Lalu Prasad Yadav

Lalu Prasad Yadav (Devanāgarī: लालू प्रसाद यादव) is an Indian politician from Bihar. He is currently the Minister of Railways in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the president of the political party, Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Yadav's involvement in politics started during his student days at the Patna University and he was subsequently elected the member of the Lok Sabha in 1977 as a Janata party candidate, at the age of 29, becoming one of its youngest members.

He is currently a Member of Parliament in the 14th Lok Sabha from the Chhapra constituency. He is famous for his charismatic leadership and mass appeal among the backward castes and religious minorities, and has been criticized for caste-based politics and the corruption cases against him.

Yadav served as the Chief Minister of Bihar from 1990 till 1997, when he was forced to resign following escalating corruption charges in the Fodder scam.

Positions held

  • 1977: Elected to 6th Lok Sabha at the age of 29.
  • 1980–1989 Member, Legislative Assembly (two terms) of Bihar.
  • 1989: Becomes the leader of Opposition, Bihar Legislative Assembly, Chairman, Pustakalaya Committee, Convenor, Committee on Public Undertakings, Re-elected to 9th Lok Sabha (2nd term)
  • 1990–1995 Member, Bihar Legislative Council
  • 1990–1997 Chief Minister, Bihar
  • 1995–1998 Member, Bihar Legislative Assembly
  • 1996: Lalu's name springs up in a major scam
  • 1997: parts with the Janata Dal and forms Rashtriya Janata Dal.
  • 1998 Re-elected to 12th Lok Sabha (3rd term)
  • 1998–1999 Member, General Purposes Committee, Committee on Home Affairs and its Sub Committee on Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, Consultative Committee, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting
  • 2004 Re-elected to the 13th Lok Sabha (4th term).Appointed as Cabinet Minister looking after the Ministry of Railways. In 2004, he was elected to the Lok Sabha with his party emerging as a key ally of the Congress.

Early years: Winds of change

Yadav married Rabri Devi on June 1, 1973. They have two sons and seven daughters. According to him, his large family is a protest against the forced vasectomy and castration under the infamous family planning initiative during the Indian Emergency (1975 - 77) declared by Indira Gandhi. Indira's son, Sanjay Gandhi, was blamed for this abusive and forcible treatment of people. The eldest daughter is Misa Bharati, named after the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, the law which provided the police with an independent authority to arrest and detain persons without the permission of a court.

Lalu took to politics as a Patna University student, and was part of Jayaprakash Narayan's students movement. He won his first Lok Sabha election from Chapra in north Bihar in 1977, became Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly in 1989 and, a year later, became the Bihar chief minister, heading a Janata Dal government.

In the early days of power, Lalu the rustic was like a whiff of fresh air.

As journalist Sankarshan Thakur wrote in his book The Making of Laloo Yadav: The Unmaking of Bihar, 'No chief minister of Bihar has ever held court under a tree by the roadside. No chief minister of Bihar has ever held a cabinet meeting on the lines of a village chaupal, on a cement platform under open skies. No chief minister of Bihar has ever summoned the state's high and mighty to the streets of the Patna Veterinary College compound and turned their dismissal into a public spectacle. No chief minister of Bihar has raided liquor shops, hawaldar-like, and cancelling their licences on the spot. No chief minister of Bihar has stood in line with the hoi polloi at the Patna Medical College Hospital to get his fever-ridden son treated.'

Caste is the key

Those were the days of the Mandal Commission, and those were the days when Bihar was engulfed by riots in Bhagalpur and Hazaribagh, to name just two places.

After Lalu took over the state's reins, Bihar hardly saw communal violence again. It is one contribution even his severest critics cannot deny.

And his taking over the mantle was symbolic of the empowerment of the backward classes, reservations for whom were suggested by the Mandal Commission, leading to widespread protests throughout the country (as the picture perfectly portrays).

Caste equations were something Lalu was the master of. He carved the Muslim-Yadav alliance, and it was his key to power. A key he used to great effect.

In 1995, he swept the state elections, with an absolute majority of 165 seats in an assembly of 324. His main opponent and the new, rising force in Indian politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party, managed only 41.

