Lalu Unplugged: "The (Modi) wave is only in the media"

"Take it from me: the BJP will suffer its biggest ever defeat in 2024," says the inimitable Lalu Prasad Yadav

"Rahul Gandhi [right] is reaching out to the people, sharing their agony and distress. He is doing what a responsible opposition leader should," says Lalu Prasad Yadav (left) (photo: Nur Photo for Getty Images)
"Rahul Gandhi [right] is reaching out to the people, sharing their agony and distress. He is doing what a responsible opposition leader should," says Lalu Prasad Yadav (left) (photo: Nur Photo for Getty Images)

Nalin Verma

Leaders may flirt with political parties and switch loyalties, but not the people, says Lalu Prasad Yadav.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president spoke exclusively to this writer after Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Jayant Chaudhary in Uttar Pradesh and Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra switched over to the BJP. When asked about these leaders deserting the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc, he was quick to reply, “It won’t make any difference. The people are angry with the Narendra Modi government, and they are not shifting anywhere. Neta idhar-udhar jaate rahte hain (It’s leaders who keep going here and there).”

On Nitish Kumar’s exit, which led to the fall of the Mahagathbandhan government in the state, he said, “Woh habitual bhagora hai. Apne aadat se lachaar hai. (He is a habitual turncoat. A prisoner of habit.) People have seen through him; they will punish him heavily.

“The poor, the youth, the Dalits and the minorities apart from the backward classes are suffering; their voices throttled, their fundamental rights denied. As a political party, the biggest sin is to desert the people when they are going through the worst nightmare of their lives,” Lalu said.

“It is the duty of the opposition parties and leaders to stand up for people facing tyranny and oppression. I have never compromised with communal and oppressive forces and will never do it, no matter what challenge they (the BJP) pose before me.”

Asked about the ‘wave’ in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favour following the Ram temple consecration, the RJD boss said, “It’s all nonsense. The so-called wave is only in the media that they have captured. Lord Ram, who lives in every molecule of our existence, cannot be exploited cynically to create a political ‘wave’ and consensus for electoral gains.”

He was unsparing of the media, who he said are deviating from their duty: “Instead of raising issues of public interest, seeking solutions for unprecedented unemployment, rising disparities and inequality in society, the suffering of farmers and farm-labourers; instead of speaking up against misuse of power and subjugation of democratic institutions and the crackdown on voices of dissent, they are busy fanning hatred and dividing communities.”

He warned opposition leaders and parties across the country that they would pay the price for switching to the Bharatiya Janata Party at a time when the people have made up their mind to defeat the Narendra Modi government:

Take it from me, the BJP will suffer its biggest ever defeat in the 2024 elections. People are full of resentment against the Modi government.

Robust INDIA in Bihar

“INDIA is in absolutely good health in Bihar," Lalu Prasad Yadav says. "Nitish’s flight has, in fact, infused fresh life. Done with Nitish—a perennial source of anxiety to any alliance he joins—we are left with the Congress and Left parties, whose commitment to the cause of secularism and social justice remains undiluted and unwavering.

"I do not foresee any problem on seat sharing and a common strategy to fight against the BJP in the state.”

Reminded that the NDA had won as many as 39 out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar in 2019, he said, “Baar-baar babool ke neeche aam nahin milta. Iss baar Bihar mein BJP aur uske saathi kahin ke nahin rahenge. (One can’t expect to keep finding mangoes under the acacia tree. This time in Bihar, the BJP and its friends will have next to nothing.)”

Thirty-four years ago, as chief minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav had famously stopped L.K. Advani’s rath yatra (undertaken to mobilise public opinion for a Ram temple where the Babri mosque stood).

Now that the Ram temple has been consecrated, what are the thoughts of the man who detained Advani, and prevented the juggernaut from entering Uttar Pradesh?

“The rath yatra was not stopped because of political or ideological reasons. It was stopped because there were credible inputs that it posed a serious threat to law and order in Bihar,” he replies.

His appeal to defer the yatra was ignored. As it left a trail of fear, violence and death, his primary concern was the safety of citizens and public property.

