Manoj Chaurasia in Patna
In a sudden climb-down, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad has announced that the next chief minister could be from any caste if his party comes back to power in the Assembly elections due in 2015 ~ a gamble observers feel may pay off for the party, which is now battling for survival.
The move is aimed at bridging the gap with other castes and seeking their support in forming the next government. So far, both the RJD chief ministers ~ Prasad himself and his wife, Rabri Devi ~ have been from his family, which has not conveyed a good message to the voters.
Prasad made the statement while kicking off the third leg of his Parivartan Yatra from Nawada yesterday. The RJD’s yatra, considered a reply to a series of yatras recently undertaken by chief minister Nitish Kumar, is aimed at unseating the present NDA regime, which Prasad has accused of being “anti-poor” and “neck-deep in corruption”.
Prasad’s declaration assumes significance given the fact that he very recently had begun grooming his cricketer son Tejaswi Yadav for the coveted post, while closely following in the success story of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. Prasad, had planned to assign his son the task of strengthening the organisational base of the party’s young wing, before giving him the bigger responsibility in the event of the RJD putting up a good performance in the next polls, according to RJD sources.
He seems to have changed course, though, after receiving some not-so-good feedback about his proposed plan.
So far, Prasad’s family had staked a strong claim on the post of chief minister which was one of the reasons for it losing power on its home turf despite having strong support among the poor, backwards, Dalits and Muslims, observers say.
In the 2010 Assembly elections, the RJD stood a good chance of making a significant improvement in its seat tally, but the party’s sudden move to project Prasad as the chief ministerial candidate and Pashupati Nath Paras, Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan’s younger brother, as his deputy, spoiled the entire show as the NDA went to the voters highlighting the RJD chief’s poor track record as Bihar chief minister.
This, according to observers, sealed the fate of the RJD, which was restricted to a mere 23 seats in 243-member Bihar Assembly.
The RJD chief’s rallies are now drawing impressive crowds, however, which indicate the rising level of frustration with the present regime. Even ruling party lawmakers admit that corruption in development schemes has hugely disappointed the common men and earned a bad name for the Nitish Kumar government.
This has been corroborated by a recent survey conducted by a BJP member of Parliament from Purnia, Uday Singh, in his Lok Sabha constituency.
According to the 55-page survey, 50 per cent of the people feel the condition of the health centres is bad, 60 per cent of children aged three to six have been out of Anganwadi centres, 96 per cent of people are totally against the state government’s policy of opening wine shops at the panchayat level, and only 12 per cent of the below-poverty-line (BPL) families have been given job cards.
"The survey is not aimed at highlighting the failures of the state government, but at bringing out the truth, so that the problems can be rectified,” said Singh.
He said the government’s intentions are good but the loopholes in the system are defeating the purposes of the welfare schemes.
“It’s a pity that problems of the people refuse to come down despite a good government being in power,” he said. “Hooliganism is once again raising its head, red-tapism has increased, people’s representatives are being mistreated and political activists are being ignored."
At the same time, he said, the academic system has collapsed in the state and the farmers’ condition has worsened.