Patna: Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad has paved the way for son Tejashwi to enjoy more autonomy within the party, and even take some decisions on its policies without his approval. The move is being seen as the next step in the former Bihar chief minister’s gradual handover of the RJD’s reins to Tejashwi, a former deputy chief minister.
The decision to authorise Tejashwi — leader of RJD’s legislative wing and member of its parliamentary board — to decide the party’s stand on caste census and expansion strategy, was taken at a meeting of party MLAs held Tuesday at the Patna residence of Lalu’s wife and former Bihar CM Rabri Devi.
“The meeting was attended by Laluji, all legislators and leaders of the party. A resolution was passed for Tejashwi Yadav to decide the party stand on caste census and expansion of the party,” RJD MLA Bhai Virendra Yadav told ThePrint.
An all party meeting Wednesday decided to hold a caste-based headcount for Bihar.
While the RJD resolution stops short of handing over complete party control to Tejashwi, “it allows him to make decisions in some party policies and functions without even consulting Lalu”, said another RJD MLA who did not wish to be named.
So far, the younger leader would have to consult his father in person, or over the phone, before taking any party-related decision. “But this decision gives Tejashwi some authority. It gives political ground to Tejashwi,” said former Bihar assembly speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary.
For now, however, state president Jagdanand Singh made it clear that Tejashwi does not get complete autonomy and Lalu ji remains “the boss”.
According to sources within the RJD, there has been a growing demand from party members for Tejashwi to be given more autonomy in taking party decisions, owing to Lalu being either in custody — in the fodder scam case — or undergoing treatment in the past year.
“Two weeks ago, I had written an open letter to Lalu ji asking him to give full control to Tejashwi. Tejashwi has proved himself as a leader accepted by the people and in the 2020 Bihar assembly polls he led the grand-alliance (of the Congress, RJD and other parties) to near victory,” said national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari.
Although Tejashwi’s stature has grown as a leader in the past few years, there is still resistance to his leadership from some sections within the party.
It’s not all been smooth for the young leader, however. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the first election without Lalu actively in charge of the party, the RJD failed to win even a single seat.
Political observers in the state remember Tejashwi withdrawing from the public sphere after that and not even attending assembly proceedings, preferring to remain in Delhi.
It was ahead of the 2020 Bihar assembly elections, however, that Tejashwi evolved as a leader — drawing up a strategy to extend the RJD votebank, and attacking the Nitish Kumar government on the issue of unemployment.
The RJD and its allies won 110 seats in the election against the NDA’s 125.
The party’s turnaround made Tejashwi a popular opposition leader. Even so, Lalu’s acknowledged “political heir” has met with some resistance from members of his own party.
Just before the party announced nominations for the Rajya Sabha elections last month, a meeting was held to discuss the issue.
According to sources in the party, while Lalu’s elder son Tej Pratap Yadav, wife Rabri Devi and daughter Misa Bharati turned up at the meeting unannounced, Tejashwi skipped the meeting and flew to Delhi, and then to the UK, with his wife, to participate in an international seminar in Cambridge.
Although the party had authorised Lalu to announce names of two candidates, in “consultation with the leader of the opposition” in the Bihar assembly (Tejashwi), it became clear that the two candidates — Misa Bharati and Faiyaz Ahmad — were not Tejashwi’s choice, said sources.
“Tejashwi wanted a commitment from Misa Bharati that she will not insist on contesting from Patliputra parliamentary seat in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections if she is given the Rajya Sabha seat, since she has lost twice from there. But that commitment never came and she was still given the Rajya Sabha nomination,” said a Tejashwi Yadav loyalist, adding that a free hand should be given to Tejashwi in selecting candidates for the 2024 polls.
Lalu loyalists, meanwhile, insist that there is no doubt that Tejashwi will step into his shoes eventually as leader of the RJD.
“The final shifting of power to the next generation will be gradual, however. If it is abrupt there will be a public spat among the family. But Lalu ji has not left any doubt that it will be Tejashwi who will be his successor,” said an RJD MLA. “Tuesday’s resolution to give Tejashwi power to decide the party’s political strategies is a step towards handing him complete control of the party.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)