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RJD & Congress yearn for Lalu Prasad as son Tejashwi ‘disappears’ from campaign trail

Tejashwi Yadav has so far skipped 4 days of campaigning, angering allies and his own partymen. The RJD leader is also under fire for failing to stamp out dissent.

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Patna: He may have his father Lalu Prasad Yadav’s blessings but Tejashwi Yadav appears to have none of his election management skills.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader was among those instrumental in stitching together the opposition Grand Alliance in Bihar. But with the Lok Sabha elections underway, there are murmurs of disconnect, both within the RJD and in the alliance, at the way the campaign is being run.

Much of the disaffection stems from Tejashwi skipping campaigning: The RJD leader has so far not campaigned on four days — 30 March, 9 April, 14 April and 15 April. On two of the days, he cited a helicopter malfunction and on the other two, he didn’t turn up on the pretext of being unwell.

As a result, dozens of public meetings and rallies have been cancelled.

Tejashwi’s absence is all the more glaring as he has set aside only 10 days for campaigning in these Lok Sabha elections. As a result, the Grand Alliance’s campaign is floundering, leading to very public lamentations, even within the RJD, that the opposition is missing Lalu.

“The campaigning of the Grand Alliance is suffering due to the absence of Lalu Prasad,” said Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, the RJD national vice-president and a former union minister.

Former Congress secretary Skaleel-u-Zama, who was camping in Kishanganj, was even more candid. “If the campaigning is not coordinated, we will have to suffer the consequences,” Zama said, pointing out that Tejashwi not making it to Kishanganj on 14 April had led to the cancellation of a public rally in which 25,000 people had turned up.

There are also questions in the RJD over Tejashwi’s stomach for a fight.

“During Lok Sabha elections, Lalu always addressed eight to nine public meetings in a day. In the 2015 assembly polls, Lalu was recovering from a heart operation but he still beat (chief minister) Nitish Kumar in holding public meetings,” said an RJD leader. “Tejashwi, on the other hand, holds just about three to four public meetings in a day.”

Also readBeing Tej Pratap — Lalu’s problem child, RJD rebel and Tejashwi’s family baggage

Supporters of Tejashwi, however, claim that his reasons for skipping campaigning were genuine.

“One cannot expect him to ride a malfunctioning helicopter and doctors had advised him rest as he had suffered a heat stroke,” said an RJD MLA, stressing that Tejashwi’s absence will not affect the prospects of Grand Alliance candidates.

“The votes of the RJD will go to the Grand Alliance candidates even if Tejashwi does not make it to campaign for them,” the MLA said.

Heartburn among allies

Tejashwi’s ‘mismanagement’ of the campaign, however, has led to heartburn among allies, particularly the Congress. Two of the days the RJD leader missed — on 14 and 15 April — have a direct bearing on the Congress as the second phase of the elections, scheduled for 18 April, are the most crucial for the party.

Three of the five Lok Sabha seats in Bihar that vote in the second phase have Congress candidates. Bihar votes in seven phases.

“Tejashwi could not address meetings in Kishanganj and Katihar, What’s more, Rahul Gandhi addressed meetings in Gaya and Katihar but on both occasions, Tejashwi did not share the stage,” said a senior RJD leader.

“Compare this to NDA’s campaign where Nitish Kumar is always present when PM Modi addresses a public meeting in Bihar.”

The leader pointed out that in all of the NDA meetings, leaders of all three parties — the BJP, JD(U) and LJP — share the stage. In the Grand Alliance, however, there has not been a single meeting in which leaders of all the parties have been present, he added.


Also read Tejashwi Yadav puts alliance dharma over family ties, will campaign for Congress in UP

“If there is no joint campaigning, coordination between party workers at the grassroots become difficult and the candidates feel isolated and demoralised,” said the senior RJD leader. “It also gives the rival camp an opportunity to spread rumours among voters that the other alliance partners do not want the candidate to win.”

He added that the Grand Alliance partners had decided to form a committee to coordinate campaigning but that is yet to be formed. Not surprisingly, the NDA has started taking jibes that the Grand Alliance has split even before polling had begun.

Leadership questioned

Tejashwi’s leadership is also being questioned due to his inability to quell dissent.

“Managing dissent is an important factor in elections. In Madhubani, former union minister Ali Ashraf Fatimi has announced that he would contest as an Independent. Tejashwi threatened to expel him from the party for six years,” said the senior RJD leader.

“Incidentally, even former AICC general secretary Shakeel Ahmad has announced he would contest as an Independent. We might as well give Madhubani to the BJP without contesting.”

In the Supaul Lok Sabha constituency, the RJD district president has revolted and filed his nomination papers against the Congress’ Ranjeet Ranjan, the wife of don-turned-politician Pappu Yadav.

“These things are happening when polling has already begun. It demoralises party workers and supporters and sends a wrong message,” said the senior RJD leader.

“The only saving grace is that NDA is also facing dissent in Valmikinagar and Banka. But had Laluji been around, he would have tried to get the dissidents to talk and tried to convince them not to contest. Tejashwi has made no such effort.”

He warned that if the Grand Alliance does badly in Bihar, Tejashwi’s ‘mismanagement’ will be one of the main reasons. “If we win, it will be thanks to the voters,” he added.

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