At the district court in the laidback town of Madhepura, some 300 km from Bihar's capital Patna, Mondays are quite hectic. The tranquil compound of the court comes to life as hundreds start pouring in from early morning in search of legal salvation.
The 48-year-old braves heavy rains to reach the court just on time, at around 2:00 PM. With folded hands, he stands inside the courtroom of judge Ramchandra Prasad, who is about to start the proceedings.
The word that Ranjan is in court spreads like wildfire, and soon around 1,000 people gather outside the courtroom, most of them with black umbrella in hand, and their eyes curiously searching for their messiah. A few of them burst into a rallying cry of "Pappu Yadav zindabad". Sensing trouble, one of the members of Ranjan's team rushes out of the room and appeals: "Kripya shaanti banaye rakhein. Sarkari mamla hai (Please maintain silence. It's a legal matter)."
Five-time member of Parliament Rajesh Ranjan, better known as Pappu Yadav, is in court to seek bail in one of the cases involving violation of the model code of the conduct that's been in force since September 9, the day the schedule of the Bihar polls was announced. The moment Pappu Yadav comes out of the court after an hour, the crowd goes berserk.
They want to talk to him and share their woes and, if that's not possible, at least touch him. Yadav plays along and mingles with the crowd.
Madhepura, it seems, is in love with the politician who was found guilty in 2008 of murdering a Left party leader, but was acquitted by a higher court in 2013. And the reason is not hard to fathom as one moves away from the court towards the village of Murho, just a few kilometres from the court.
Madhepura is one of the four assembly segments that make up Madhepura Lok Sabha constituency from where Pappu Yadav defeated JD(U)'s heavyweight Sharad Yadav in the last Lok Sabha elections. The district is the bastion of Yadavs, who make up an estimated 16 per cent of the population of Bihar, India's third most populous state.
The Importance of Being a Yadav The importance of Yadavs in Bihar's caste arithmetic can be realised from the fact that they form the largest caste group in the state. A close second as a group are Muslims. It is this Yadav-Muslim combination that formed the mainstay of Lalu's undisputed dominance in the state's politics since the '90s up to the mid-2000s. In the coming elections, Lalu's sons, Tej Pratap Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav, are contesting from the Yadav-dominated Mahua and Raghopur constituencies, respectively.
But the Yadavs it seems are keen to shift allegiances. That was evident in the 2010 elections when, from a high of 124 seats won by RJD in 2000, its tally shrunk to 22. More than the danger from the likes of Pappu Yadav — who was expelled from Lalu's RJD a few months back for allegedly indulging in anti-party activities — is the threat from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has fielded 22 Yadavs for the upcoming polls. A first for the saffron party, which gave tickets to just six Yadavs in the last assembly elections in caste-ridden Bihar, the BJP is trying to make a huge dent in Lalu's vote bank. And this damage, reckon political analysts, will be instrumental in deciding the winner of the Bihar elections, which start from October 12. The five-phase polls for 243 assembly seats end on November 5, with results to be declared on November 8, a day before Diwali.
The damage Pappu Yadav can wreak on Lalu's party can only benefit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Consider this: Pappu's fledgling Jan Adhikar Party has joined the six-party Third Front in Bihar, which includes Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar.
Jan Adhikar Party is fielding candidates in 64 assembly segments with a sizeable Yadav population, which will make a split in the Yadav vote a distinct possibility.
Anilji Yadav, who runs a betel shop in Madhepura, has decided to vote for Pappu Yadav. "Pappu bhaiya talks about the interests of young Yadavs," says the 35-yearold owner of Yadav Paan Bhandar. Ask him why he has deserted the original chief of the clan, Lalu Yadav, he says the RJD supremo is not bothered about the youth of his community. "Lalu has done little for the development of the community."
Eating into Lalu's vote bank, however, is not going to be easy. In spite of all controversies and setbacks, the RJD chief still has his strong pockets of dominance. And one doesn't need to go too far to find such a place. Sahugarh, 3 km from Madhepura, still beats for the veteran politician.
That the coming election is clearly RJD's toughest electoral battle ever is reflected in the allotment of 48 out of 101 seats to Yadavs (in the 2010 election, only 33 seats were doled out to the community). Professor Naresh Kumar, who teaches chemistry at BN Mandal University, Madhepura, says Lalu will remain the undisputed leader of the Yadav community.
