After court jolt to Lalu, RJD faces testing times

The rejection of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad’s bail plea by the Jharkhand high court on Thursday has come as a big setback for the party as it prepares for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

The party, which was banking on Lalu’s charisma, may have to recalibrate its strategy. It is also a blow to the grand alliance (GA) as it will be devoid of a star face.

To be sure, RJD insiders said the pressure on Lalu’s younger son and opposition leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav would increase as he looks to keep its stocks high during the seat sharing talks with GA allies. The talks are scheduled to begin after January 15.

Tejashwi along with his mother Rabri Devi have to take charge as the party’s biggest star campaigner during the polls expected to gain momentum from February.

Lalu, convicted in three fodder scam cases, was hopeful of getting a regular bail on medical grounds as he, according to doctors of Ranchi Institute of Medical Sciences, is suffering from various ailments.

The RJD plans to move the Supreme Court to seek bail, which may take some time. “ Only after studying the judgment of the Ranchi high court, our lawyers will move the Supreme Court,” said RJD MLA Bhola Yadav, who is close to Lalu, on phone from Ranchi.

But will Lalu’s stay in jail hit RJD’s poll fortunes? There are no easy answers. However, there is a perception in the party circles that the RJD may lose its bargaining prowess during the seat-sharing talks with the Congress, the Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM(S) and Left parties.

The RJD chief has not delegated the decision making power on seat sharing to Tejashwi, a reason why top GA leaders have been meeting Lalu in RIMS so frequently the past one month.

“Lalu’s continues to be the boss. But he might not be able to bargain too hard with allies because he is unlikely to campaign,” said a senior leader.

Another challenge for the party defection by leaders. Sources said Tejashwi is keen on fielding new faces from the party’s strongholds by replacing some old loyalists of Lalu. While Maner MLA Bhai Virendra is sulking after face-off with Tejashwi’s elder power Tej Pratap Yadav, a few former MPs are unhappy for being sidelined.

The rivalry between Tejashwi and Tej Pratap Yadav, with their elder sister Misa Bharti also eyeing the Patliputra parliamentary seat, has only added to RJD’s woes.

On the contrary, top party leaders said Lalu’s absence will have little impact on party’s fortunes as it emerged in recent by-polls and fared well in organisational terms with no defections.

They also claimed that the GA has managed to attract several allies of the BJP .

“The RJD is strong and will show its might in the upcoming polls. Has the party’s vote share dipped in recent by-polls despite Lalu being in jail? The results showed people of Bihar are fed up with the ruling combine, “ said Jagdanand Singh, former MP.

“We hope that the RJD chief would get relief as he is not medically fit,” said party’s national spokesperson Manoj Jha. RJD MP Jay Prakash Yadav maintained the RJD had nothing to worry as Lalu’s ideology was the driving force in the rank and file of the party.

“Every member of the RJD represents Lalu, who continues to be the tallest leader of the weak, oppressed and minorities. Lalu is being victimised as part of a larger political conspiracy, and people are witness to it. They will give a befitting reply to anti-social justice forces,” he said.

First Published: Jan 11, 2019 12:06 IST

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