Patna: A 31-year-old Tejashwi Yadav may have failed to realise his dream of becoming Bihar’s next CM, but he has still managed to emerge as a strong leader in own right — out of the shadows of his incarcerated father and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.
The young leader didn’t just manage to pull huge crowds in all his election rallies, but also became the one politician whose appeal would go on to set the agenda for the polls. From his promises to eradicate unemployment, to his direct attacks on Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi has tried to position himself as the young opposition leader who will fight the BJP head on.
He nearly pulled it off but for the Congress dragging down his grand opposition alliance by winning just 20 of the 70 seats it contested.
It’s a far cry from a young man who once held lofty cricketing ambitions; his political redemption has come on the day his old team, the Delhi Capitals (then the Delhi Daredevils) went down to the Mumbai Indians in the IPL final by five wickets.
‘Abhi pani aur toliya pahucha raha hai, baad mein bat karega’
Frequent visitors to 1 Aney Marg, the chief minister’s official residence, during the Lalu-Rabri era would have found Tejashwi Yadav with a bat and one of the many hangers-on bowling to him in the lawns.
“I do not remember him taking any interest in politics or even the people visiting the chief minister’s residence back then,” Sadhu Yadav, Tejashwi’s estranged maternal uncle, told The Print. “His only interest was cricket, His transformation happened after 2009 when I cut off my relationship with the family.”
Father Lalu Prasad Yadav also remembered to play up his son’s cricketing prowess. “He hit (BJP leader) Sushil Modi’s son for so many boundaries,” he once told journalists.
Tejashwi Yadav managed to be a part of the Delhi Daredevil IPL team for four seasons from 2008 to 2012 but his father succinctly summed up that stint. “Abhi pani aur toliya pahucha raha hai, baad mein bat karega (Right now he is fetching water and towels for players. Later he will bat,” Lalu once said. His son never played a game for the franchise.
Tejashwi also played cricket for Jharkhand but his record again is nothing to write home about. He played one first class match and averaged 10 with the bat, two List A matches in which he averaged seven with the bat and three T20s after which he averaged three with the bat.
In the midst of what was a brief cricketing career, Lalu pulled his son into politics in 2009. During the Lok Sabha campaign of 2009, this correspondent was waiting with senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi at a helipad where choppers were departing for campaigning when two youngsters approached Modi and touched his feet.
It was the very first political campaign for the two shy and unsure young men — Tejashwi Yadav and the current Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Chirag Paswan.
“Kaha ja rahe ho? (Where are you two going?),” Modi asked them before giving the duo pointers on how to address a political meeting. Some 11 years on, both men have held their own against veterans such as Modi.
The turning point
It was in the 2015 assembly elections that Tejashwi and his older brother Tej Pratap formally entered politics. While Tejashwi won from the Raghopur constituency — a seat he has retained — Tej Pratap won from Mahua.
But it would take immense effort from father Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav for the brothers to accept the JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar as the state’s chief minister.
Tejashwi publicly backed his father’s decision. “My father brought social justice to Bihar. Now it is time for economic empowerment. Nitish Kumar is the right person to move Bihar forward,” he said before the swearing-in ceremony.
Both brothers were sworn in, in the Nitish government but Tejashwi was made deputy CM making it clear that Lalu preferred his younger son as his political successor. As deputy CM with road construction as his main portfolio, Tejashwi was guided by a set of civil servants handpicked by Lalu.
Tejashwi first showed signs of breaking out of his father’s shadows in 2017 when Nitish rejoined the BJP. He termed Nitish ‘Paltu Chacha’ (turncoat uncle) and took him on and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in a fiery speech in the state assembly.
But the hurdles appeared, initially from the family. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there were reports of a rift between Tejashwi and Tej Pratap and Misa Bharti, Lalu and Rabri’s oldest child. Tejashwi complained that Tej Pratap created hurdles in his political events.
While the rift was addressed, the 2019 Parliamentary elections were a low point for the RJD leader. He ran a haphazard campaign, even missing three days of electioneering and skipping a meeting with Rahul Gandhi. There were rumblings within the RJD old guard that not only questioned his credentials but also his commitment as a politician.
All that is now history. Tejashwi threw the HAM, RLSP and VIP out of the grand alliance and brought in the Left parties. He made the assembly elections about himself, even removing photos of his father Lalu, as he stuck to his main agenda — government jobs for 10 lakh youths. He also refused to be drawn in by taunts from Nitish Kumar and other NDA leaders about the ‘jungle raj’ during his parents’ time.
He drew huge crowds as he let go of the RJD’s caste politics and appealed to youths to support him cutting across caste lines. Suddenly he looked like a serious player.
A fitness freak
Away from politics, Tejashwi is a fitness freak.
“When he is not politicking, he is either doing Yoga or is in the gym. He is a keen billiard player and in the evening, he spends time playing,” said Sanjay Yadav, his closest aide. “He loves music and movies and often watches the latest releases on Netflix.”
In politics, Tejashwi does not entertain unreasonable requests. “I remember he ordered an RJD MLA from Bhojpur district out of 10, Circular Road, when the MLA began to make unreasonable demands,” recalled another close associate insisting that Tejashwi is usually courteous even to his political rivals in his personal life.