A Yadav, Kumar stopped using his surname before 1990 due to widespread discrimination by the aristocratic upper castes against the backwards.
"Laluji gave a voice to millions of Yadavs. He restored their selfrespect," says Kumar, adding that the members of his community had become complacent during the last two elections, but this time it's a do-or-die situation. "The Yadavs know that if they don't vote Laluji to power then the identity of the community would again be under threat," he claims.
Political analysts believe that this election will definitely see an erosion of Lalu's Yadav vote, but they are not adventurous to gauge how serious the dent would be.
Amitabh Kumar, a senior journalist and political analyst in Madhepura, predicts a close contest this time. "Undoubtedly, the Yadavs are in a dilemma and there's going to be a serious division of votes in the Yadav-versus-Yadav fight," he maintains. On the one hand, he points out, there is Lalu who brought them into the political and economic limelight after 1990 and on the other hand there are other Yadav leaders who sound more promising in terms of meeting the aspirations of the new generation of Yadavs, who too aspire for development and jobs.
Kumar says it's an irony that the Mandal politics that emancipated Yadavs has now put the community at a crossroads.
Lalu's rise in 1990 and his rule for 15 years made two things happen: firstly, the Yadavs, who had been oppressed for decades by the landed and aristocratic upper castes, got political emancipation. Secondly, it also led to their financial empowerment as they started sharing the booty of the power. "Financial clout also made Yadavs politically more ambitious, something which Lalu was not prepared to handle," says Kumar, adding that a large number of Yadav leaders quitting RJD over the last few years should have sounded the warning bells to Lalu. "Maybe he took the support for granted."
"It would be absurd to write off Lalu in Bihar," says DM Diwakar, professor of economics and director at AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies in Patna.
When TN Seshan became the Chief Election Commissioner of India in 1990 (till 1996), people thought that Lalu's era would come to an end as they felt that the RJD chief used to win elections by rigging, says Diwakar.
"But he proved them wrong." In spite of losing marginal ground in urban areas, Lalu holds his own in rural areas where a majority of Bihar's population resides, adds the professor.
While he concedes that proliferation of Yadav leaders across parties could be a concern for Lalu, Kumar feels that RJD has an edge as Muslims votes are still intact with the RJD-JD(U) combine.
"Owaisi [Asaduddin Owaisi, the AIMIM leader from Hyderabad who has thrown his hat into the ring] is not going to pose any threat," he asserts, adding that Yadavs still consider Lalu their leader.
For its part, BJP is pulling out all stops to breach the Lalu vote bank.
Nand Kishore Yadav is BJP's sitting MLA from Patna Saheb, an assembly constituency from which he has won five times in a row since 1990. A veteran BJP leader, Yadav says it is a myth that the Yadav vote bank is intact. When development became an agenda of governance during our coalition regime with JD(U), Yadavs started breaking away from Laluji, he maintains.
If Nand Kishore Yadav, one of the few Yadavs in BJP who is not an import into the party, feels that Lalu is on a shaky ground, Ram Kripal Yadav pronounces the verdict against the RJD chieftain. A close aide of Lalu Yadav for decades, Ram Kripal Yadav is now in BJP and scripting the strategy to ensure an RJD-JD(U) defeat.
Inspite of the calculated move by the BJP to wean away Yadavs from Lalu's fold, RJD seems unperturbed. Senior RJD leader and Lalu Prasad's close aide Raghuvansh Prasad Singh says all talks of Lalu losing grip over his community is absurd.
As the three-way battle between the NDA, the RJD-JD(U) grand alliance (plus Congress) and the Third Front gets under way — most agree that it's going to be a head-to-head fight between the first two, with the remaining players playing spoiler — the scramble to woo Yadavs is set to intensify.
When Lalu Yadav once famously said that he would prefer to be the kingmaker, little did he realise that his fellowmen too would join the fray. "It's not just one Yadav but many Yadavs who have become the kingmakers now," says professor Kumar. He, for one, believes that whichever combination emerges trumps on November 8, it is Bihar that will be the biggest loser. Reason: "In Bihar, it's still A for apple, B for Bihar and C for caste," he rues.