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Wednesday 22 January 2020

RJD presidential poll: Lalu’s Jailhouse Rock

As in the song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the dramatis personae in this farcical election in RJD were part real, part joke

In the 22-year history of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the party ‘elected’ Lalu Prasad Yadav as its national president for the 11th consecutive time with a difference that, this time, he completed the formality of taking command of the party from inside a jail. Yadav has been serving two sentences for his involvement in the infamous fodder scam that had rocked the national consciousness in the 1990s.

In the outcome of this ‘election’, which was a foregone conclusion, not every character was fictitious, as weren’t the characters of Elvis Presley’s song and video “Jailhouse Rock”. If Shifty Henry was a well-known LA musician, not a criminal; the Purple Gang was a real mob and “Sad Sack” a US Army nickname in World War II for a loser, here the real characters were Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav and the RJD patriarch’s trusted Bhola Yadav. The queer lyric was provided by the superintendent of Ranchi Jail.

This was the first time in RJD history that a candidate for the post of the party’s national president nominated himself from jail and also completed the entire election procedure from inside the Ranchi prison.

The coronation preparations had been completed on Monday. Lalu’s signed nomination letter was filled at the RJD office in Patna this morning. The names of the proposers were decided well in advance.

Lalu himself could not be present on the spot, of course. The nomination form for him was completed by MLA Bhola Yadav, known to be close to him. The superintendent of Ranchi Central Jail forwarded the nomination, which eventually reached Patna. An aide of Lalu completed the remaining process.

Ever since the formation of the RJD on 5 June 1997, Lalu Prasad has been elected unopposed to the post of its national president every time. So far no other contender has even filled the form to challenge Lalu in any election. This year’s occasion was no exception. Only one nomination paper was filed, which was that of Lalu. They scrutinised the papers the same day.

To make the farce not look like one, Lalu was given a chance to withdraw his name. Of course, everybody knew Lalu was not going to withdraw from the field.

The next episode of the charade will unfold on 10 December, with the national assistant electoral officer Chittaranjan Gagan declaring Lalu’s name as the RJD’s national president. Lalu’s new innings will duly begin before the open session of the national council meeting of the RJD on 10 December.

The process of contesting an election within a party from jail will is curiously the same as that in a general election, with the difference being the fact that the candidate can nominate himself with permission of the jail administration. Following this very provision in the law, Lalu Prasad had authorised the use of the RJD symbol by all candidates of his party in the Lok Sabha election. Now he is taking advantage of the same funny rule.

Even the highest-profile dynastic party of the Congress managed its internal elections better. Much as everybody knows either someone from the Nehru-Gandhi family or their nominee will be the president of the party, a modicum of contest surfaces at times when, for example, a candidate like Jitendra Prasada had surfaced to challenge Sonia Gandhi in 2000.

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