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Lalu sons’ rivalry at rock bottom as Tej Pratap backs Congress against Tejashwi’s man in bypoll

Allies RJD & Congress are facing-off in Kusheshwar Asthan & Tarapur bypolls. Tej Pratap has asked his supporters to back Congress in the first and his own party in the second.

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Patna: The rift between Lalu Prasad’s sons Tej Pratap and Tejashwi Yadav seems to be ever-widening, despite the former’s repeated attempts to paint their bond as that of Lord Krishna and Arjuna, respectively, in the Mahabharata.

However, the latest point of conflict between the brothers surfaced Saturday when Tej Pratap called on the supporters of his own outfit Chhatra Janshakti Parishad to work for the victory of Congress candidate Atirek Kumar in the bypoll to the Kusheshwar Asthan assembly constituency on 30 October, thus pitting him against the Tejashwi-led Rashtriya Janata Dal’s candidate Ganesh Bharati.

And yet, in the Tarapur assembly constituency which is also due for a bypoll on the same day, Tej Pratap and his supporters are backing the RJD candidate Arun Kumar.

The RJD and the Congress are allies under the ‘Grand Alliance’ or Mahagathbandhan umbrella, but have both fielded candidates for these two bypolls. The RJD denied the Congress the Kusheshwar Asthan seat this time because its candidate had lost the 2020 assembly election.

Both these bypolls have been necessitated because of the deaths of two MLAs of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s party, the Janata Dal (United).

Also read: Lalu & sons again — Tej Pratap furious at aide’s removal, makes veiled attack on Tejashwi

Never-ending sibling rivalry

The rivalry between the maverick Tej Pratap and the media-savvy Tejashwi began in 2015, when both of them, as political novices, were made ministers in Nitish Kumar’s government. At the time, the JD(U) and the RJD had formed the Mahagathbandhan to stop the BJP’s march across the country. But Tejashwi, the younger brother and youngest of nine siblings, was made the Deputy CM, and thus, had seniority.

The rivalry has flared up again and again, but in the past two months, it seems to have reached a point of no return, after Tej Pratap openly accused Tejashwi of holding the ailing Lalu hostage. The leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly responded that the personality of their father was well-known. “He is the man who arrested L.K. Advani (Lalu was Bihar CM during the latter’s 1990 Rath Yatra) and is not capable of being held hostage,” Tejashwi said.

The two brothers have not been in the same building for the last two months. Hasanpur legislator Tej Pratap has refused to go to MLA meetings called by party leader Tejashwi to discuss the bypolls, and the latter has hit back by forbidding the use of the party symbol in his brother’s functions.

Their mother, former Bihar CM Rabri Devi, has had to intervene — she flew from Delhi in an attempt to patch up their differences. But when they met Saturday, Tej Pratap demanded that state RJD chief Jagadanand Singh and Tejashwi’s political adviser Sanjay Yadav be removed, party sources told ThePrint. He holds both responsible for his isolation in the RJD.

Rabri returned to Delhi the same day, but not without dropping a bombshell — that Lalu’s much-awaited return to Patna on 20 October, after three and a half years of imprisonment in Ranchi for the fodder scam, was not going to happen.

“Doctors have advised him not to go,” Rabri Devi told ThePrint, and refused to talk about her attempts to reconcile her sons.

“It is disappointing. But I am sure that his appeal among the downtrodden masses remains with us even when he is not here,” said Shyam Rajak, RJD’s national general secretary.

He said even on the day Lalu Prasad made an appearance at a function to mark late Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s first death anniversary earlier this month, the ailing former CM had to walk with assistance. Rajak expressed his unawareness about Tej Pratap supporting the Congress.

RJD MLA Bhai Virendra refused to comment on Tej Pratap, but said: “For us, RJD is about Tejashwi Yadav.”

Virendra’s words are a reflection that the battle to be Lalu’s political heir is long settled in the minds of RJD leaders and supporters.

The RJD performed well in the 2020 polls under Tejashwi’s leadership, emerging as the single largest party with 75 seats in the 243-member assembly. But the Mahagathbandhan finished 15 seats behind the JD(U)-BJP alliance’s tally of 125, which helped Nitish Kumar remain chief minister.

“Tej Pratap will always have nuisance value, embarrassing the party and the family at regular intervals,” said an RJD MLA who didn’t wish to be named. “But the party will continue to ignore him.”

Also read: Message from Patna poster wars: Caste trouble for Nitish, Tej Pratap ’embarrassment’ for RJD

Cutting the Congress to size

Bypolls are seldom accurate indicators of the larger political drift of a state. But in Bihar, there’s much at stake for the parties.

If the RJD manages to wrest both seats, it will further reduce the wafer-thin margin between the alliances, and demoralise the JD(U).

Chirag Paswan, whose Lok Janshakti Party has split, now heads the faction named after his father Ram Vilas Paswan, while his uncle Pashupati Paras chairs the new Rashtriya Janshakti Party and has the support of many senior leaders. The Election Commission of India has disbarred both from using the LJP’s familiar ‘house’ symbol and allotted new ones. Chirag now has to prove that he can still show up Nitish Kumar by taking away a chunk of votes from ally-turned-foe JD(U).

The Congress has to prove that it is still relevant as an ally. As a sideshow, this will be the first time Tejashwi Yadav faces off in a campaign against Kanhaiya Kumar, the former CPI leader who has joined the Congress and is known for his oratory.

Tejashwi has begun cutting the Congress to size, after having conceded 70 seats under the Mahagathbandhan’s seat-sharing arrangement in 2020, and seen it win just 19. He ignored the Congress’ threats to walk out of the alliance and refused to give it Kusheshwar Asthan again.

“He wants to give the Congress a message that he could do without their support,” said the unnamed RJD MLA quoted above, adding that he is trying to ensure the Congress will not be so demanding in future negotiations.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)

Also read: Day of the dynasts in Bihar — Tejashwi gets dad Lalu’s approval as Chirag ‘shows up’ uncle


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