to the politics of social justice in the State."

Paswan had fought the RJD bitterly in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections but was welcomed warmly by Laloo Prasad when he quit the NDA after the anti-minority riots in Gujarat. "Of course, I had differences with Ram Vilas Paswan, but when he quit the government reacting to Gujarat, I knew he would be a valuable ally in the fight against the fascists," Laloo Prasad told Frontline.

He also believes that the combination in Bihar will have a political impact in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, too, where the party plays second fiddle to the Congress(I). He said the challenge before the secular forces is to fight not just fascist forces like the BJP but also their camouflaged accomplices like the S.P., led by U.P. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. "Both my party and the Congress(I) are involved in doing this in the national interest," he added.

Laloo Prasad Yadav is convinced that leaders like George Fernandes of the NDA have trapped Mulayam Singh Yadav, once his companion in the fight against the BJP. "They are using discrepancies in the Sukhoi deal that Mulayam Singh Yadav worked out when he was Defence Minister to blackmail him and make him fight against the RJD and the Congress(I) and thus sabotage the unity of secular forces," Laloo Prasad said. Whatever the merits of this argument, there are many takers for it among the secular forces, including the Left parties.

According to Laloo Prasad’s close political associates like Sivanand Tiwari, a Minister in the Rabri Devi-led RJD government, the "ultimate big role" that Laloo Prasad would like to play in national politics is that of the Prime Minister. The RJD president himself has said so too. In an interview to Doordarshan News in February, he affirmed that "he is hopeful of becoming the Prime Minister one day, especially because we are living in the era of coalition politics". Of course, he added that he was not in a hurry and did not want to get to that position "tomorrow". "I can only say at the moment that I will definitely become the Prime Minister one day. I am not going to die early either," Laloo Prasad said with typical candour and humour.

The RJD president, however, made it clear to Frontline that he was not in the race for the top post now. According to him, Sonia Gandhi or Ram Vilas Paswan are better candidates. Laloo Prasad or other RJD leaders are not ready to state the reasons for this "withdrawal". Apparently, the one major handicap he would have in staking his claim for national leadership is the poor track record of his party’s government in Bihar in the realm of development. Despite ruling Bihar for 12 years, the party has not made tangible progress in improving the lot of the State in terms of basic infrastructure or human development indices. The only plus point of RJD governance is considered to be the manner in which the party’s governance has given human dignity to oppressed communities. That by itself may not be enough to present oneself as a prime ministerial candidate. Obviously, Laloo Prasad has to do much more than analyse international affairs to play that "most significant role" in national politics.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Pic 1: VIKRAM KUMAR/AP ; RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav with Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan.

in Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 08, April 10 - 23, 2004.

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