The presence of Lalu Prasad, known for his witty repartee and rustic mannerism, which made campaigning a lively affair, is being sorely missed this time. The RJD supremo is serving sentences in fodder scam cases and lodged in a Ranchi hospital for a number of ailments.
The inimitable RJD supremo, whose party symbol lantern brings the promise of dispelling darkness, is known to lighten up the tedium associated with elections, often leaving in splits even those at the receiving end of his jibes.
People still recall the kind of banter he had brought to the atmosphere during the assembly polls of 2015 when he took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was firing on all cylinders during campaigning. The polls were fought along with his arch-rival Nitish Kumar - who headed the JD(U) as the chief ministerial candidate - but the imprint of Lalu, ailing and disqualified from contesting elections himself, was unmistakable. Who else could have dismissed prime minister at the one-panel discussion after another with the remark "Narendra Modi is my junior".
The short-lived alliance between the arch-rivals proved mutually beneficial as Kumar salvaged his pride, battered by a drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls held the previous year and returned to power for a record third term.
Prasad, meanwhile, succeeded in launching his sons Tejashwi Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav's political careers. The polls also saw a turnaround in the fortunes of the RJD, which emerged as the single largest party in the assembly, a far cry from 2010 when it failed to muster enough numbers to stake claim to the post of the leader of the opposition.
Taints of corruption, however, continued to haunt the RJD supremo as cases of money laundering were lodged against his younger son Tejashwi, pertaining to a period when he was still in his teens. The scandal involving Tejashwi, who was the deputy chief minister of Bihar when his party was in coalition with the JD(U) and the Congress, was too much to stomach for an image-conscious Nitish Kumar, who snapped ties with the RJD and went back to the NDA, which he had quit in 2013.
The RJD was, as a result of the dramatic turn of events, stripped of power and left with an axe to grind against Kumar. In a bid to perpetuate his hold over power, Prasad initiated his eldest daughter Misa Bharti, too, into active politics, besides wife Rabri Devi, who had succeeded him as chief minister and has over the years transformed from a tongue-tied housewife to a doughty, combative politician. In Tejashwi, the younger son believed to be his father's favourite, the party sees its future, while Tej Pratap reminds Prasad's admirers of his father's mannerisms with a shrewdly cultivated rustic touch. Depending upon their leanings, people recall with disdain or devotion Prasad's earthy swagger.
The ailing septuagenarian continues to occupy the political centre stage in Bihar, even though he has been away from the public eye for more than a year. He now awaits the Supreme Court's decision on his bail plea. In the caste-ridden polity of Bihar, he would always be remembered as the architect of a formidable winning combination of the Muslims-Yadavs (MY) that thoroughly changed the political landscape.
Despite allegations of corruption or patronage to criminals, Prasad is known for his stout defence of social justice, and the boldness with which he quelled communal passions in surcharged times like the Ayodhya movement of the 1990s.
He had even stopped BJP stalwart L K Advani's 'Rath Yatra' in the same year when he was the chief minister and got him arrested. The RJD is the single largest constituent of the opposition grand alliance. If the anti-incumbency turns out to be strong, the party may well send the largest number of MPs from Bihar and emerge as a key player in the formation of the new government.
(With inputs from agencies.)