From rail to jail: The journey of RJD chief Lalu Yadav
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- 2 of 11Lalu’s political journey: How it all started!Lalu Yadav took to politics as a Patna University student, and was part of Jayaprakash Narayan's students movement. He won his first Lok Sabha election from Chapra in north Bihar in 1977, became Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly in 1989 and, a year later, became the Bihar chief minister, heading a Janata Dal government.In the early days of power, Lalu the rustic was like a whiff of fresh air.As journalist Sankarshan Thakur wrote in his book The Making of Laloo Yadav: The Unmaking of Bihar, 'No chief minister of Bihar has ever held court under a tree by the roadside. No chief minister of Bihar has ever held a cabinet meeting on the lines of a village chaupal, on a cement platform under open skies. No chief minister of Bihar has ever summoned the state's high and mighty to the streets of the Patna Veterinary College compound and turned their dismissal into a public spectacle. No chief minister of Bihar has raided liquor shops, hawaldar-like, and cancelling their licences on the spot. No chief minister of Bihar has stood in line with the hoi polloi at the Patna Medical College Hospital to get his fever-ridden son treated.'
- 3 of 11Caste Is The KeyThose were the days of the Mandal Commission, and those were the days when Bihar was engulfed by riots in Bhagalpur and Hazaribagh, to name just two places.After Lalu took over the state's reins, Bihar hardly saw communal violence again. It is one contribution even his severest critics cannot deny.And his taking over the mantle was symbolic of the empowerment of the backward classes, reservations for whom were suggested by the Mandal Commission, leading to widespread protests throughout the country (as the picture perfectly portrays).Caste equations were something Lalu was the master of. He carved the Muslim-Yadav alliance, and it was his key to power. A key he used to great effect.In 1995, he swept the state elections, with an absolute majority of 165 seats in an assembly of 324. His main opponent and the new, rising force in Indian politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party, managed only 41.
- 4 of 11Advani's ArrestLalu's 1995 triumph was mainly the result of an event soon after he became chief minister.In 1990, BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani rode the crest of the Ayodhya Ram Temple movement by embarking on a nationwide Rath Yatra. It was seen as the ride of Hindutva forces, making the country's huge Muslim population uneasy.On October 23, 1990, Lalu did what no state government could dare to. He had Advani arrested at Samastipur.It cemented Lalu's position as the protector of minorities, the champion of secularism. It was an image he would exploit in the years to come, by raising the bogey of communal violence to ensure the Muslim vote came his way.
- 5 of 11Fodder Scam and a masterstrokeIn 1996, Lalu's named cropped up in a major scam unearthed by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Millions of rupees had been embezzled from treasuries against the account of Bihar's animal husbandry department.The Opposition had finally found an issue to corner Lalu.The Janata Dal was divided, and Lalu formed his own party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal.When charges were framed against him in the fodder scam, it appeared as if Bihar's king had finally met his Waterloo.But in a political masterstroke, Lalu resigned as chief minister, and instead installed his wife and mother of his nine children, Rabri Devi (seen serving Lalu in the picture), as chief minister.He spent 103 days in custody, but he had already transferred power from the Bihar secretariat to his 1, Anne Marg bungalow in Patna, giving the phrase 'kitchen cabinet' a whole new meaning.
- 6 of 11Underworld overlordsWhile Lalu spent short periods of time in jail, the real rise of criminals unfolded outside, in his state.Kidnapping became an industry, and in many ways Lalu's right-hand man Mohammed Shahabuddin (seen feeding Lalu in the picture) signified all that was wrong with the state. Shahabuddin ran a parallel administration in Siwan. Even when he was in jail.He was one of the lieutenants who executed Lalu's strategy of dividing and ruling the masses and terrorising the rich.Shahabuddin became a member of Parliament, even as there were arrest warrants against him. He was photographed feasting on sumptuous meals in Mumbai, even as the long arm of the law could not get to him, till he was finally arrested a few days ago in Delhi.
