Is it the end of saga called Lalu?


Lalu Yadav, the enigmatic, rustic, popular, powerful, jovial, happy go lucky politician, is fighting his biggest battle in this year’s assembly polls in Bihar. Lalu Yadav’s party Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)* was reduced to mere 22 seats in 2010 assembly polls. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Bihar too was “Modified” and Lalu managed to win 4 seats. *Lalu broke from his parent organisation Janata Dal (JD) and formed RJD in 1997. He was the most powerful & visible leader of Janata Dal (JD) in Bihar and essentially JD in Bihar from 1990 (when Lalu first became CM) to 1997 (when he formed his own party) was his fiefdom. The two charts below explain his precarious position.

Chart 1: Seats & Vote Share of Janata Dal / Rashtriya Janata Dal in Lok Sabha While seats won by RJD have declined from 31 in 1990 to 4 in 2014, its vote share has also reduced by approx. 40% during the period.

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Chart 2: Seats & Vote Share of Janata Dal / Rashtriya Janata Dal in State Assembly Elections While seats won by RJD have declined from a peak of 167 in 1995 to 22 in 2010, its vote share has also reduced by approx. 30% during the period.

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Lalu, who along with his wife Rabri, ruled the state for 15 years from 1990-2005, is fighting to stay afloat. He has held onto the hands of his old Janata Dal colleagues Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav to make a comeback, after conviction in fodder scam barred him for fighting polls for 5 years.

How did Lalu, the champion of OBCs, Muslims, Dalits, the man responsible for social engineering among backward classes, one of the prominent figures in the mandal movements, self proclaimed torch bearer of secularism, lose his clout in Bihar?

1. Exodus of leaders like Nitish / George Fernandes / Sharad Yadav

In 1994, Nitish and George left Janata Dal to float their own party named Samata Party because of differences with central leadership and specifically Lalu in Bihar. Samata Party joined hands with their ex partners in Janata Party Atal and Advani’s BJP. They took with them portion of the Kurmi / Koeri vote bank and slowly / steadily started making dent into Lalu’s vote bank of lower OBCs and Dalits. In 1995 their first state elections Samata Party garnered 7.1% of vote bank improving it to 8.7% in 2000.

In 1997 Lalu broke away from parent Janata Dal to form his own party. Janata Dal rechristened as Janata Dal United (Sharad Yadav) also joined hands with BJP and got 6.5% vote share in 2000. Strictly speaking Lalu’s party’s vote share also increased during the period from 25.6% in 1990 to 28.3% in 2000 and the vote share which Nitish / Sharad grabbed was particularly from Congress. However, these leaders did manage to challenge Lalu’s dominance in the state and become the major opposition. They halted his growth. They got a further boost in 2003 with the merger of Samata Party into JDU. In 2005, these Janata rivals managed to wrest power from Lalu with help of BJP forming more or less the same social combination.

2. Loss of support base among MY combination

Muslims-Yadavs which form 30% of the population of Bihar are the most vocal supporters of Lalu. In 1999 Lok Sabha polls more than 3/4th of these caste groups voted for Lalu helping him to get 22-24% vote share from these two groups only. In elections where 33-35% vote share is enough to win, this is a big chunk.

However, lately as the graph shows Lalu’s dominance over this vote share has declined. From 76% Yadavs voting for Lalu in 1999 Lok Sabha, this no. fell to 64% in 2010 state polls. For Muslims, the decline is more sharp from 77% in 1999, this no. fell to 32% in 2010. One of the reasons was that Lalu didn’t form alliance with Congress in 2009/10. Lalu regained the trust among Muslims in 2014 Lok Sabha with 64% vote share. This was helped by the fact that he allied with Congress which has a sizeable influence among minorities.

However, the nos. are nowhere close to his peak popularity among MY combination. Other dominant leaders have emerged among Yadav community notably Sharad Yadav (JDU President) and Nand Kishore Yadav (BJP and Leader of Opposition in Bihar assembly). His daughter Misa Bharti lost to Ram Kirpal Yadav (who left RJD to join BJP) in Lok Sabha elections last year. His party also lost support among Dalits and lower OBCs over the years from 39% to 10% (Dalits) and 30% to 10% (lower OBCs) respectively.

Chart 3: RJD vote share from different caste groups

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3. Tactical error in 2009 (Fallout with Congress)

When Lalu’s party was able to form a govt. in the state in 2000, he made his wife Rabri the CM, partly because of his involvement in fodder scam. In 2004, Lalu allied with Congress and Paswan’s LJP in Lok Sabha elections and alliance won 29/40 seats. This performance in Bihar was instrumental in installation of UPA govt. at the Center (RJD was 3rd largest constituent of UPA after Congress and DMK). Lalu’s party got 22 seats and he became the Railway Minister. He claimed to have turned around the loss making Railways and this story even went to Harvard University / IIM Ahmedabad for a case study discussion.

The scam tainted leader had become a champion of development. I remember travelling in trains during that time and situation had actually improved during his tenure. However, Mamata Banerjee (Lalu’s successor) and CAG punctured the turnaround claim of Lalu and said it was nothing but accounting jugglery / different way of presentation of accounts.

Lalu couldn’t handle success and limelight, he became arrogant. He regularly boasted about his tenure and became overconfident. In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, he arm twisted Congress to accept lesser seats in Bihar. Seat sharing talks failed and he went onto fight with Paswan. This was one of the biggest blunders committed by Lalu (later admitted by him).

Congress and UPA got higher no. of seats in 2009 Lok Sabha elections than 2004 and Lalu’s bargaining power reduced. In Lok Sabha his party was thrashed in Bihar winning only 4 seats down from 22 in 2004. NDA won 32 seats and Congress fighting alone won 2.

