Patna: Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), once the numero uno political party of Bihar, seems to be floundering as it stares at an uncertain future on its 24th foundation day.
To mark the occasion, Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu’s son who has been holding the party’s reins in the absence of his jailed father, brought out a cycle rally Sunday to protest against petrol and diesel price hike two days before, but it got a lukewarm response, indicating how the party is struggling ahead of the assembly elections, scheduled for October-November.
In an attempt to wipe out the ‘jungle raj’ charge about the 15 years of RJD’s rule, Tejashwi had sought people’s forgiveness Friday. “Nobody can say that Laluji didn’t do social justice. But if we committed any mistake during those 15 years, we are sorry about that,” he said at a rally.
His apology comes at a time when the RJD looks rudderless and is showing signs of disintegration, with many senior leaders quitting the party. Lalu’s wife and former chief minister, Rabri Devi, lost her position as leader of the opposition in the state legislative council last month as five of her party MLCs defected, reducing its strength from eight to three.
Worse, the RJD’s prospective allies — Upendra Kushwaha of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, Jitan Ram Manjhi of Hindustan Awam Morcha, and Mukesh Sahni of Vikassheel Insaan Party — are refusing to accept Tejashwi as the alliance’s face in the elections.
Falling vote share
Lalu Prasad created the RJD in July 1997, breaking away from the Janata Dal after then-prime minister I.K. Gujral asked him to quit as Bihar CM on account of the fodder scam case.
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At the time, Lalu, who had been in power since 1990, was still considered invincible in elections, and his new party represented the aspirations of backward castes and downtrodden people.
However, since 2005, it has lost in every assembly and Lok Sabha election, with the exception of its short-lived alliance with arch-rival JD(U), which won in 2015.
The RJD’s vote share has been in continuous decline. In the 2000 assembly polls, it got 28 per cent on its own, winning 124 of the 293 seats it contested in the 324-seat house. By 2010, its vote share had dropped to 18.84 per cent (contesting 168 of 243 seats), and by the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, its vote share had dropped further to 15.36 per cent (contested 19 of 40 seats).
The reason is that starting in 2005, there was a major shift of extremely backward classes towards the Nitish Kumar-led NDA. EBCs make up 29 per cent of the votes in Bihar, and Nitish has taken over Lalu’s social justice plank by giving EBCs and Dalits social and economic benefits.
Today, the RJD’s voter base is limited to Muslims and Yadavs, who together make up 30 per cent of voters.
When Lalu formed his own party, he had some formidable leaders across caste lines with him — Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Vijay Krishna, Ram Kripal Yadav, Raghunath Jha and Mohammad Taslimuddin — said an RJD MLA who wished not to be identified.
“But today, there isn’t a single leader with Tejashwi with who has his own standing. The old guard have either left, died or been sidelined,” the MLA said.
“After 1995, particularly after the fodder scam, it became the party of the family. Previously, it was (Rabri’s brothers) Sadhu Yadav and Subhash Yadav who called the shots. Now there are cousins of Tejashwi who decide whom he should meet or not meet,” the MLA alleged.
Bihar minister and JD(U) leader Shyam Rajak, who had quit the RJD in 2009, added: “The decline actually started in 1997 itself. Previously, we stood for socialism. Then, it was family rule. In the end, it became a party of one household.”
Charges of corruption against Lalu’s family linger on, even as the patriarch has been in jail for the last three years.
Another JD(U) minister Neeraj Kumar called RJD “Rashtriya Jaalsaaz Dal” or a party of swindlers. “The party has made politics a tool for earning wealth,” he said.
Randhir Kumar Singh, professor of sociology at Patna University, spoke about the difference between Lalu’s era and Tejashwi’s.
“The new generation of the family — Tejashwi — is seen as an aristocrat who is unable to identify himself with the masses. Somehow, the party still seems to be stuck in backward-forward caste politics, and has not been able to go beyond caste to rejuvenate itself,” he said.
BJP spokesperson Rajni Ranjan Patel said: “Laluji was a product of agitation, Tejashwi is a leader of compensation. Laluji took along with him leaders of various sections of the party. Tejashwi not only failed to carry his allies but also top leaders of his own party.”
But RJD MLA Mohammad Nematullah defended his party by saying it had let younger leaders “have a larger say in party affairs” since the very beginning, and that efforts are on to woo sections of society like EBCs and upper castes into the party fold.
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