With the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Directorate of Enforcement (ED) teams raiding 15 premises of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Laloo Prasad Yadav’s family members and close associates across the country on March 10, 2023, in connection with the alleged land for job scam while Lalu Prasad Yadav was Rail Minister, one expected Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav to look a bit rattled. He instead appeared as nonchalant as ever, even mocking the raids as nothing but a sham. “ They are roaring today, making tall claims, but in a few days from now, they will whimper like a cat,” he joked.

Even Rabri Devi, former Bihar Chief Minister and wife of Laloo Prasad yadav, looked bored saying, “what can I say, we are used to all this by now.” And this despite the fact that even Laloo Yadav, who has recently undergone a kidney transplant operation and is recuperating, was grilled for more than five hours by the CBI team in New Delhi.

Their reaction is understandable because the central government has made it a habit to target the RJD first family whenever it feels cornered in Bihar. Similar raids had happened in August last year when chief minister Nitish Kumar had walked out on the BJP and joined hands with RJD to form the government. The CBI and ED had then raided 25 places on August 24, 2022, the day the Nitish Kumar government was seeking the vote of confidence in the Bihar Assembly.

No wonder the RJD leaders now shrug off these raids as clichéd political vendetta and look unperturbed. “Is it not surprising that these raids started only when Nitishji dumped them. These agencies are only performing their act according to a script written by somebody else ,” said Prof Manoj Jha, Rajya sabha member from the RJD.

Interestingly, the land for job scam complaint was filed by none other than the Janata Dal (United) JD(U) leader Lalan Singh in 2018. Then the BJP was in alliance with JD(U) after Nitish Kumar had dumped RJD to join hands with the saffron party to form the government in 2017. But the raids started only after Nitish Kumar parted ways with BJP, and rejoined hands with RJD in August last year.

Even the most naïve can understand that the raids are politically motivated because the BJP only wants to weaken the RJD by hook or crook because the political reality in Bihar is such that it needs an ally like the JD(U) to win in Bihar. If the JD(U) and RJD remain together, it spells doom for BJP, as it did in 2015 assembly election when despite the huge Modi wave , the BJP lost the Assembly election.

Hence the BJP's game plan is to keep the RJD and JD(U) separate and that can be done by painting the RJD as corrupt. This was the ploy BJP had used in 2017, to wean Nitish Kumar away from the RJD.

But the fact remains that such gimmicks have not managed to seriously harm the RJD which has remained the most dominant player in Bihar politics since 1990, when Lalu Yadav first became Chief Minister. The RJD has held on to its core vote bank no matter what charges have been labelled against the Laloo family.

He ruled over Bihar for 15 years, out of which eight years were through proxy as he had to resign in 1997 after being chargesheeted in the fodder scam and his wife Rabri Devi had become the Chief Minister. Ever since the fodder scam hit him, his political witch hunting has continued, but to his credit the RJD has managed to keep its hold over its support base.

Even though the BJP has nicknamed his 15 years of rule as ‘jungle raj’, in 2005 October-November Assembly election, which arguably was the worst for RJD when it was voted out by the BJP-JD(U) alliance, the party had not been annihilated. It had managed to win 54 seats, against BJP’s 55.

The JD(U) then was the clincher with 88 seats. In the subsequent 2010 assembly election as well, even though the BJP-JD(U) alliance emerged victorious, the RJD held on to 27.2 percent of its vote share, though its seats declined to 22.

In the 2015 Assembly election though, despite the Modi wave sweeping through the country, the RJD, which struck an alliance with JD(U) this time, captured 81 seats with 18.4 percent votes. The JD(U) won 70 seats with 16.8 percent of votes. The BJP, which got the maximum vote percentage, 24.4 percent, had to remain content with only 53 seats. In 2017, the BJP managed to lure Nitish Kumar away from the RJD and once again the two formed the government together.

The 2020 Assembly election, where the BJP-JD(U) once again contested the election in alliance, the RJD held its position. Though it became the single largest party with 75 seats and 23 percent vote, it had to sit in opposition. The BJP, which won 74 seats with 19.5 percent of votes, formed the government with JD(U) which had won only 43 seats with 15.4 percent of votes.

The BJP has thus realised that to keep its dominant position in Bihar and rule over the state, it has to keep the JD(U) and RJD separate and this, they assume, could be done by painting the RJD as corrupt, a strategy which had worked in 2017 when Nitish Kumar had walked out of the Mahagathbandhan citing corruption charges against Tejashvi Yadav. This explains the spate of raids on LalU Yadav’s kith and kin.

Political observers see a gameplan in this. It will definitely put Nitish Kumar in a fix and may make him reconsider his options in Bihar. Since it was JD(U)’s Lalan Singh who had initially complained about the land for job scam, Nitish Kumar ends up being a loser either way.

If he walks out of the alliance with RJD, the BJP succeeds in its attempt to keep the two parties separate, if he chooses to stay on, the BJP would demolish his credibility and weaken his image of being sushasan babu (good governance man).

There is another angle to it: Nitish Kumar has been vocal about Opposition unity for the 2024 Lok Sabha election and the BJP knows that if he succeeds, it could spell trouble for the BJP, hence the manoeuvres to put him in a fix and wean him away from the non-BJP camp.

Whatever the ulterior motive of the BJP, the raids, it is amply clear, are politically motivated but will in no way dent the RJD’s core vote bank, because it has survived worse in the past.

Cover File Photograph