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New Delhi: A decade after his massive defeat in the state, and two years after his 2013 conviction in the fodder scam, former Bihar chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad made a stunning comeback on Sunday, with his party emerging as the single largest one in the legislative assembly elections.

Prasad, who was barred from contesting following the conviction, led a spirited campaign, ensuring the party’s victory. His sons Tej Pratap Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav won from the Mahua and Raghopur constituencies, respectively, where his daughter Misa Bharti had lost in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Satish Kumar lost in Raghopur while the Hindustan Awam Morcha’s Ravindra Ray lost in Mahua.

On Sunday, Prasad appeared relaxed. After predicting the BJP’s rout following the five-phase polling that ended on 5 November, he had spent most of his time with his family. On Sunday morning, Prasad greeted reporters and reasserted that the Grand Alliance would get an overwhelming majority. By afternoon, he was proven right. The Grand Alliance bagged 178 seats, with the RJD and chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), winning 80 and 71 seats, respectively. The NDA got 58.

However, both RJD and JD(U) supporters had strict instructions against any celebrations till there were signs of a clear majority. Celebrations began only after Bharti came out of 1, Circular Road, the residence of her mother and former chief minister Rabri Devi, to announce that the Grand Alliance was going to win more than 150 seats.

Prasad managed to save his political career, and his family members marked their presence. However, there are worries about whether the RJD chief will let the Grand Alliance government function in a manner that Kumar would want.

The RJD was edged out after Kumar’s JD(U), in alliance with the BJP, came to power in 2005. Back then, Prasad’s RJD bagged just 54 out of the 175 seats it contested. In 2010, he bagged even less, just 22 seats, while Kumar got 115.

Earlier this year, joining hands with the RJD, Kumar’s JD(U) formed the Grand Alliance, along with the Congress. Prasad returned to the fray, not just announcing Kumar as the alliance’s chief ministerial candidate, but also giving his “family" seat of Raghopur constituency near Patna to his son Tejashwi Yadav.

Prasad was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1989, when V.P. Singh became prime minister. By 1990, Prasad had established himself as the leader of the Yadavs and lower castes.

Muslims in Bihar, on the other hand, used to support the Congress but after the 1989 Bhagalpur violence, they shifted loyalties to Prasad. Within 10 years, Prasad built a strong Yadav-Muslim vote bank.

In 1990, with a good reputation in his party, the undivided Janata Dal, Prasad became Bihar chief minister. In 2000, following the fodder scam case charges, Prasad had to resign as chief minister, a post which went to his wife Rabri Devi.

In the fodder scam, 450 crore was siphoned off from the state’s animal husbandry department, which was said to have been ordered by Prasad. In 2004, Prasad became Union railway minister under the Manmohan Singh government.

Prasad was the main political casualty of the fodder scam case. In October 2013, he was sentenced to five years in prison and was asked to pay a fine of 25 lakh. The conviction took away Prasad’s Lok Sabha membership and barred him from contesting polls.

Prasad, who campaigned in the 2014 general election without contesting, saw his party winning just four seats of the 40 contested. This drove him to form an alliance with Kumar.

Announcing Kumar as the chief minister of Bihar, Prasad said on Sunday the victory of the Grand Alliance is the victory of Bihar. “Nitish Kumar is the chief minister of Bihar. This is Bihar’s victory. We brothers (Kumar and Prasad) are thankful to the people of Bihar who chose us once again. People across castes voted for us. We will work for Bihar’s development together. Today, we proved that our election campaign was right and I will now campaign against the BJP. We will together oust the Modi government," he said at a press conference in Patna.

“Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) is rock solid and we will not split even after this election. We bow before people’s mandate. We were targeted by the BJP time and again but nothing affected us. Even after elections, this alliance will stay together," he added.

Political analysts said the victory is more about the survival of the Prasad clan.

“By all means, the Grand Alliance’s win is Prasad’s win. None of us can doubt Prasad’s cleverness, which was quite apparent by the number of votes he got in this election. Moreover, it is his sons who will make him survive in the political battlefield. But at the same time, if Prasad wants this alliance to work, he has to mend his ways. Another thing that is reinforced is the fact that the chemistry of Lalu-Nitish worked favourably for the Mahagathbandhan. But what we have to see now is whether this will result in the 1990s’ time back in Bihar or it will be a step towards development," said Bidyut Chakrabarty, a professor of political science in Delhi University.

Amrit Raj in Patna contributed to this story.

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