Incarcerated Lalu still indomitable?

Lalu Prasad with his wife and first two kids (Photo credit: Indian Express)

-Shams Khan

Though Lalu Yadav and his family have been slapped with a number of corruption cases–in two of them he has already been convicted–yet a sizeable section of people, passionately root for him. Besides, a few intellectuals–though critical of him on some counts–still have a soft corner for the RJD supremo, who first came to power 28 years ago on March 10, 1990.

The moot question is:  Is it just caste factor or something else which is keeping him politically so strong in spite of so many hurdles posed by his rivals?

After all, what is so fascinating about Lalu that he is known as ‘Messiah of the poor’ and ‘champion of social justice’ among his admirers?

Social activist Satyanarayan Madan opens a window to look beyond what is generally highlighted by the media. He said, “in early 1990s the Lalu Yadav government opened many schools and community centers in Dalit habitats and slums in rural and urban areas. The purpose was dual: not only it was for educational or social empowerment but it was also for political empowerment for marginalised communities because till then primary and middle schools were largely used to be in the upper caste dominated villages or localities. These new schools and community centres served as polling booths at the time of elections. Thus, a large number of Dalits got the opportunity to vote for the first time since independence.”

“As most of the development works reach the masses with the help of petty contractors during Lalu-Rabri rule funds for these works mostly went into the hands of backward communities which subsequently led to their empowerment at the grassroots level,” Madan said adding “It was for the first time during his wife, Rabri Devi’s tenure that women reservation for the post of primary teachers was announced.”

It is true he has failed on several counts. As it was the height of Mandal era he could not curb caste related violence and on developmental parameters his performance is not so significant.

However, the problem with Lalu is that his genuine achievements in the social, economic and political spheres have not been properly highlighted for obvious reasons.

Senior journalist Soroor Ahmad points out: “When Lalu came to power, Mandir and Mandal movements were at its peak. Bihar was in the grip of Naxal violence. Development as such was not an issue for any party. The country’s economy was in a shambles forcing the then Narasimha Rao government to devalue the currency and adopt the policy of Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization.” He further said: “The Mandal-Mandir divide was so deep that most of the upper caste employees in the government machinery did not want Lalu to walk away with any achievements. The official at local level would deliberately delay many decisions of the government so that it earns bad names.”

Soroor Ahmed further added: “There was always a sort of minor mutinies against the government. I remember when Lalu Yadav undertook beautification campaign in Patna on the eve of NRI conference after the victory in 1995 Assembly election rather than appreciating this move a journalist then commented: ‘road bananey se kuch nahin hoga, kaarkhana laiye.’ (Nothing will happen by building roads, bring industries). Thus the approach of most of the mediapersons then was  you do whatever you want we will not appreciate you. Besides, central governments were not as supportive as the Manmohan Singh government much later.

Lalu Yadav has not been as image conscious as Nitish Kumar and is least bothered about his criticism in the media, especially English newspapers.  He would think that the more dominant caste and upper middle class criticize him ,the more support he would get from downtrodden section of the society.

Though he has always highlighted his achievements in the field of social justice and communal harmony yet he did little to highlight his accomplishment in economic and other fronts. For example, he may not be interested telling people that he built a bridge on Ganga in Bhagalpur or set up four universities in Ara, Chapra, Madhepura and Hazaribagh, which now went into Jharkhand or built a planetarium in Patna etc.

According to Ahmed he started highlighting his achievements as the railway minister of India (2004-09) more than as the chief minister of Bihar. “Or you can say that the media gave more coverage to what he did as the railway minister as it concerned the middle class as well. Here too it must be reminded that he got more positive coverage in the national media than by the journalists in Bihar,” he said.

However, Lalu stands apart all the regional leaders of India. Never in the last quarter century he ever made any compromise on the issue of social justice and communal harmony. Even Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik had joined hands with the BJP at one point of time or the other.

Prabhat, who had been involved in Bodh Gaya land movement against the Matt for a decade, is of the view that the bureaucracy would never like Lalu for his pro-poor and hands on approach. He said, “People used to approach Lalu directly for their work as the door is always open for them, especially for the poor.”

But it is also true that sometimes this practice creates confusion and is misused by vested interests within.

Anyway during the 20 months of Grand Alliance rule more people would line up outside his  bungalow for work than any JD(U) or Congress ministers. If a large number of people still admire him it was perhaps for his open-door-approach for the common masses.

(Shams Khan is a journalist based in Patna)


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