Scoffing at the massive political build-up around the Ram temple, he says many people are also quietly reflecting on the engineered hype, publicity and politicisation.

While some of the faithful are genuinely happy [about the Ram Mandir], some are sad and some are angry. But they’re not shouting slogans or out on the streets.

Lalu Prasad insists that the temple issue has exhausted its emotional and political appeal.

In a philosophical vein, he shares his belief that politics and governance is about creating a better life for ordinary people and a harmonious society.

Those who want power at any cost go to any length to win elections by creating emotive issues to exploit the electorate. They add fuel to the fire instead of dousing it. When they fail to make any difference to the lives of the people, they blame everyone else for their own failures

The BJP, he adds, with a grin, “is a unique party which is always angry, always looking for someone to blame”.

Asked how different the BJP today is from the BJP of the 1980s, he replies with a chuckle, “Shaakh nahin, ped dekhiye (Look at the tree, not its branches).”

It is the RSS— the parent body of the BJP and scores of other Hindutva offshoots—that calls the shots, he explains. While the Sangh is good at changing strategies and faces according to the need of the moment, a few things have remained constant.

One, maintaining the hegemony of the elite at the cost of the oppressed. Two, relentlessly extending their influence from neighbourhoods to the highest government offices. And finally, working closely with the business class—first, to fund their way to power, and when that is achieved, to pay them back manifold.

“I always ask people to read Golwalkar’s book to understand the agenda of the Sangh. Log aate-jaate rahenge, par Sangh ka kaam chalta rahega (People will come and go, but the Sangh’s mission will go on). This is the challenge before the opposition, civil society and the people.”


He is visibly annoyed when reminded that the opposition appear to be in disarray.

That is the narrative spread by the BJP and amplified by the media. There is no confusion in the opposition, he says firmly: “In fact, there is confusion and even fear within the BJP."

Had [the BJP] been confident of people’s support, they would not betray their insecurity by going after opposition leaders, curbing protests by civil society and universities and maintaining a tight control over the media”.

The opposition’s roadmap is to respond to public distress—and to the loss of their dignity. The BJP treats people as its subjects and expects them to be grateful for everything that the government does with taxpayers’ money. It expects people to be happy with whatever little is given to them as “Modiji’s gifts and Modi ki guarantee”, Lalu fumes.

From those queuing up outside ration shops to air passengers, there’s a widespread sense that ordinary people in India have no voice today and nobody to fight for them, he feels.

“Our issues were and will remain roti, kapda, makaan; bijli, pani, sadak; aamdani aur izzat, shiksha aur swasthya (food, clothing, shelter; electricity, water, roads; employment and esteem, education and health). We will not create agendas out of nothing and mislead the masses by manufacturing emotive issues,” he says, emphatically.

The RJD chief is clearly fond of Rahul Gandhi. “He is reaching out to the people, sharing their agony and distress. He is doing what a responsible opposition leader should do... logon ko jagaane ka kaam kar rahe hain (he is doing the job of awakening the people).”

The comfort level that he has with the Congress leader was visible in a video recently shared by Rahul Gandhi, in which Lalu Yadav is seen instructing the younger man in the intricacies of cooking mutton.

Lalu’s son and leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly, Tejashwi Yadav, joined the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra earlier this month and took the wheel of the jeep with Gandhi by his side.

Despite the CBI and Enforcement Directorate raking up old and equivocal charges of corruption, like the ‘land for jobs’ deal when he was railway minister in the UPA, Lalu Prasad has been steadfast in his support of the Congress and the Gandhi family. Ironic, as it was he who pulled down the curtains on Congress rule in Bihar in 1990.

“I am not an Amit Shah type of leader who says one thing and does the opposite,” he said, recalling Shah’s statement that the BJP’s doors were permanently shut for Nitish Kumar. By saying his doors are always open for Nitish Kumar, “I didn’t say anything new”, says Lalu.

“I have fought against communal forces all my life and have welcomed everyone in our battle for social justice, peace and harmony.”

NALIN VERMA is a senior journalist and author. A shorter version of this interview was first published in The Wire

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