Patna: Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav may be in jail for the past three years, but his 73rd birthday, which fell Thursday, has triggered a political war in Bihar, with the ruling Janata Dal (United) putting out posters in Patna, which claim that the former chief minister and his family own 73 properties.
These properties had been listed earlier by Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi in a series of press conferences in 2017.
“The list of properties acquired by political muscle power is still being compiled,” read the JD(U) posters in a reminder of the alleged illegal properties, which had acted as a trigger for the party’s split with the RJD three years ago.
The JD(U)’s posters were meant to puncture the RJD’s move to celebrate its founder’s birthday as Gareeb Samman Divas or the day to pay respects to the poor.
Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav had Wednesday declared that instead of cutting a cake or lighting candles, the party would feed the poor because “we worry about the poor, unemployment & farmers while the state government only worries about elections”.
“My mind is uneasy because he (Lalu) is fighting alone away from us but on the other hand his birthday gives me inspiration to fight for the downtrodden,” Tejashwi had told the media. He later drove to Ranchi, where his father is imprisoned but is in a state hospital due to poor health.
The JD(U)’s posters, however, are an indication of how Lalu remains relevant to Bihar’s politics despite his absence. He still has control over the party as RJD leaders still have to go to Ranchi and meet him with their pleas and requests. He also decides candidates for polls and the number of seats to be given to allies. It is his man Friday and RJD MLA, Bhola Yadav, who conveys the orders to RJD leaders. Lalu’s close confidante and former MP, Jagdanand Singh, is also the state party chief.
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Lalu’s long absence has, however, led to a spat within his family with sons, Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, and daughter Misa Bharai at loggerheads with each other. Tejashwi, however, remains the face of Lalu for his supporters and leaders.
Another election without Lalu for RJD
As assembly polls approach, RJD leaders realise that this will be another election they will have to face without Lalu.
“Laluji’s physical presence may not be there but the ruling NDA is ensuring his presence. The tone and tenor they use for Laluji makes it clear that Nitish Kumar still has to use negative images instead of positive image to win elections,” RJD vice-president Shivanand Tiwari told ThePrint.
Tiwari’s views have some substance.
During the BJP’s virtual rally on 7 June, deputy chief minister Sushil Modi declared that the assembly polls will be a fight between “Laluwad and development”.
“We keep on hoping that Laluji will come out of jail so that people are reminded of the dark era of the Lalu-Rabri raj more explicitly,” Modi told ThePrint.
For the RJD, it is quite the opposite. “Laluji‘s presence would have been a morale booster for our party workers and voters,” RJD MLA Alok Kumar Mehta told ThePrint.
A son on political trial
There is a feeling within the RJD that Tejashwi has been blundering from one mistake to another without his father around.
The RJD’s biggest asset is its Muslim-Yadav social base, who constitute 30 per cent of Bihar’s voters. It has, however, proved to be a polarising asset, propelling other groups such as upper castes, EBCs and even Dalits to the NDA fold.
In February this year, the RJD did make efforts to break out of the Muslim-Yadav image, insisting that it doesn’t belong to just certain sections of society.
“Tejashwi, however, made a blunder last month when he hyped the killing of some Yadavs in Gopalganj district allegedly by upper caste men of a JD(U) MLA,” an RJD MLA said. “He created such outrage that even former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, a Dalit, declared that Tejashwi was raising a hue and cry only because the victims were Yadavs. Laluji would never make such a mistake.”
Tejashwi, according to RJD sources, made a second mistake by withdrawing his Dalit MLAs from an all-party forum that was preparing a memorandum to present to the President and the Prime Minister, urging them to bring SC/ST reservation under Schedule 9 of the Constitution. This would shield it from judicial scrutiny.
“During our last meeting, I had a talk with RJD’s Shiv Chandra Ram who assured me that they were coming. But later they did not come and did not accept our calls,” said Lallan Paswan, a JD(U) MLA and the convenor of the forum.
There is resentment among the RJD’s Dalit MLAs over Tejashwi’s move to stop them.
“Dalit leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi may not ally us with us in the assembly polls. How can we hope to make inroads into the Dalit vote if we stay away from an event aimed at the Dalit cause?,” asked another RJD MLA pointing out that Dalits constitute 16 per cent of Bihar’s voters.
Challenges before Tejashwi
Even without his “mistakes”, Tejashwi has his task cut out for the elections.
For one, he has earned a reputation of being inconsistent.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Tejashwi upset his allies by skipping most public meetings addressed by Rahul Gandhi and even refused to attend meetings by other allies such as Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi.
After his party drew a blank, Tejashwi disappeared from the political scene for six months, ignoring his father’s requests to attend assembly sessions.
He has only become active this year and has been taking on the Nitish government during the Covid-19 crisis. He has also made efforts to woo migrant labourers returning to Bihar.
But even his own MLAs doubt if it will result in votes when elections come. “The migrant labourers are angry. But most of them have got doles from the government. The anger is likely to subside when elections come,” said a RJD MLA from Kaimur district.,
Tejashwi also remains inaccessible to most of his party MLAs and party workers. While he may have taunted BJP for holding a virtual rally, he has made no attempt to reach out to his workers.
“Laluji used to meet hundreds of party workers everyday and got a feel of the ground realities. Tejashwi on the other hand, keeps himself confined to a few leaders,” said another RJD leader.
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