- 7 of 11While the state gently weepsMeanwhile, Bihar continued to fare appallingly in every development index. Report after report slammed the state's complete lack of planning, complete lack of ensuring the basic minimum to its residents.But Lalu remained unperturbed, because his power was intact, if not growing.As Sankarshan Thakur wrote, 'Ask Lalu Yadav [about the lack of development] and he may give you two kinds of responses.'If he is on record, he will say, the Centre is "responsible for criminal neglect" of Bihar et al. If he is off record, and in a mood to talk, he will tell you development isn't an issue for him. "Development, development, what development? My constituency has lived in underdeveloped conditions for hundreds of years. Development is not an issue for them. Development is an urban middle-class demand, that is why the media keeps harping on it. "Hamra log development leke kya karega ji? Bekaar baat karte hain [What will my people do with development? You talk nonsense)]Naxalites -- armed ultra-Left militants -- stepped in where the state feared to tread, and bloody battles between them and the upper caste Ranvir Sena became routine in the hinterlands of Bihar.
- 8 of 11Bihar Divided, Lalu BolsteredWhen Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000 and Shibu Soren (in the picture) made its chief minister, it gave Lalu two leverage points.One, he now had a new excuse for the underdevelopment of Bihar: that the mineral and natural resource rich part of Bihar had gone to Jharkhand.Two, he now had an ally in power in a neighbouring state. An ally who was as against the BJP as he was.Lalu had himself promised the creation of Jharkhand. When it eventually saw light of day, he turned it around to his benefit, as the wronged party. Just another example of the political acumen of a man who most of educated India looked down upon.
- 9 of 11Power at Centre, aimed at StateWhen the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government came to power in May 2004, Lalu wrangled a seat in the Union Cabinet. He became the country's railway minister, a lucrative post for any Bihar leader.Since its roads are so abysmal - Lalu once famously promised he would make Bihar's roads smooth as actress Hema Malini's cheeks, but it remained one of his many unfulfilled promises - the railways are key to movement within Bihar.And anyone who can offer sops to train commuters offers sops to Bihar.Even as railway minister, Lalu sought to drive home the BJP's anti-Muslim image. Just before the Bihar elections in February, a railway enquiry committee declared there was no conspiracy behind the fire that engulfed the Sabarmati Express in Godhra in February 2002.The Gujarat riots that followed the Godhra fire were sought to be justified as a retaliation to the pre-planned attack on Hindu kar sevaks. The railway probe results debunked that theory, and fed to the belief that the riots were engineered by Hindutva forces, read the BJP. The message to Muslims in Bihar was clear: the BJP is your enemy. Vote for me, I will protect you.
- 10 of 11Enter the ChallengersOne of the main problems of unseating Lalu, who enjoyed power without accountability, was the lack of genuine alternatives in Bihar.That began to change with kingmaker aspirant Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan (in the picture, with the garland) entering the battle for Bihar anew.Paswan and Lalu had similar backgrounds: they were both products of JP's student movement, they were both self-avowed champions of the backward classes.But, Paswan was seen as close to the BJP, who the Muslim populace were wary of. Paswan was a minister in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. That gave him power at the Centre, but weakness in his home state.After the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Paswan joined the United Progressive Alliance government. And by February this year, he was warming up to the Congress in his state, just as Lalu was growing cold to them. Lalu got into a seat sharing argument with the Congress before the February elections to the state assembly. It was a move that would prove dear to him.On the other end of the political spectrum, Nitish Kumar, also a former Lalu co-traveller, had charted a fresh course, and was harping on the much neglected word in Lalu's Bihar: development.
- 11 of 11Ghost of the PastAs Bihar went to polls twice in 2005, the chorus of 'remove Lalu, make way for development' had reached a crescendo. The champion of the downtrodden was appealing to the masses to give him one more chance.Just one example was enough to highlight what Lalu's era did to Bihar.When Lalu found a groom for his daughter Rohini in Hichhan Bigha, the sleepy Bihar hamlet was transformed overnight, with power lines, telephone connections, new roads, water pumps.After a year, all of it had disappeared, but for the cemented track that connected the village to the main highway. The cemented track was the only memory left of what the Lalu could have achieved, had he wanted to.Now, out of office, perhaps he could find the time to mull over how, and where, he went wrong.
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