The Yadav dynasty of Bihar is facing an existential crisis. Lalu Yadav, the founder, is serving a 14-year jail sentence. Tejashwi, the Yadav princeling, has gone missing.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) legislators are busy negotiating the terms and timing of their defection to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (United). And the RJD’s loyal voters — Yadavs and Muslims — are disillusioned and edgy.
Coupled with the decline of the Samajwadi Party under Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, these developments in Bihar indicate a serious crisis for ‘Yaduvanshi parties’ that have dominated the Hindi heartland politics over the past three decades.
RJD’s falling support base
But before we come to the present crisis, let’s take a look at the consistent pattern of decline in the RJD’s vote share in Bihar in the past 15 years. In 2004 Lok Sabha elections, it got 30.7 per cent of the total votes, about 5 per cent more than what the Janata Dal had got in 1990 assembly elections to appoint Lalu Yadav as the chief minister for the first time. The RJD’s vote share has been on a consistent decline since then: 25 per cent (February 2005 assembly), 23.45 per cent (October 2005 assembly), 19.3 per cent (2009 Lok Sabha), 18.8 per cent (2010 assembly), 20.5 per cent (2014 Lok Sabha), 18.3 per cent (2015 assembly), and 15.4 per cent in the 2019 general elections.
These data show a clear trend. Except a marginal increase of 1.7 percentage point in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the RJD has been losing its vote share in every election since 2005, regardless of the nature of its alliances.
The party’s most loyal voters, the Yadavs, also seem to be exploring alternative options. CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey in 2019 indicated that only 55 per cent Yadavs voted for the RJD-led combine as against 64 per cent in 2014. Despite a big tent Tejashwi built by forging alliances with Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi and OBC leaders Mukesh Sahni and Upendra Kushwaha, these castes were hardly impressed with his alliance.
It’s in this backdrop that Tejashwi’s vanishing act has got the RJD leaders in a tizzy. Just when they were hoping for an end to the family feud — involving him, brother Tej Pratap and sister Misa — to focus their attention on the existential crisis the party is faced with, they find their leader behaving like a sulking child.
Tejashwi’s gone missing
Conspiracy theories about Tejashwi’s disappearance abound. Senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad has suggested that he could be in England for the cricket World Cup. Some believe that the siblings in the RJD’s first family had a massive altercation post-results and that prompted Tejashwi to stay away from home. Then, there are rumours about the young leader staying in Delhi to try to strike a deal with the BJP to get a reprieve for the family. Tejashwi, Misa and already-convicted father Lalu are staring at an uncertain future, with central agencies probing their roles in various cases. All these theories may be just conjectures and baseless but such are the brainwaves in Delhi’s political circles.
There are posters in Muzaffarpur, offering a Rs 5,100 reward for anyone who brings information on Tejashwi’s whereabouts. Party MP Manoj Jha has said the young leader is in Delhi, closely watching the situation in Muzaffarpur that is battling with the deadly acute encephalitis syndrome (AES). The young RJD leader, on his part, has done nothing to scotch these rumours even as he tweeted on his father’s birthday and Birsa Munda’s death anniversary.
Tejashwi’s vanishing act after the RJD’s rout in the Lok Sabha elections has only validated what many in his party are already convinced of: that he doesn’t have it in him to carry forward his father’s political legacy. As a Bihar politician pointed out: “He had skipped scheduled campaigns for three days during the elections, saying he was not well. How could a young leader skip scheduled election programmes! Laluji would never do that.”
Nothing like father Lalu
Ram Kripal Yadav, once a close confidant of Lalu Yadav, would tell you the difference between the father and the son. The father would never run away when the party leaders and the cadre needed him the most to keep their morale up after an electoral rout. Even when Lalu Yadav had to go to jail the next day, he would put up a brave face: “Kuchho nahin hua hai. Kaam karo (Nothing has happened. Keep working),” Lalu would tell the RJD workers.
Mulayam Singh Yadav would react the same way, telling the SP leaders and workers after election defeats to go back to their constituencies to thank the voters and assure them of all support, regardless of the results.
“Laluji would never show any emotion publicly. But you would see him getting up in the night and making khaini (preparing tobacco),” recalled Ram Kripal who had fallen out with his mentor after the latter chose his daughter, Misa, over him as the candidate from Patliputra in 2014 elections. Even the most loyal supporters don’t hang around leaders who are seen as weak and vulnerable.
Already apprehensive of Tejashwi’s ability to carry Lalu’s mantle, the RJD leaders and workers are set to be further disillusioned by his show of weak nerves and lack of maturity and gravitas to deal with adverse situations. A party consistently losing its support base needs someone with supreme leadership skills to turn things around. But Tejashwi Yadav doesn’t seem to be The One.