Bihar polls: Has Brand Lalu overshadowed ‘Vikas Purush’ Nitish?

Brand Lalu Prasad appears to have overshadowed ‘Vikas Purush’ Nitish Kumar in campaigns and controversies this assembly election in Bihar.

The Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance or GA) comprising JD(U), RJD and Congress had given Prasad, the RJD chief, a lifeline after a series of setbacks. After the first phase of polling on Monday, he has virtually taken charge of the GA campaign craft that took off last month.

Prasad took centre-stage by first attacking the BJP for being pro-upper caste after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s job quota review remark. He also became the medium for the beef lynching incident in Uttar Pradesh to invade Bihar’s political arena.

If that were not enough, Prasad became the focus of a slanging match between the NDA and GA. The BJP found it more convenient to target the RJD chief than Kumar, warning voters that JD-U’s friendship with RJD would push them back to the ‘jungle raj’ prior to 2010.

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Kumar as arrogant and anti-Dalit –- a reference to the dislodging of Jitan Ram Manjhi as chief minister -– but he targeted Prasad more. “What crime has Laluji committed that he has been debarred from contesting polls?” he asked at a rally.

Prasad was jailed following his conviction in a fodder scam a few years ago.

Modi also hinted at Prasad controlling Kumar in a battle of survival for both. “He (Prasad) claims he is the big boss and the government will dance to his wish,” the prime minister said.

But political analysts say there’s more to the Prasad-Nitish deal than meets the eye, and that the RJD needs JD-U more than the JD-U needs the RJD.

“The chief minister (Kumar) and Laluji have different levels of proficiency, and have approached this election according to their strengths. While the latter has taken the fight to the BJP they way he knows best, the former has touched almost every constituency to talk development,” DM Diwakar, former director of Patna’s landmark AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, told HT.

The five-phase elections are a do-or-die battle for CM Kumar, whose soaring popularity over kick-starting development in the state has been dented by his decision to join hands with RJD chief Prasad, who critics accused of running a “jungle raj” in the 15 years he and his wife were in power.

For Prasad, it’s a question of political rehabilitation and continuance of family in politics while maintaining some relevance. Should he fail to muster enough numbers, he faces political oblivion.

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