An analysis of 2009 Lok Sabah results show that if Lalu had allied with Congress, the combination would have won 21 seats and NDA 18. RJD would have won a large chunk of these seats and he may have well continued as Railway minister. Despite Lalu’s support to UPA post polls, he was ignored by Sonia. They didn’t need him now with only 4 seats.

In 2010 assembly polls, again Congress fought alone and Lalu allied with Paswan. He didn’t even include CPI in his alliance. Result RJD alliance won only 25 seats and NDA whopping 206/243. Only 32% Muslims voted for Lalu. The vote of the community got split between Lalu-Nitish-Congress. He overestimated Paswan’s ability. An analysis shows that if Lalu had formed an alliance with Paswan, Congresss, NCP and CPI, they would have won 103 seats and NDA 133. NDA would still have formed the govt. but atleast Lalu position would not have been dismal at 22 seats only. JDU bagged 21% and Congress 22% of Muslim vote. RJD faced challenges in constituencies where it faced JDU candidates. Lalu was not able to transfer Muslim vote in favour of LJP. Wherever there was LJP candidate, Muslims voted for JDU or Congress. Vinaash kale viprit buddhi.

Chart 4&5

RJD performance in 2009 Lok Sabha and 2010 Assembly elections if it had fought polls in alliance with Congress

Parties 2009 Lok Sabha 2009 Lok Sabha*
Seats Vote Share Seats Vote Share
NDA (JDU + BJP) 32 37.9 18 37.9
RJD + LJP 4 25.8 21 38.7
Congress 2 10.3
Others / Independents 2 26.0 1 23.4
40 100.0 40 100.0
*Results if RJD had fought elections with LJP, Congress, NCP & CPI.
Parties 2010 State Polls 2010 State Polls*
Seats Vote Share Seats Vote Share
NDA (JDU + BJP) 206 39.6 133 39.6
RJD + LJP 25 25.6 103 37.5
Congress 4 8.4
Others / Independents 8 26.4 7 22.9
243 100.0 243 100.0
*Results if RJD had fought elections with LJP, Congress, NCP & CPI.

Lalu’s tenure witnessed an economic growth of 4.89% from 1993-94 to 2004-05 lower than national average of 6.32% during the same period. More than economic growth govt.’s stated objective was achievement of social justice for poor, downtrodden, Dalits, lower OBCs and Muslims. Law and order situation was poor, kidnapping, looting throbbed as industries.4. Poor performance of govt. during 1990-2005 symbolized with jungle raj

Era is also remembered for fodder scam committed by Lalu in which he siphoned off money meant for purchasing fodder for animals in the state. He was finally convicted in the case and is currently out on bail. Contrast this to regime under NDA. During 2005-2009, Bihar achieved the 2nd highest GDP growth in the country of 11.03% tad below Gujarat’s growth of 11.05%. Law and order situation has vastly improved and people no longer live under fear. Though this has been contested recently in an article. However, people living in the state will vouch for improved law and order position.

5. Cases of corruption against Lalu – fodder scam & subsequent conviction

Lalu was accused of being the master mind of fodder scam and siphoning off funds from the treasury. He had to go to jail and relinquish his CM chair in favour of his wife in July 1997. He was subsequently released on bail but the case dragged on for years before he was finally convicted in Oct 2013. As the literacy levels in the state increased, this helped create a negative image among a section of the educated class voters.

6. Lalu’s Children not yet ready to take up the mantle

Lalu is aged 67, he is not very old considering the average age of Congress Working Committee is 69 and 1/4th of current Lok Sabha members were born before Independence. Problem is he can’t fight any elections before Oct 2018. He can fight 2019 Lok Sabha polls but by that time he will be 71. RJD is a one man / family party like many regional parties in India – AIADMK, DMK, Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, JMM, BJD, Samajwadi Party etc. He wants to pass on the party control to one of his children like Mulayam / Badals, Karunanidhi etc. He knows that he has to do this while he is alive otherwise later people may not accept his children as leader and revolt. Problem is his children are very young and except for daughter Misa nobody has even fought an election. Like old fashioned Indians, he would want his sons to take over however they are too junior and do not enjoy his clout / mass appeal.

Can Lalu survive this crisis? Lalu has been out of power in Bihar for the past 10 years and at the center for the past 6 years. With BJP getting majority on its own in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he will be out of power in the center for another 4 years. So it makes 10 years on both sides.

At one point Nitish had orchestrated a spilt in his party but he somehow survived. Nitish breaking away from Modi has provided Lalu a comeback opportunity else he may have been finished in this election. Nitish needs Lalu for MY votes and Lalu needs Nitish to improve his seat tally and be part of govt. in Bihar if Janata alliance wins. Win win situation for both!

Lalu is lying low because of this reason and has accepted Nitish as CM candidate. He wanted an equal no. of seats to fight on, which he seems to have got. This improves his chances of getting higher no. of seats than 2010.

Can Lalu survive this biggest crisis ever? Can he still hold onto his core vote bank? Can he improve upon his 2010 performance? Can Lalu be a force to reckon with in Bihar till there is “Samose mein Aloo”? Only time will tell….

A villager whom I met in South Bihar sums up Lalu’s story, “Lalu was finished. Nitish gave him a lifeline. Without BJP vote bank Nitish is a poor 3rd in vote share. Nitish needs Lalu for his MY vote bank. Lalu needs Nitish as a mask of development to hush up his jungle raj. With a current higher vote share Lalu may get more seats than Nitish. This is when he will start playing games again and may force his samadhi Mulayam to rethink on leadership issue. So it’s not all over for Lalu yet!” Interesting times ahead in Bihar…

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