Advani's arrest

Lalu's 1995 triumph was mainly the result of an event soon after he became chief minister.

In 1990, BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani rode the crest of the Ayodhya Ram Temple movement by embarking on a nationwide Rath Yatra. It was seen as the ride of Hindutva forces, making the country's huge Muslim population uneasy.

On October 23, 1990, Lalu did what no state government could dare to. He had Advani arrested at Samastipur.

It cemented Lalu's position as the protector of minorities, the champion of secularism. It was an image he would exploit in the years to come, by raising the bogey of communal violence to ensure the Muslim vote came his way.

Fodder scam and a masterstroke

In 1996, Lalu's named cropped up in a major scam unearthed by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Millions of rupees had been embezzled from treasuries against the account of Bihar's animal husbandry department.

The Opposition had finally found an issue to corner Lalu.

The Janata Dal was divided, and Lalu formed his own party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

When charges were framed against him in the fodder scam, it appeared as if Bihar's king had finally met his Waterloo.

But in a political masterstroke, Lalu resigned as chief minister, and instead installed his wife and mother of his nine children, Rabri Devi (seen serving Lalu in the picture), as chief minister.

He spent 103 days in custody, but he had already transferred power from the Bihar secretariat to his 1, Anne Marg bungalow in Patna, giving the phrase 'kitchen cabinet' a whole new meaning.

Underworld overlords

While Lalu spent short periods of time in jail, the real rise of criminals unfolded outside, in his state.

Kidnapping became an industry, and in many ways Lalu's right-hand man Mohammed Shahabuddin (seen feeding Lalu in the picture) signified all that was wrong with the state. Shahabuddin ran a parallel administration in Siwan. Even when he was in jail.

He was one of the lieutenants who executed Lalu's strategy of dividing and ruling the masses and terrorising the rich.

Shahabuddin became a member of Parliament, even as there were arrest warrants against him. He was photographed feasting on sumptuous meals in Mumbai, even as the long arm of the law could not get to him, till he was finally arrested a few days ago in Delhi.

While the state gently weeps

Meanwhile, Bihar continued to fare appallingly in every development index. Report after report slammed the state's complete lack of planning, complete lack of ensuring the basic minimum to its residents.

But Lalu remained unperturbed, because his power was intact, if not growing.

As Sankarshan Thakur wrote, 'Ask Lalu Yadav [about the lack of development] and he may give you two kinds of responses.

'If he is on record, he will say, the Centre is "responsible for criminal neglect" of Bihar et al. If he is off record, and in a mood to talk, he will tell you development isn't an issue for him. "Development, development, what development? My constituency has lived in underdeveloped conditions for hundreds of years. Development is not an issue for them. Development is an urban middle-class demand, that is why the media keeps harping on it. "Hamra log development leke kya karega ji? Bekaar baat karte hain [What will my people do with development? You talk nonsense)]

Naxalites -- armed ultra-Left militants -- stepped in where the state feared to tread, and bloody battles between them and the upper caste Ranvir Sena became routine in the hinterlands of Bihar.

Bihar divided, Lalu bolstered

When Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000 and Shibu Soren (in the picture) made its chief minister, it gave Lalu two leverage points.

One, he now had a new excuse for the underdevelopment of Bihar: that the mineral and natural resource rich part of Bihar had gone to Jharkhand.

Two, he now had an ally in power in a neighbouring state. An ally who was as against the BJP as he was.

Lalu had himself promised the creation of Jharkhand. When it eventually saw light of day, he turned it around to his benefit, as the wronged party. Just another example of the political acumen of a man who most of educated India looked down upon.

Power at Centre, aimed at state

When the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government came to power in May 2004, Lalu wrangled a seat in the Union Cabinet. He became the country's railway minister, a lucrative post for any Bihar leader.

Since its roads are so abysmal - Lalu once famously promised he would make Bihar's roads smooth as actress Hema Malini's cheeks, but it remained one of his many unfulfilled promises - the railways are key to movement within Bihar.

And anyone who can offer sops to train commuters offers sops to Bihar.

Even as railway minister, Lalu sought to drive home the BJP's anti-Muslim image. Just before the Bihar elections in February, a railway enquiry committee declared there was no conspiracy behind the fire that engulfed the Sabarmati Express in Godhra in February 2002.

