Secular and socialist leaders and politicians in India have always been under verbal and physical onslaught from the communal forces, their sympathizers and a section in the media. The latest under their attack is Lalu Prasad Yadav, against whom the hate-filled rage of the communal forces unleashed afresh during the elections in Bihar, reached to such a peak that it did not cool down even after the results. This is why people occupying high office ignoring Lalu Yadav sent congratulatory message only to Nitish Kumar, though the duo together had taken the Grand Alliance to the historic victory in the 2015 state elections. Besides this, the media frenzy and outrage against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for embracing Lalu Prasad Yadav during the swearing-in ceremony of Nitish Kumar should also be read in the same context.
The acrimony between the communal and secular elements is not new, but dates back to pre-independence era, when the British colonial rule patronized and used the former as a tool to promote its ‘Divide and Rule’ policy. As part of this policy, the communal elements also infiltrated mainstream political parties, especially the Indian National Congress. The British colonial rule ended in 1947, but unfortunately, the Congress, instead of liberating the country from these communal elements, bestowed on them important ministries and bureaucratic positions, while they engaged in anti-national activities in the guise of nationalism. The helplessness of the Indian government under Jawaharlal Nehru in dealing with, first the communal violence immediately after the partition and later the brutal assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, are two examples enough to explain how deep-rooted and strong influence of the communal forces was on the government at the helm of affairs of the newly born country. Rest all is part of the history.
While the communal elements and organizations increased their influence and reach, with little resistance from the government, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee formed the Bhartiya Jana Sangh in 1951. Established, barely four years after the independence, the Sangh was evidently to provide a political base and platform to the right-wing, hardcore, Hindutva extremists to explore their political activities. The communal elements and their sympathizers, who infiltrated the Congress before and after the independence and other political parties afterward, however, remained in the respective political parties instead of joining the Sangh. Interestingly, the Bhartiya Jana Sangh too merged with other non-Congress secular parties to form Janata Party after emergency in 1977, though it reconvened to form the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) when the Janata Party was dissolved in 1980. It did not last for long, but the merger of the Sangh with other parties to form Janata Party shows how thin is the line dividing the political parties and their ideology.
Against this backdrop, Lalu Prasad Yadav is a rare distinction and can easily be singled out among his contemporaries as a politician who never compromised with his ideology in his more than 45-year long political career. Coming from a humble background whose elder brother was working as a peon in Bihar Veterinary College, Patna, Lalu Prasad Yadav began his political career in 1970 as a students’ union leader. He later joined Jai Prakash Narayan’s Bihar Movement who nominated him as Janata Party candidate in the 1977 Lok Sabha election when Lalu was just 29. He won the election, becoming one of the youngest members of the Indian Parliament at that time.
Lalu Prasad Yadav lost in the 1980 general elections, but successfully contested the state election in the same year and became a member of the Bihar legislative assembly. He got re-elected to the state assembly in 1985 and 1989, and also to the Lok Sabha in the same year, this time riding on the V.P. Singh and Mandal Commission wave. Lalu however focused on the state politics, becoming leader of the opposition in Bihar after the death of ex-Chief Minister Karpuri Thakur in 1989, and then Chief Minister in 1990.
Lalu Prasad Yadav, a formidable force now in Bihar, further consolidated his base among the Dalits, OBCs and Muslims, following the decision to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission by then V.P. Singh government in New Delhi. Seen as a leader committed to their social empowerment, Lalu Prasad Yadav tirelessly worked for the backwards of all castes and religion, successfully changing the equation in the state where the job of Dalits and backwards was only to serve with folded hands people from the upper castes.
At the time when the Hindutva elements, comprising mainly of the upper caste, were already fuming because of his social engineering, Lalu Prasad Yadav decided to arrest L.K. Advani and stop his “Hate Rath” on its way to Ayodhya. It was the rarest of rare case in India when the supremacy of the upper caste was challenged, and in such a humiliating manner. The extraordinary decision enraged the communal forces, making Lalu Yadav their foremost adversary forever.
Later in 2004 when few Congress leaders saw in Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin an opportunity to fulfill their own aspirations and dreams, it was Lalu Prasad Yadav who strongly stood behind her. Later, when the party struggled for the numbers needed to form the government after the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, he offered unconditional support to Congress with 21 Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MPs. Lalu’s unequivocal support to the struggling party rubbed salt into the wounds of the BJP, already having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that it had lost the 2004 general elections.
The worst part of this entire bickering between Lalu Prasad Yadav and the communal forces is that it did not remain a mere political war but was taken to the level where he would be abused, mocked, disparaged and ridiculed for every small and big thing. The language used by the communal forces against him during the Bihar electioneering is a small sample to show the level of abhorrence the communal elements have against Lalu Yadav.
As railway minister, Lalu Yadav focused on other sources of revenue for the Railways keeping the fare unchanged. When he took over, the Indian Railways was a loss-making organization. In the four years under his leadership, it showed a cumulative total profit of Rs.250 billion (US $5.2 billion). Schools of management became interested in Yadav's leadership in managing the turnaround, showing it as a case study by the prestigious Indian Institute of Management. Yadav also received invitations from eight Ivy League schools for lectures, and addressed over a hundred students from Harvard, Wharton and others in Hindi.
The communal elements and their crony media outlets were up-in-arms, and used every tool in hand to reject the accomplishments claimed by Lalu Yadav. They alleged that the turnaround of the Railways as claimed by Lalu was merely a result of presenting financial statements differently. At the time when Lalu was praised from national and international experts, a report was circulated stating that the performance of the Railways actually declined marginally during the last few years of Lalu's tenure.
Interestingly, it was not the first time when Lalu Prasad Yadav was praised by international forum for his achievement on economic front. In 1990, he was lauded by the World Bank for the measures he had taken in Bihar to bring on tracks the state’s economy. In 1993, Yadav adopted a pro-English policy and pushed for the re-introduction of English as a language in school curriculum. It was in contrast to the “angrezi hatao” (banish English) policy adopted in the neighboring Uttar Pradesh.
However, the biggest blow to Lalu Yadav in his political career was his conviction in the fodder scam case. His adversaries used the scam to harass him in every possible way, and to finish him politically. Lalu Yadav had to resign from the CM post. He also suffered politically and lost elections. But, did they succeed in finishing his political career? Bihar election results best answer this question.