Bihar: Fireworks for the new year?
Amidst rumours of the alleged illness of chief minister Nitish Kumar comes Lala ka Lalten, and a curious yatra by Prashant Kishor
Exploding or imploding?
Turmoil in the Janata Dal (United) and the alleged illness of chief minister Nitish Kumar have been concerning the BJP and the media greatly. When Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh stepped down as JD(U) president last week, the media speculated that Lallan Singh was part of a conspiracy to replace Nitish Kumar as chief minister with his deputy Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD.
The speculation was fuelled by comments from BJP leaders Giriraj Singh and Shahnawaz Hussain, who told the media that Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) was scheming against Nitish Kumar. The ‘Chhote Modi’ (that is, BJP MP Sushil Kumar Modi), however, maintained a studied silence.
Wise, for the BJP itself would love to engineer a split — hence periodic media reports that Nitish Kumar is all set to return to the NDA fold every time the chief minister met the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Harivansh Singh, who is nominally of the JD(U) but for all practical purposes is NDA.
The JD(U) has, until now, been synonymous with Nitish Kumar; few ever associated the party with Lallan Singh. Singh himself issued a statement threatening legal action against a newspaper that carried speculative reports. He stepped down, he said, because of preoccupation with the impending Lok Sabha election in his own constituency, Munger.
Journalist Hemant Kumar, however, points out that the rumours of Nitish Kumar’s ill health originated in the BJP camp. The speculation, he points out, was revived after Tejashwi Yadav cancelled his scheduled visit to Australia and the Assembly speaker, Awadh Bihari Chowdhury, called on Lalu Prasad Yadav on the last day of 2023.
So, melodramatic predictions are being made that once the inauspicious period of the khar-mas ends on 14 January with the sun in Sagittarius and the Ram Temple in Ayodhya has been consecrated, Bihar should be ready for explosive political developments.
Sami Ahmed, who has a deep understanding of Bihar politics, doubts Nitish’s future with the NDA. It cannot be denied, he holds, that the JD(U) faces an existential crisis despite the successful caste survey it conducted, and Kumar’s initiative in forging the INDIA bloc.
The media has duly reported the political gossip that the chief minister was irked by the suggestion that Mallikarjun Kharge should be the alliance’s prime ministerial face, which is why he left an INDIA meeting in a huff. However, appearances can be deceptive in Bihar politics, and it could all be much ado about nothing.
Lala and the ‘lalten’
A thinly disguised biopic of Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bhojpuri, Lala ka Lalten, was another Bihari item hogging headlines at the end of 2023. Oddly, the lead actor, Yash, has not met the real-life protagonist at all. The 2.25-hour film has Lala Yadav as the main character, faithfully depicts Lalu’s childhood, his university days, his imprisonment during the Emergency, his marriage to Rabri Devi, and his rise to the chief minister’s office.
While Yash plays Lalu Prasad, Smriti Sinha has the role of Rabri Devi and Anup Arora a cameo as Jayaprakash Narayan. Biharis are intrigued, though, at the film’s scant use of actual footage from Bihar. Why, they wonder, was the film shot entirely in the home state of Narendra Modi, who has no love lost for the Bihar leader, though both emerged as popular leaders during the 1975-77 Emergency?
Amused viewers are also trying to make sense of its dialogue — for instance, “Lala Yadav ka aaj se yahi muhim hoga, kurta neeche, ganji upar (Lala Yadav’s only focus from now will be to wear the vest over the kurta!).”
One viewer, Manish, is sure that whatever be the impact of the film on the people, certain lines from the script — such as “Lala Yadav ka vachan hai aap logon ko, aapka khoya hua saamaan vaapas dilayaa jaayega (Lala Yadav gives you his word that your lost honour will be restored to you) — will go down well in popular parlance.
Political strategist Prashant Kishor has been travelling for the past year on his Jansuraaj Yatra. He stops and addresses small groups in villages, holding forth on popular concerns such as the backwardness of the state and the failure of politicians to change things for the better.
He is alternately cryptic and scathing, and often criticises the people and the media for not asking the right questions and for not voting on the right issues. He often comes across as rude and abrasive — his blunt statements during the past one year have frequently caused a flutter, prompting people to wonder what Kishor is really up to.
At one pit-stop, he asked what Tejashwi Yadav had done to deserve the tag of ‘leader’. Didn’t Tejashwi fail in class IX, he asked combatively, and went on to add that the boy was deputy chief minister only by virtue of being Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son. On another occasion, he reprimanded local journalists: “It is only because you are in Bihar that you think Nitish Kumar is larger than life, that he is a tope (cannon).”
Yet on other halts, he praises Lalu, Nitish Kumar and even the Congress. Whether you like it or not, he said once, the Congress is the largest opposition party and Congress governments did good work for 45 years. “There is no harm in acknowledging it,” he said.
He reminded his audience that Lalu had never promised to transform Bihar into UK or the US but had empowered the backward communities and given a voice to the poor. He also praised Nitish Kumar’s work in the power sector and in education.
In Darbhanga, Kishor asked his audience why Bihar still remains a backward state. What is the point in debating whether Lalu ruined the state or if Narendra Modi is ruining it? Politics needs to change, he concluded — but left his audience guessing as to what should come next.
Is Kishor laying the foundation for some truly dramatic event? Is he preparing to plunge into electoral politics himself? Will he play the role of a strategist for the Lok Sabha campaign — and if so, for which party? What are his political objectives? So far, the former UN communication specialist, the man credited as mastermind of the Modi blitzkrieg in 2013–14 is keeping his cards close to his chest.
No Ram Temple effect
If all the cryptic speeches were not baffling enough, Prashant Kishor stumped his audience last week with the claim that the Ram Temple would have little impact on votes in 2024. Yes, it is a big event and there would be a lot of publicity, he said, and the BJP would try to cash in on the sentiment around the temple, “but I know a thing or two about elections and this will not work”.
In politics, Kishor insisted, the same issue cannot generate votes more than once or twice. He cited the Mandal Commission and Anna Hazare’s Lokpal movement to buttress his point.