When the RJD faced a real drubbing in 2010 Bihar assembly poll, winning just 22 seats in the 243-member house, a senior leader had described the party as ‘private limited company’ devoid of democracy.
Three years on, the RJD has not changed much. With his conviction by a Ranchi CBI court in Fodder scam case RC 20A/96 on Monday, party president Lalu Prasad is set to hand over its reins to his wife, former chief minister Rabri Devi.
Sixteen years ago, in July 1997, Lalu had pulled out a rabbit from his hat when he had appointed Rabri, a homebody at the time, as chief minister before surrendering in a CBI designated court in the same case and going to jail.
“Rabri Devi is a party’s mascot, other than Laluji. Besides, decisions are always taken by the party and not by individuals,” said a senior leader, seeking anonymity. But, there was no immediate announcement of Rabri’s new role.
“There is no number one or number two in the party. It’s run under a collective leadership”, said RJD senior leader and Buxar MP Jagdanand Singh, recalling the way things were when Lalu had been incarcerated in 1997.
Rabri would be aided in running the RJD by its five vice presidents including former ministers Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Raghunath Jha and Shakuni Choudhary, and leaders like Buxar MP Jagdanand Singh and Ramdeo Bhandari.
There were also indications Lalu’s younger son Tejashwi Yadav, soft launched during the party’s parivartan rally here on May 15, would play a significant role in the decision making process in the absence of the RJD chief.
However, there have been signs of resentment in the party over Lalu’s decision of not constituting a core committee to oversee party affairs and of keeping the mantle of power within his own family.
“It seems we still haven’t learnt any lesson from our past mistakes. The party continues to be remote controlled by the RJD chief, who has lost much political ground in past eight years to chief minister Nitish Kumar”, said an RJD leader.
Said another: “The party never took to the idea of forming a core committee to run its affairs”. He hinted Lalu’s absence from the mainstream could expose the RJD to the risk of desertions, especially by its MLAs ahead of the Lok Sabha poll.
Recently, Lalu had constituted a 15-member committee of top leaders to hold district level meetings to cover all 243 assembly constituencies and 40 Lok Sabha seats to galvanise party workers.
The committee, which includes RJD MPs, Raghuvnash Prasad Singh, Prabhunath Singh, Jagdanand Singh and Ram Kripal Yadav, is expected to keep the party busy till November as Lalu grapples with his troubles with the law.
Lalu’s chosen political heir is his younger son, Tejashwi. But party leaders are concerned about the political ambitions of Lalu’s other children, elder son Tej Pratap, 26 and eldest daughter Misa Bharati.
Misa, named as such because she was born when Lalu was in jail under the maintenance of internal security act during the 1975-77 national ‘emergency’, is said to be keen to contest the Pataliputra Lok Sabha seat in Patna.
“Accepting Lalu and Rabri as leader is one thing but under their children is quite another. It is early to say if they will prove politically astute but there is certainly a leadership vacuum in the party, as of now,” said another RJD leader.
Yet, old timers said the perception that the RJD would disintegrate after Lalu’s incarceration was totally misplaced. “Every time Lalu has gone to jail (he did so in 1997 and 2000), he has emerged stronger”, said Buxar MP Jagdanand Singh.