Lalu, newly optimistic & suddenly active

Lalu Prasad

For years, RJD president Lalu Prasad had been relegated to the sidelines of Bihar politics as the JD(U)'s Nitish Kumar won back-to-back elections on the plank of development issues that overshadowed caste equations.

The spring has now returned to Lalu's step. For the last three months, he has been interacting more frequently with the media than ever, cracking his rustic jokes once again and making political statements that betray an early attempt at returning to power, though elections are not due until 2015.

Nitish's convoy had been attacked in Khagaria, which Lalu apparently reads as an indication of a fall in the government's popularity. The government has been facing protests primarily on account of poor salary being paid to teachers; Lalu has also been raising allegations of poor governance and corruption.

Lalu, who has undertaken a Parivartan Yatra to counter the JD(U)'s just-concluded Adhikar Yatra and the BJP's proposed Hunkaar Rally, has been making statements such as, "We are open to a chief minister of any caste and community if the RJD comes back to power in 2015." A Muslim, an upper-caste candidate or a Dalit would all be acceptable as CM, he has said.

And he has admitted, "I know I made some mistakes in the past. Forgive those mistakes and give the RJD a chance." This was in Purnia, where Uday Singh, an MP of JD(U) ally BJP, had earlier addressed a rally to declare the results of a survey that showed the delivery of government services was poor. Uday Singh drew a crowd of one lakh while Lalu, who praised him, drew 25,000.

The crowds at most of Lalu's rallies have been far improved from what he had been drawing since Nitish ended his party's 15-year reign. From 1,500-2,000 at most of his earlier public meetings, he has often been getting over 10,000, according to assessments by the Intelligence Bureau. And a comparison has found Lalu outscoring Nitish.

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