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Lalu wants to build a grand political family for 2019 but all’s not well in his own family

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Warring brothers Tej Pratap and Tejashwi attempted to quell speculation of infighting last week but not all is well within the RJD’s first family. 

New Delhi: On 5 July, the 22nd foundation day of the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), Tej Pratap Yadav, the elder son of RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav, took centrestage. For once, he appeared to overshadow younger brother, the more prominent Tejashwi Yadav.

Amid mounting speculation that there was simmering tension between the brothers that was leading to a rift within the Lalu clan, Tej Pratap reiterated that there were no differences between him and Tejashwi.

RJD leaders Tejashwi Yadav (L) with Tej Pratap attend the 22nd Foundation Day of Rashtriya Janata Dal, in Patna | PTI
RJD leaders and brothers Tejashwi Yadav (L) and Tej Pratap attend the 22nd Foundation Day of Rashtriya Janata Dal, in Patna | PTI

“Tejashwi is going to Delhi and I will take care of the party in his absence,” Tej announced. “Those trying to drive a wedge between the brothers will face tough times. I am like Lord Krishna and Tejashwi is my Arjuna, who will fight the demons.”

He also proceeded to felicitate his younger brother with a crown.

Political observers, however, say the tone and tenor of Tej Pratap’s speech betrayed the anger he has for the party and its leaders, particularly as he declared himself as the senior-most RJD leader during the event.

Pointing to a number of senior party leaders sitting on the dais, Tej said, “There are so many masters sitting here on the stage. But at present, I am the most senior master.”

The “bonhomie” between the brothers last Thursday also did little to dispel the notion, which is gaining traction, that all is not well within the RJD first family.

The man feeding the rumours is Tej Pratap himself, who has time and again taken to social media to slam the way the party is being run while accusing RJD leaders of ignoring him.

On 1 July, just four days before the foundation day celebrations, Tej Pratap took to Facebook to threaten to quit from politics. In his post in Hindi, he said his grouse was against two party leaders, MLC Subodh Rai and his former personal assistant Om Prakash Yadav, also mother Rabri Devi’s nephew, who he claimed “were spreading canards that he was mad and not a leader of the party”.

As the news went viral, Tejashwi and Rabri Devi spoke to him and persuaded him to remove the post. Hours later, Tej Pratap denounced the Facebook post, claiming that the ruling JD(U) had hacked his account to create a rift between the two brothers.

The episode, however, only underlined the challenges from within the family for RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, who has been trying to forge a grand alliance against Prime Minister Narendra Modi before 2019.

A fading compromise

Of the three Lalu children pursuing active politics, elder daughter Misa Bharti is a Rajya Sabha MP, Tej Pratap is the MLA from Mahua, while Tejashwi is the current leader of opposition in the Bihar assembly.

Those in the know say that when the RJD assumed power in a coalition government with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) in November 2015, Lalu had brokered a truce of sorts between the brothers. While Tejashwi, his chosen political heir, was made the deputy chief minister, Tej was handed the plum portfolio of health.

The compromise seemed to have worked when the party was in power but when Nitish broke from the alliance in July 2017, to form the government with the BJP, trouble began brewing in the RJD.

With the party out of power, Tejashwi was appointed as the leader of the opposition and his political graph began to rise. His maiden speech in the assembly garnered appreciation from within the party, re-emphasising his position as the heir to the RJD throne.

In November 2017, the party passed a resolution at the national executive meeting that Tejashwi would be the party candidate for the CM post going forward. It also became clear that he was now the face of the party, as Tej Pratap played second fiddle.

In May this year, it was Tejashwi who went to Bengaluru to attend the oath-taking ceremony of JD(S)-Congress government in Karnataka. Before that, the younger Lalu son, along with his sister Misa Bharti, attended the dinner hosted by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for all opposition parties.

Sources close to Tej Pratap Yadav told the ThePrint that as Tejashwi gained in prominence, party leaders began ignoring the instructions issued by Tej Pratap.

