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Laloo Express

– by SANJAY JHA

Whatever you may feel about him personally, the fact is that Laloo Prasad Yadav is the most colorful character in the Indian political firmament. Although he looks like a confounded country-bumpkin asking for directions to fulfill an urgent engagement right in the middle of a crowded Nariman Point, the fact is that Yadav is a canny politician, shrewd strategist, has an instinctive feel for the public mood, and can carry diverse teams on his wobbly tractor even if they are essentially inimical to him. He is a consummate politician, if there is one. He has one of the highest “ brand” recalls amongst most of our parliamentarians, thanks to his brilliant media handling skills. The long drawl, the upturned vest revealing a protruding tummy, checking of his cow’s udders, untrimmed hair growing horizontal from both his ears, and of course, the irrepressible self-mocking jokes, make him a delightful politician to watch.

Yadav has with tactical finesse which would dwarf a trained foreign services diplomat, made himself a vital constituent of the UPA, it’s most “ dependable ally” for a considerable period. His humorous biting jibes at the BJP has been enough to keep UPAs main adversary under constant trepidation of his next moves.

The fact that the Congress has an uphill task in Bihar was not like cracking an indecipherable quiz, but Yadav’s unilateral dumping of his senior partners, and that too with careless contempt was somewhat baffling. Given the fact that Lalooji was aware that Nitish Kumar , Bihar CM would be at least relatively more formidable than his past opponents should have made him partially circumspect. A Congress-Laloo combine would have helped Yadav move beyond his traditional vote bank, besides consolidating the marginal anti-incumbency against JDU. But Laloo, either extremely over-confident or singularly suspicious, was determined that the Congress had to be treated like a distant cousin seeking bed and bath. As he pompously broadcasted the other day, “ the Congress will win 3 seats, any more will be a miracle”. Maybe, maybe not. But Laloo has definitely made himself vulnerable through his stubborn bullying tactics. Surprisingly enough, Yadav has got increasingly inconsistent , palpably tentative, and uncharacteristically insecure as the elections campaign has unfolded.

It was Laloo’s unwarranted statement on the Babri Masjid demolition that had me completely foxed. It was the first signs of Laloo’s mounting desperation. By raising the Ayodhaya issue and flippantly accusing the Congress in it, he appeared like a frivolous ideologue and a fair-weather former ally. The Congress had studiously ignored his standard diatribes but Babri Masjid is a sensitive issue. Pranab Mukherjee returned his sharp volley with a crackling down-the-line winner , but the damage was done. Worse, in UP it will bring further attention to ex-BJP Kalyan Singh’s dubious role in that raze-down of the mosque. And that will hurt Laloo’s current friend Mulayam Singh, for sure. Sure the Ram Vilas Paswan-SP alliance is a clever master-stroke, but the truth is that all of them are currently skating on thin ice. Realising his clear blunder, Yadav retracted his statements on Babri-Congress a day later, but the imperturbable Nitish Kumar had already seized his chance.

Actually, Laloo has been India’s best CEO ( check the railway turnaround story and it’s incredible profits) during the last few golden years. He has even lectured at Harvard Business School, on things real and down-to-earth that they don’t teach in those sublime dormitories in Boston. But Laloo has failed to practise best what he is normally a past-master at; a focused goal, clear direction, and an unwavering resolve to get to the principal objective.

The Railway Minister needs to keep his train of thoughts on the right track, and read the signals. Or else, he could derail. And there would be no compensation coming.

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