Lalu Prasad Yadav
Ever since I read Lalu’s biography many years ago, I have appreciated a lot about him. It narrates how as a child, when he was herding buffaloes, the zamindars attacked him for wearing clean clothes and chappals. Later, when he became chief minister, for many months he continued to live in his brother’s room in the veterinary college, where his brother worked as a peon. At night he drove through the streets of Patna, distributing blankets to those sleeping on the pavements. Even later I heard about how he retained his down to earth nature, how his chief minister’s residence was an open house, where tea was constantly served and no one was turned away. Did he change, was he involved in corruption, or implicated in something done by others? That the courts will decide.
Below is an extract from a book I wrote in 2002. However, this section on the states of India was published in a very truncated form, as the book had become too long. Sharing it here. I have not added to what I wrote at that time, hence the narrative stops in 2002.
After the emergency
In 1977, when elections were held again, the newly created Janata Party won in Bihar . In 1980, the Congress was back in power in the state and remained in control of the state government till 1990. During these years there were repeated changes in chief ministers.
From 1990 onwards, Lalu Prasad Yadav dominated the politics of the state. In March 1990, when elections were held in the state, the Janata Dal, into which the Janata Party had merged , won 132 seats out of 324 in the assembly. Along with their allies, which included the CPI, they formed the government. Lalu Yadav was selected as chief minister and promised a new era.
In some ways Lalu represented a new trend in politics, as he was from a poor family, and identified with the common people. Born in 1948, in village Phulwaria, in Gopalganj district of Bihar, he was a Yadav, one of the backward castes. His father had a few buffaloes and a small patch of land. He was the sixth of eight children and they lived in a thatched mud hut at the edge of the village, away from the higher castes. There was little money and food. As a child, Lalu seemed different from the others, more independent and intelligent, and so was taken to Patna where his uncle and his brother had jobs in the Patna Veterinary hospital (as milkman and peon ). They decided to educate him, and he passed school and college. When studying at B.N. College in Patna, he became interested in politics. In 1970, he got the job of a clerk in Patna Veterinary College, but left in 1973, joined a law course and was elected president of the student’s union. The same year, he married Rabri, a fourteen-year old girl, chosen by his parents. In 1974, as we saw earlier, he led the student’s agitation, which soon became a nation-wide movement. In 1975, during the emergency, he was arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). ( His eldest daughter, born at this time, was named Misa). He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977, and to the state assembly in 1980and 1985. He became the opposition leader in the Bihar assembly in 1989, and the same year was again elected to the Lok Sabha. His political career reached a height when he became chief minister in 1990. He was re-elected in 1995.
A popular leader
Initially, Lalu was quite popular, particularly among the backward castes. He spoke Bhojpuri, a local dialect and tried to help the poor. He mixed with the lowest castes and had houses built for them, as well as schools for poor boys . The minimum wage for agricultural workers was raised. But despite all these schemes, the administration remained poor and development did not take place. Later, corruption cases further injured his image.
A new party
In January 1996, he became president of the Janata Dal. After this however, a decline started.
There were charges of his involvement in corruption in the animal husbandry department. Crores of rupees had been withdrawn through false bills, for the import of pigs and medicines, that were finally never imported, and for providing fodder. This process started at the time of the Congress, but continued under Lalu. The Janata Dal now wanted to remove him as president, and so Lalu split the party, forming the Rashtriya Janata Dal in July 1997. On the verge of being arrested, he made his wife Rabri Devi, the chief minister. He was imprisoned for short periods, but claimed he was innocent and continued to supervise his wife’s government from jail. In February 1999 President’s rule was imposed in the state. The next elections were held in the state in February 2000.
Surprisingly, though even Lalu did not expect it, the Rashtriya Janata Dal again won the state elections, supported by the Congress. Rabri Devi continued as the chief minister. There were two main reasons for his success. One was in-fighting among the opposition, and the other, that no matter what his failures, many common people continued to identify with him, because he was of a backward caste, talked like them and knew how to communicate. ‘Vote Lalu ka, raj hamara’ (if we vote for Lalu, we will rule), was one of the slogans used in elections, and having suffered from upper caste oppression for centuries, many genuinely felt this. Muslims also felt that they were safe under his government.
Lalu again went to jail in 2001-2. The fodder case goes on. Rabri continues to be the chief minister . And Bihar’s problems, which started long before Lalu came to power, also continue. In 2002 Lalu achieved a new success, as he was elected to the Rajya Sabha.