Opposition leaders from Bihar & Jharkhand are queuing up at Birsa Munda Central Jail to meet prisoner no. 3351 as they look to firm up alliance against JD(U) & BJP.
Patna: Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, was never central to Bihar’s politics even when it was part of the undivided state.
Now, however, the Jharkhand capital is at the heart of politicking in Bihar, ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with a hospital here witnessing a beeline of opposition leaders from the neighbouring state.
The Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) is where the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, in judicial custody after being convicted in the fodder scam, is undergoing treatment.
On Thursday, the Jharkhand High Court rejected his bail plea in connection with the fodder scam cases, prolonging his judicial custody.
But even before the court order, opposition leaders from Bihar have been flocking to meet Lalu as they look to firm up an alliance against the ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance in the state.
And it is Saturdays that many of them seem to be picking to meet the RJD chief.
Last Saturday saw former Bihar chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) president Jitan Ram Manjhi and former JD(U) national president Sharad Yadav meet Lalu.
The previous Saturday saw more leaders of the opposition alliance — the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leader and former union minister Upendra Kushwaha and the Vikasshil Insaan Party (VIP) leader Mukesh Sahani — queue up to meet the RJD chief.
“This Saturday, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury will be meeting Laluji. He had been requesting a meeting for a long time,” said RJD MLA Bhola Yadav, the man Friday of the RJD chief who remains stationed in Ranchi to take care of pending legal matters.
Bhola Yadav said that Lalu’s importance to politics in the region can be seen in the clamour for the RJD leader.
“There are hundreds of applications arriving every week with a request to meet him. Political leaders from opposition parties, his own MLAs and leaders, ticket seekers and even from those who want to come from different parts of Bihar just to meet him,” Bhola Yadav said.
“Laluji selects three names he wants to meet because he is allowed only three visitors. The jail superintendent of Birsa Munda Central Jail in Hotwar has to give his permission. Only family members are sometimes allowed to meet him under special circumstances.”
Lalu has had better times when he was in jail during the regime of Hemant Soren when his supporters would arrive in the hundreds to meet him every day.
The current chief minister, the BJP’s Raghubar Das, has ensured that the jail manual is strictly enforced as far as the number of visitors is concerned.
‘Even Jharkhand opposition meeting Lalu’
The list of visitors for Lalu suggests that not only is the RJD chief negotiating a united opposition in Bihar but in Jharkhand as well.
He has so far met former Jharkhand chief ministers, Hemant Soren and Babulal Marandi, state Congress president Ajay Kumar, former union minister Subodh Kant Sahay and the RJD leader Annapurna Devi.
From Bihar, the list of visitors also includes state Congress campaign chief Akhilesh Prasad Singh, former state Congress chief Kaukab Qadri, and even rebel BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha, who hopes to make a bid for his Patna Saheb Seat as an opposition alliance candidate.
There have been leaders such as Madhepura MP Pappu Yadav, whose requests for a meeting have been turned down.
These meetings have lasted an hour, with the discussions centred on seat sharing for the coming Lok Sabha polls. “I have held discussions on seats but I will not reveal anything for now,” RLSP’s Kushwaha told ThePrint.
RJD insiders said that Lalu has so far not given any commitments to any of the leaders.
“He has been advising his allies to scale down their demands for seats and even asked Sharad Yadav to contest on an RJD ticket,” an RJD leader said. “But this is Kharmas (considered inauspicious). He will begin to open his mind after Makar Sankranti.”
The beeline to meet Lalu has not been without taunts from the BJP and the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U).
“All the opposition leaders are going to a man who is under judicial custody and has been convicted. Yet they have the cheek to speak of public morality,” Bihar deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi said.
“It seems prisoner number 3351 of Hotwar jail will decide the seats of the Grand Alliance,” said the JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar.