Patna: For a change, this Lok Sabha election in Bihar is not entirely about Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan – called the three engines of the state’s politics over the last three decades.
It is more about the likes of Lalu’s son and successor Tejashwi Yadav, Paswan’s son Chirag (the sitting MP from Jamui), former JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar and Mukesh Sahani, patron of the Vikassheel Insaan Party. It is even about Tej Pratap Yadav, Lalu’s maverick elder son, who is labelled “comic relief” by an RJD leader as he tries to establish himself as a parallel force to Tejashwi.
The old guard seem to have accepted the shift, with deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who grew up alongside the likes of Lalu and Nitish in the Jayaprakash Narayan-inspired students’ movement in the 1970s, saying it is good for parties and the state’s politics as a whole.
“We have been working towards bringing the younger generation to mainstream politics. It was the late Nanaji Deshmukh who set an example by voluntarily retiring from politics at the age of 60. In fact all the pracharaks of the RSS are 45 or younger. Even in these polls, we have given tickets to young candidates,” Modi told ThePrint.
“The only troublesome thing is that 80 per cent of the younger generation are here because of their family backgrounds.”
Sahani, who hails from the mallah (fisherfolk) community and got rich by making sets for movies and TV shows in Mumbai, said the shift towards younger leaders was a positive change.
“There is an age to remain in politics. Most of the senior leaders of the state have reached an age where they have to go slow. While it’s true that Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag Paswan are where they are because of the long tenures of their fathers, both Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan have made an invaluable contribution to Bihar politics. I am proud that I have emerged due to my own efforts,” Sahani told ThePrint.
“But on the whole, it will have a positive impact. In the future Tejashwi, Chirag, Kanhaiya and I will try to outstrip each other in our political ventures.”
Increased roles & importance
The younger generation is playing a much more pronounced role in this election. Tejashwi, 30, is the star campaigner for the Grand Alliance in the absence of Lalu, who is jailed in Ranchi on account of his conviction in the fodder scam cases.
The 35-year-old Chirag, meanwhile, is already chairman of the parliamentary board of the LJP, and in his constituency Jamui, there is even talk that if the NDA forms the government again, he will replace his father as a cabinet minister.
Sahani, meanwhile, become an icon among the mallah community, and has been hobnobbing with Bihar’s political elite for almost five years, armed with his money power and rags-to-riches story.
Kanhaiya, who is contesting on a CPI ticket from the old Left bastion of Begusarai, has brought his oratorical skills and several energetic youngsters from JNU to aid his campaign. He has even got Gujarat’s young Dalit MLA Jignesh Mevani and actor Swara Bhasker to canvass for him.
“The older generation of CPI leaders may resent him, but Kanhaiya has provided a much-needed kick for the revival of the CPI in Bihar,” conceded a senior CPI leader.
Big shoes to fill
However, this is not to say that ageing politicians will retire gracefully to make space. Politicians make for reluctant quitters – former CM Ram Sundar Das contested from Hajipur in 2014 at the age of 96, losing to Ram Vilas Paswan, whom he had defeated five years earlier, at 91.
A senior Congress leader pointed out that even now, the landscape of Bihar politics is dotted with 70-plus leaders, but said these could be the last Lok Sabha polls for a lot of them.
“The RJD has leaders like Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Jagadanand Singh, who are in their 70s. The Congress has (former Lok Sabha Speaker) Meira Kumar. It may be their last Lok Sabha election. The BJP has already retired its 75-pluses, like Hukumdev Narayan Yadav (the sitting MP from Madhubani), and given the ticket to his son,” said the leader who wished not to be named. “There is a genuine vacuum in politics for the youth to step in to.”
Yet, the question is not whether there are shoes to fill, but if the likes of Tejashwi and Chirag can fit into their fathers’ big shoes.
“It is too early to say,” an RJD leader concluded.