“Some of the young leaders began telling Tej Pratap that he holds no importance in the party,” says a party leader close to the family. “It was then that he started reacting. He is a person with no bad intentions and people take advantage of that.”

Those close to him say that Tej Pratap, who heads the party’s youth wing, confronted his father Lalu Yadav and mother Rabri Devi with these issues but they were not addressed.

Angry social media outbursts

Tej Pratap has time and again taken to social media to express his displeasure against the party.

In January this year, he released a song made on him titled ‘Tej Pratap Pukar Raha Hai’.  It projected him as the emerging leader of Bihar who had the welfare of the people in mind. Sources close to him said it was done to prove a point to not only outsiders but detractors within the party.

“He has a Robin Hood kind of image and is loved by people. He always takes care of those who work closely with him,” said a party worker.

He is also working on a film titled Rudra The Avatar, in which he plays the lead role of Rudra, a politician who is a devotee of Lord Shiva.

A major flashpoint, sources say, was when Tej demanded a party post for one of his close aides, Rajendra Paswan, a young Dalit leader. He went to RJD state president Ram Chandra Purve with the request but Purve allegedly didn’t pay heed.

Angered, he took to Twitter on 8 June, to express his displeasure. “Mera sochna hai ki main Arjun ko Hastinapur ki gaddi par baithaun aur khud Dawarika chala jaun… Ab kuch ek chuglon ko kasht hai ki main king maker naa kahlaun,” he tweeted.

Later while talking to media he attacked party leaders, accusing them of not paying attention to his instructions. “I cannot tolerate indiscipline within the RJD. People don’t listen to me. They don’t entertain my phone calls. My instructions are not followed and when I inquire about the delay in work, they don’t give me clear answers,” he said.

He also made it clear that it was Purve who was stalling the appointment of Rajendra Paswan as a party office bearer. After the outburst, Paswan was made state general secretary of the RJD. As per sources, the appointment was done by both Lalu and Tejashwi on the assurance that Tej Pratap would not publicly air his grievances in the future.

The lull lasted for close to a month, till 1 July, when after attending a series of public meetings in his constituency of Mahua, he took to Facebook to lash out at MLC Subodh Rai and Om Prakash Yadav aka Bhutto.

‘Rabri nephews, Tej’s in-laws behind trouble’

Tej Pratap’s personal assistant Abhinandan Yadav, who is now back with him, alleged that three nephews of Rabri Devi were behind the disparaging remarks against him.

The three — Mani Yadav, Om Prakash Yadav aka Bhutto and Nagmani — live with the family in their 10 Circular Road house in Patna. While Mani is the personal assistant of Tejashwi Yadav, Bhutto is with Rabri Devi.

Some RJD leaders also attribute Tej’s outbursts on social media to wife Aishwarya Rai, who he married in May this year, and father-in-law Chandrika Rai.

Aishwarya has political pedigree herself — her grandfather Daroga Rai was the chief minister of Bihar, while her father Chandrika Rai is a five-term MLA, who was a minister in earlier governments.

The allegations have gained ground as Tej openly revolted in June, after his marriage. Chandrika Rai denies the charges. “This is pure false and has no truth,” he told ThePrint. “There is absolutely no problem in the family. Tej Pratap writes something and people in media start interpreting it the way it suits them.”

RJD leaders too have been trying to downplay reports of a rift but such developments could dent the party’s prospect with elections less than a year away.

The opposition has also begun to take note.

“This family is all engaged in fighting among themselves. They have no vision for the people of Bihar,” says JD(U) leader Niraj Kumar. “It happens when you prefer dynasty politics over party workers.”

For Lalu Prasad Yadav, this is familiar territory. The RJD chief has dealt with family rivalry in the past. He shunted out Rabri ’s brothers — Sadhu, Subhash and Prabhunath Yadav, who dominated the party in the late 1990s and early 2000s —  after the party lost power in 2005. In fact, for the first time after a decade, it was Misa who went to her three uncles with the invitation for Tej Pratap’s wedding in May this year.

This time though, the fight is way closer home, and at stake is the RJD top chair itself.

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