Voters have made the RJD's tallest leaders bite the dust and the party has failed to open its account in the Lok Sabha elections. With Lalu's return nowhere in sight, are the RJD's days numbered?
There was once a time not long ago when Bihar was known for three things – Aaloo, meaning potato, baloo (sand) and Lalu, the quintessential backward leader from Bihar who was credited with championing caste politics and dominating the political landscape in Bihar and on the national level. Such was his influence that no coalition government could think of forming a government without his help.
But Lalu Yadav is a disappointed man today. Kept away from the hustings on account of his imprisonment in connection with the multi-crore fodder scam, and hospitalised over multiple health complications, RJD’s fall from glory must have been difficult to digest.
On May 23, Election Commission and television channels began rolling out the trends for 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the first that RJD fought in the absence of Lalu. And they spelled doom for the RJD right from the word go. All its candidates, barring a few, were trailing right from the beginning. Eventually, Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti looked set to be the lone consolation, but even that wasn’t meant to be. As the final results were declared, the RJD was reduced to zero, down from the four seats it had won in the 2014 elections.
The champions of caste politics had failed and how! The RJD, which entered the Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the Congress party, contested on 25 of the 40 seats in Bihar. Its tallest leaders, known for their support base for social causes, had fallen. Misa lost from Pataliputra, Sharad Yadav who returned to RJD recently also lost as did Raghuvansh Prasad Singh. Prominent leaders like Chandrika Rai, father-in-law of Tej Pratap Yadav, lost from Saran; the party’s strong Muslim face Abdul Bari Siddiqui was decimated in Darbhanga and senior member Jai Prakash Narain Yadav was made to bite the dust. In the end, the solitary seat that the RJD-led alliance could win in Bihar was in Kishanganj where Congress candidate Mohammed Jawed won by a margin of around 34,000 votes. The RJD failed to open its account.
While ruling out Lalu Yadav is something that even experienced political watchers refrain from, the signs for the RJD are ominous. People of the state handed a sweeping mandate to the National Democratic Alliance which won an astounding 39 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The BJP, against whom RJD based its entire campaign against, had a 100% strike rate, winning all 17 seats that it contested. Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party also scored a six on 6, while JDU conceded just one seat to the Congress of the 17 it contested.
Cumulatively, the NDA (BJP+JDU+LJP) swept Bihar winning 39 of the 40 seats with a vote share of 53.26%. In the last Lok Sabha election when Nitish wasn’t part of the NDA, the three parties cumulatively clocked a vote share of 51.6% – 29.6% for BJP, 6.4% for the LJP and 15.8% for the JDU. While the BJP’s vote share dropped this time to 23.6%, it contested only 17 seats in these elections against 30 seats where it was in fray in 2014. Individually, LJP’s vote share went up to 7.9% from 6.40% – it contested 6 seats in 2014 as well as 2019, whereas the JDU’s vote share increased from 15.8% in 2014 to 21.8% in 2019 – it contested 40 seats in 2014 and 17 seats this time.
For the UPA, the RJD’s vote share dropped marginally from 15.8% in 2014 to 15.4% in 2019. In the 2014 general elections that it fought in alliance with the Congress and NCP, the Congress contested on 12 seats, Nationalist Congress Party on one and RJD contested on the remaining 27 parliamentary seats and won 4. Congress, which won 2 seats in 2014, accounted for 7.7% vote share this time against 8.4% in the 2014 general elections.
Indeed, the coming together of Modi and Nitish in Bihar has resulted in a disaster for the RJD, a doyen of caste politics in India. People have rejected RJD’s ways and the issues raised by Tejashwi Yadav –be it reservations, protesting the Centre’s 10% EWS quota move or its existing stand on social equality– failed to resonate with the voters. While naysayers will debate that the preference of the voter differs when it votes for the state government as compared to when it votes for the Prime Minister, the RJD is fast losing its base.
It failed to woo voters in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it emerged as the single largest party in the 2016 Assembly election but was relegated to the Opposition after Nitish Kumar returned to the NDA. With the party drawing a blank in this election, the RJD has come a long way from Lalu’s heydays. A crisis is already brewing in the Lalu family and a bigger storm could be on its way in the party, especially with no signs of Lalu returning to active politics any time soon. If Tejashwi fails to ride this storm, the RJD’s days could well be numbered.