RJD star campaigner Lalu’s absence felt in poll season

Patna: His son and heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav is trying his best and so is his wife Rabri Devi, but the absence of Rashtriya Janata Dal chief – and star campaigner – Lalu Prasad is being earnestly felt by the party as the 2019 Lok Sabha polls are underway.

This could be seen at Tejashwi Yadav’s election meeting in Khagaria parliamentary constituency on Saturday, over a dozen RJD supporters, mostly youth, held placards saying: “Lalu ji we miss you, we need you” and shouted slogans like “Laluji, we are with you.”

RJD leaders say that party supporters have made it clear that they remain loyal to the RJD chief, currently behind the bars in Ranchi after being convicted in the fodder scam cases.

Sensing the effect of Lalu Prasad’s physical absence, his wife and former Chief Minister Rabri Devi is herself trying to bridge the gap by vigorously campaigning in support of party candidates as well as the Grand Alliance, remaining active on social media and frequently interacting with media and making statements.

Tejashwi Yadav has emerged as the most sought-after campaigner for the party and the alliance but cannot measure up to his father yet.

“Tejashwi is articulate, attracts crowds but party workers and supporters’ eyes and ears are still searching their leader Lalu Prasad,” a senior RJD leader, who did not want to be identified, said.

An effective communicator, Lalu Prasad was popular for his rustic style, evinced by his use of Bhojpuri dialect. “Lalu Prasad’s witty repartee and rustic mannerisms were main source of attraction during his election meetings. This time, all this is missing, resulting in dull campaigning. Tejashwi is no match for him… he has to learn a lot and also lacks experience,” another RJD leader said.

Senior RJD leader and former Union Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who is contesting from Vaishali, admits that Lalu Prasad’s absence matters for the party. “People are missing Lalu’s punchy one-liners delivered in bucolic style…”

Apart from his family, party and allies, Lalu Prasad’s absence has also disappointed those who not be his voters but still love to listen his famous one liners.

“Lalu Prasad’s unique way of using popular local idioms to target his rivals used to make him different from other leaders,” Irshadul Haque, editor of a Hindi news website here, said.

Political watchers recalled that it was Lalu Prasad, who had aggressively taken on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2015 Bihar Assembly polls and score points over him with his banter.

Political activist Satyanarayan Madan said only Lalu Prasad had the guts to challenge Modi at the peak of his popularity.

It is common perception that Lalu Prasad that still controls his party, decides the Grand Alliance’s strategy and even manages and monitors the campaign from his hospital room despite being in custody and it appears to be true to some extent.

The RJS chief is active on Twitter account and hardly miss a chance to attack Prime Minister Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

His influence is seen in Chandrika Prasad Rai, the father of elder son Tej Pratap Yadav’s estranged wife Aishwariya Rai, being fielded from Saran Lok Sabha seat, despite the troubles in the marriage, a controversial choice from Jharkhand’s Chatra that is seen as having paved the way for state party chief Annapurna Devi joining the BJP, and lastly, but the least, fielding elder daughter Misa Bharti from Patliputra, ignoring the unhappiness among party leaders and workers.

Lalu Prasad’s word may be final in his party even when he is behind bars but cannot reach the voters. How this will play out will be only known when the Lok Sabha results are out next month.