The Gujarat riots that followed the Godhra fire were sought to be justified as a retaliation to the pre-planned attack on Hindu kar sevaks. The railway probe results debunked that theory, and fed to the belief that the riots were engineered by Hindutva forces, read the BJP. The message to Muslims in Bihar was clear: the BJP is your enemy. Vote for me, I will protect you.

Enter the challengers

One of the main problems of unseating Lalu, who enjoyed power without accountability, was the lack of genuine alternatives in Bihar.

That began to change with kingmaker aspirant Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan (in the picture, with the garland) entering the battle for Bihar anew.

Paswan and Lalu had similar backgrounds: they were both products of JP's student movement, they were both self-avowed champions of the backward classes.

But, Paswan was seen as close to the BJP, who the Muslim populace were wary of. Paswan was a minister in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. That gave him power at the Centre, but weakness in his home state.

After the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Paswan joined the United Progressive Alliance government. And by February this year, he was warming up to the Congress in his state, just as Lalu was growing cold to them. Lalu got into a seat sharing argument with the Congress before the February elections to the state assembly. It was a move that would prove dear to him.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Nitish Kumar, also a former Lalu co-traveller, had charted a fresh course, and was harping on the much neglected word in Lalu's Bihar: development.

Ghost of the past

As Bihar went to polls twice this year, the chorus of 'remove Lalu, make way for development' had reached a crescendo. The champion of the downtrodden was appealing to the masses to give him one more chance.

Just one example is enough to highlight what Lalu's era did to Bihar.

When Lalu found a groom for his daughter Rohini in Hichhan Bigha, the sleepy Bihar hamlet was transformed overnight, with power lines, telephone connections, new roads, water pumps.

After a year, all of it had disappeared, but for the cemented track that connected the village to the main highway. The cemented track was the only memory left of what the Lalu could have achieved, had he wanted to.

Now, out of office, perhaps he could find the time to mull over how, and where, he went wrong.

Lalu in popular culture

Many books have been written in praise of Yadav by local writers including Lalu Chalisa and Lalu Hala. Entertainers, in television and film industry, mimic Yadav for their profession. According to a media report, many local barbers and saloons are earning money by offering what they call the Lalu style hair cut. A barber of Hajipur was quoted saying, "The style is a craze among the youths and even policemen".

A Patna-based company had launched "Lalu Khaini" (tobacco) in 2004, which was a hit. In 2005, Speedage Corp. introduced "Laluji" dolls that became popular with kids. In 2006, Lalu ka Khzana, a chocolate produced by New Delhi-based Chetak company, became very popular with kids in rural areas of north Bihar districts like Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi and Madhubani. The wrapper of the chocolate packet depicted two different caricatures of Lalu — one as a politician and the other as a magician. More than 100,000 packets were reportedly sold.

A cheap cosmetic pack branded as Lalu Chale Sasural ("Lalu goes to in-laws house") had become extremely popular among rural Bihari girls, especially in the areas such as Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga and Samastipur. Each packet, priced at Rs. 23 (rouglhy half a dollar), contains items of daily use like face powder, cream, earrings, sticker, and a necklace.

In June 2006, Prakash Agro Industries in Bihar started selling cattle fodder under the brand name Lalu Pashu Aahar. It was reported that the outcome of this branding strategy had surpassed the company's expectations and they were facing problems in meeting the huge demand for their fodder

Yadav has a sizable fan following in Bollywood, which includes actors Sunil Shetty and Raza Murad and directors Mahesh Manjrekar and Mahesh Bhatt to name a few. Indian actor turned politician Shatrughan Sinha, who is a political opponent of Yadav, once said, " Had Yadav not been a politician he could have been an actor". Mahesh Bhatt has gone to the extent of saying that Yadav deserves to become Prime Minister of India A Bollywood movie titled Padamshree Laloo Prasad Yadav was released in 2004. Though his name appeared in the title, the movie was not about him, but had characters named Padmashreee, Laloo, Prasad and Yadav.

These incidences as viewed by some people as an attempt by the mainstream media to make deliberate fun of Yadav's Bihari accent.


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