Patna: After the drubbing it received in the Lok Sabha elections, the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s once-solid Yadav vote bank has begun to look fragile.
Yadavs were stunned that the RJD could not even open its account, and know better than anyone else that the era of Lalu Prasad Yadav is over. They have little confidence in his politically-active sons and daughter to carry on the legacy.
“Lalu ji and his party will never come back to power on its own. He will need an alliance,” said Anil Yadav, a 50-year-old who works in the transport business and calls himself a die-hard Lalu supporter.
Anil resides in Maner, an assembly segment of Pataliputra parliamentary seat, from where Lalu’s eldest daughter Misa Bharati was defeated by BJP’s Ram Kripal Yadav for the second consecutive time. Maner was one of just nine assembly segments out of Bihar’s 243 where the RJD led in these parliamentary polls.
“RJD will win from here in the assembly polls here in 2020; there is an 80 per cent Yadav population here,” Anil said. But it’s a small victory for the community, since even in Maner, the RJD’s lead shrunk from 16,000 in 2014 to 8,000 this time.
The Yadavs seem to be exploring alternative options, as a CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey this time indicated that only 55 per cent of the community voted for the RJD-led combine as against 64 per cent in 2014.
The magic is gone
Lalu is ailing and barred from contesting elections owing to his conviction in the fodder scam cases. He no longer evokes the same magic among Yadavs as he used to. But there are also those members of the community who say Lalu’s heir apparent, Tejashwi Yadav, does not evoke the same emotions that his father did.
“The commitment of the younger generation towards the RJD and Tejashwi Yadav is not as strong as our total commitment towards Lalu ji. Tejashwi Yadav does not inspire them. For them, Narendra Modi’s nationalism is much more attractive than what Tejashwi has to offer,” said Jitender Yadav, who lives in a village in the riverine areas of Maner.
Jitender, a farmer, conceded that many of his younger family members had pressed the “phool” button, the symbol of the BJP, instead of the RJD’s lantern.
Lalu, though, is still held in absolute reverence among Yadavs. “Had he been out of jail, RJD would not have been wiped out, and would have won at least a couple of seats. He would have galvanised his supporters to go and vote — something his sons and daughter could not do,” said Jitender.
Another Yadav who sat beside Jitender and refused to give his name went a step further, hinting at the lack of confidence in the RJD family’s next generation.
“Tejashwi makes speeches but fails to reach out to his voters. Lalu ji knows many voters residing in far-flung villages by name, and used to call them out. Tejashwi failed to do so — he is unable to communicate with his supporters,” he said.
Everyone in the community knows about the family feud, and has little hope from them — they call Lalu’s older Tej Pratap “mad cap” and Misa “greedy”. “She is a Rajya Sabha MP. What was the need for her to contest the Lok Sabha polls? The ticket could have been given to a more deserving candidate,” the other Yadav said.
BJP going for the kill
In the Lok Sabha polls, all the Yadav candidates fielded by the RJD and its allies lost, while those put up by the NDA won. This indicates a definite split in the Yadav votes, which make up 14 per cent of Bihar’s electorate. The RJD’s old Yadav-Muslim social base has been eroded.
The BJP has been eyeing the Yadav votes in Bihar since 2013, when Narendra Modi had said in a rally that he had a natural claim over Yadavs as he hailed from Dwarka (Gujarat, the city of Lord Krishna, from whom Yadavs claim descent). The BJP and its allies did not succeed while Lalu was around, but now that he’s out of action, there is a rising belief that they can take away a major chunk of the RJD’s votes in the assembly polls too.
Not surprisingly, there are whispers that state BJP chief Nityanand Rai, a Yadav and Amit Shah’s junior minister at the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, could be projected as CM candidate, to give Yadav voters an alternative to vote for.
“If our MLAs have not already started deserting the party, it’s because they’re not sure the NDA will reward them with a ticket,” said an RJD MLA.
But the MLA also pointed out that even a leader as senior as Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has openly declared that Tejashwi is not a political leader, and that the post of Leader of the Opposition in the assembly was thrust upon him by his father.
Tejashwi’s failure has opened doors to a new social base for the BJP, which could also bring down the curtains on an era of Bihar politics which started in 1990 when Lalu became chief minister.