The battle is over and both sides have won. That  was the message on the street as party workers in Patna broke into celebration on Monday when Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad announced something he had wanted to avoid – that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) would lead the grand anti-Hindutva front in the forthcoming assembly polls in the state.

The announcement brought an end to weeks of uncertainty and acrimony as the old Lohiaite Janata Parivar parties attempted to strike up an alliance. But it also raised a big question:  what led to Lalu Prasad's change of heartt?

Even on Sunday, when the two Bihar satraps met Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad seemed determined not to accept Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate of the anti-Bharatiya Janata Party front. Nor did he seem ready to allow the JD (U) to be allotted more assembly seats than other members of the proposed combination.

Strong words

But within 24 hours, Lalu was a changed man. “I want to assure the secular forces and the people of India that in this battle of Bihar, I am ready to swallow everything,” he said at a press conference organised on Monday at Mulayam Singh Yadav’s residence, where Nitish Kumar was declared the chief ministerial candidate of the alliance. “I am ready to drink all types of poison. I am determined to crush the hood of this snake, this cobra of communalism.”

Even though there was no announcement on how the alliance mebers would share seats, the RJD chief asserted that the issue would be sorted out amicably.

RJD officials said Lalu Prasad was forced to give in after it became clear that the Congress had made up its mind to project Nitish Kumar as the leader of the alliance in Bihar. After the JD (U) leader met Rahul Gandhi on June 7, Lalu Prasad’s obduracy could only have edged him and his party out of the main battle in the state. Retracing his position was, therefore, the only way he could have salvaged the M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) demographic combination that has voted to keep him afloat in Bihar’s politics for last two-and-a-half decades.

Muslims make up over 16% of Bihar's population, and the community’s votes are electorally significant in at least one-third of the state's assembly seats. Together with Yadavs, who constitute over 12% of the population, Lalu Prasad has always presided over a rather formidable vote base in the state. A split in this combination would have decimated him and his party forever.


It was this fear that worried many RJD leaders as the tug-of-war between Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar stretched on. Only a few days before Lalu Prasad agreed to let Nitish Kumar lead the anti-BJP front, several RJD leaders, including two of its sitting MLAs, had told that if the leadership decided to contest the assembly polls alone, there would be an exodus from the party. “The party has grown so much on secularism that there are not many RJD leaders who would feel comfortable playing the role of disrupter of secular politics," one of the RJD MLAs said. "Such leaders would have no option but to leave the RJD and join the secular alliance.”

It was because of this fear that all the RJD MLAs had insisted to Lalu Prasad that the party should enter the alliance with the JD(U). When it started becoming clear on June 7 that Lalu's meeting at Mulayam Singh’s residence had failed to break the deadlocks, many RJD leaders sent text messages declaring their support for an alliance with the JD(U) .

This forced Lalu's hand. He this did in a manner that has again established that he remains a political leader with a unique knack of turning even imminent defeat into a victory.