As an aspiring cricketer, Tejashwi Yadav was a middle-order batsman. This meant that by the time he came in to bat, the openers had staved off the early assault from the opposition team and all possibilities of damage from the new ball. On most occasions, the openers had built the base, and Tejashwi Yadav, in his role, would be expected to add to the scoreboard. This was Tejashwi’s life, until a sudden turn of events forced him into Bihar’s politics.
Tejashwi Yadav never aspired to be a politician. He dropped out of school (DPS, R.K. Puram) to be a professional cricketer – like his role model Sachin Tendulkar. Little did Tejashwi know then that his act of quitting studies would later be used to ridicule him. But it was his father Lalu Prasad’s conviction and five-year sentencing in the fodder scam case in 2013 – making the former Bihar chief minister ineligible to contest elections for 11 years – that made Tejashwi Yadav give up his cricketing hopes to be the opening batsman for the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
Tejashwi’s good start
Tejashwi Yadav’s entry in politics happened at an opportune moment. Janata Dal United — JD(U) — chief Nitish Kumar had parted ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which allowed Tejashwi-led RJD to forge an alliance with the friend-turned-foe for the 2015 Bihar assembly election.
This alliance swept the elections and the RJD, with 81 seats, emerged as the single-largest party in the Bihar assembly. Tejashwi Yadav won from Raghopur with a huge margin. As promised, Lalu Prasad agreed to the proposition that Nitish Kumar will be the chief minister, with Tejashwi Yadav becoming his deputy. So, Tejashwi Yadav, at the age of 26, became the youngest politician in India to hold the position.
But the beginning of the end to the dream run came soon. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed an FIR in the alleged IRCTC scam; the agency claimed it took place in 2006 when Lalu Prasad was the railway minister. Tejashwi Yadav, who was 17 then, was also named as an accused. This prompted Nitish Kumar to break the alliance – and join hands with the BJP. Meanwhile, judgments in other fodder scam cases came in and Lalu, who had been out on bail, was back in prison. In his absence, Tejashwi Yadav once again had to run the show for the RJD.
Under his stewardship, the RJD forged a new alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha election. This secular alliance failed miserably and the RJD drew a blank, while its partner Congress managed to win one seat. The remaining 39 seats were won by the BJP-JDU-LJP alliance. This was unexpected. No opinion or exit poll had predicted zero seats for the RJD. The party went into a shock and all organisational activities came to a grinding halt.
Is it Tejashwi’s failure?
The problem with the RJD is not that Tejashwi Yadav hasn’t led the charge against the BJP-JD(U). The problem is that the RJD is facing an existential crisis in the absence of its patriarch Lalu Prasad. And this crisis is a result of these three factors.
Emergence of the BJP: The BJP has had its eyes set on the RJD’s vote bank – the Yadavs and the ‘most backwards’. The BJP has always wanted to rule Bihar without a regional ally’s help – something that it has managed to do in nearly all other north Indian states. This time around, the BJP is planning to go the whole nine yards. In the run-up to the next assembly election, it has appointed a Yadav leader, Nityanand Rai, as junior minister at the Centre. Party general secretary Bhupendra Yadav is in charge of Bihar and leading from the front. In another move, a ‘most backward caste’ leader from Uttar Pradesh, Fagu Chauhan, has been appointed as the governor of the state. These steps are aimed at eating into the RJD’s voter base.
JD(U) eyeing Muslim voters: In the 2015 election, the Muslim community in Bihar voted for the secular alliance of the RJD and the JD(U). The JD(U) believes it may have a chance at winning the community’s support if it went solo (with some small partners) in the next election. To broaden its vote base, the JD(U) has been trying to woo the Muslims, who have traditionally voted for the RJD or its partners. Just after the Lok Sabha election results were declared, the Bihar government had issued an order to collect data regarding the activities of RSS leaders. Nitish Kumar’s party will argue that only the JD(U) has the potential to stop the BJP in Bihar. This does not augur well for the RJD, as Muslims were, and perhaps still are, its core vote bank.
The family conundrum: The third and the most nagging problem for Tejashwi Yadav is his own family. At a time when the RJD needs to put up a united front, his brother Tej Pratap Yadav has been creating nuisance and even supported rival candidate during the Lok Sabha election. His sister Misa Bharti is also creating problems for him. His mother and former chief minister Rabri Devi is trying to take everyone along but this strategy is not working. Lalu Yadav has nominated Tejashwi Yadav as his political heir, but this is not agreeable to other family members.
The moot question is: will Tejashwi Yadav be able to ward off attacks from so many quarters? It’s difficult to say at this point. But this is how the steel is tempered. Tejashwi Yadav has little more than a year to prove his mettle but the biggest problem is that his mentor and father Lalu Prasad will not be around most of the time to guide him.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.