Patna: In this age of social media, three prominent young faces of Bihar politics — Tejashwi Yadav, Kanhaiya Kumar and Chirag Paswan — have decided to go back to the old tradition of hitting the roads, albeit in air-conditioned vehicles, to drum up support for their respective parties or alliances before the state assembly elections scheduled later this year.
Former deputy chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi will start his ‘Berojgari Yatra’ from 23 February, while Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president Chirag is set to begin his ‘Bihar first, Bihari first Yatra’ from 21 February.
Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Kanhaiya is, meanwhile, touring the state as part of his ‘Jan Gan Man Yatra’, which began in the last week of January and will end in mid-March.
“It’s good that the youngsters have decided to undertake yatras across the state. Yatras are basically to have a direct interaction with the masses. One gets the opportunity to know their political workers and also the grassroot reality,” said senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari.
He said mass contact has taken a backseat with political parties now roping in election strategists to manage their poll campaigns.
“I remember that my father (the late Ramanand Tiwari) and late Karpoori Thakur (former Bihar CM) used to be out of their homes 25 days a month. Unfortunately, after the arrival of (election) strategists, most leaders prefer to remain home and mass contact has taken a backseat,” Tiwari added.
Kanhaiya Kumar on ‘Jan Gan Man Yatra’
Former JNU Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, who had unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Begusarai on a CPI ticket, has been on his ‘Jan Gan Man Yatra’ since the last week of January.
Kumar has been making speeches against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens during his yatra and he has also managed to draw crowds wherever he has addressed a rally so far.
But his yatra hasn’t been a smooth sailing. His convoy was attacked several times. The latest was on 15 February, when his convoy was attacked in Arrah district, but he escaped unhurt.
The CPI last week submitted a memorandum to Bihar Director General of Police Gupteshwar Pandey, expressing concern over the frequent attacks on Kanhaiya’s convoy.
Tejashwi Yadav’s ‘Berojgari Yatra’
Tejashwi is scheduled to hit the road from 23 February with his ‘Berojgari (unemployment) Yatra’.
The yatra, which is being seen as the beginning of RJD’s campaign to reclaim power in Bihar, has already courted controversy with JD(U) minister Neeraj Kumar alleging that the “hi-tech” Volvo bus acquired by Tejashwi to travel across the state was actually registered in the name of a person who holds a Below Poverty Line (BPL) card.
Though Tejashwi didn’t comment on the allegation, some RJD leaders accused the JD(U) of trying to duck the “real issue” of unemployment and lawlessness in the state.
‘Bihar first, Bihari first Yatra’ by Chirag Paswan
Paswan is set to start his ‘Bihar First, Bihari First Yatra’ from 21 February.
“We will have our rally at Gandhi Maidan in Patna on 14 April. Chirag Paswan will be visiting every district of the state before that to seek support from the masses for the rally. He will focus on Bihar and its problems,” said LJP’s state spokesperson Ashraf Ansari.
He added that various teams have been working hard to ensure the success of Paswan’s yatra.
Nitish Kumar started yatra politics in Bihar
It was Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who had initiated the ‘yatra politics’ in Bihar after February 2005 assembly elections that resulted in a hung assembly and denied him a chance to form the government.
He could not get a majority through defections from the LJP as the House was dissolved. Nitish then undertook the ‘Nyay Yatra’, which turned out to be a big success and resulted in the NDA winning a clear majority in the assembly polls conducted again in November that year.
Since then, Nitish has been undertaking a yatra almost every year — to consolidate his contact with the masses.
The latest was his ‘Jal Jeevan Hariyali Yatra’ that started in December last year and concluded in January.
“Except for the ‘Nyay Yatra’, Nitish Kumar’s yatras have been connected to governance in which he has first-hand information about the ground realities. He also holds review meetings with local officials apart from directly interacting with the masses,” said JD(U) minister Kumar.
“It is good that the younger generation of politicians have decided to follow Nitish Kumar’s path by undertaking yatras. They should work for an alternative politics, which is against corruption and criminalisation of politics,” he added.
The BJP, meanwhile, said the young leaders are a bit too late with their yatras.
“The chief minister undertook the yatra (Jal Jeevan Hariyali Yatra) when it was cold. But still every party has the right to undertake political activities. After all, it is an election year,” said Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi.
The three prominent faces of Bihar politics have so far failed to establish themselves as leaders in their own right.
All there are considered “too elitist” in Bihar’s political circles as they only reach out to people through press conferences or through social media.
Both Tejashwi, son of former CM Lalu Prasad Yadav, and Chirag, son of veteran politician and Union minister Ram Vilas Pawan, have been in politics for over five years now, but they never made an effort to show the voters that they have emerged out of the shadow of their heavyweight fathers.
Tejashwi had led the Grand Alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but it suffered a humiliating defeat — the RJD failed to win even a single seat.
After the Lok Sabha defeat, Tejashwi disappeared from politics for over four months.
His functioning, his inability to carry along senior leaders and failure to interact with followers have led to questions being raised on his ability to challenge the NDA in Bihar.
Tejashwi has so far not been able to project himself as a viable alternative to Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.
Chirag not a crowd-puller
Chirag managed to win the Jamui Lok Sabha seat for the second time in 2019. But his victory and that of all other LJP MPs were attributed to the Modi wave.
Like Tejashwi, Chirag has also left several of his party leaders and followers unhappy with his style of functioning. He seldom interacts with the party workers and makes rare visits to his constituency.
Like Tejashwi, he is also yet to come out of the shadow of his father. While Tejashwi has been able to draw crowds, Chirag is yet to emerge even as a crowd-puller.
Kanhaiya yet to gain foothold in Bihar politics
Kanhaiya, meanwhile, has made a name for himself on his own, but despite his nationwide recognition, he is yet to gain a foothold in Bihar politics.
His style of campaigning in Begusarai with celebrities, and students and alumni of Jawaharlal Nehru University alienated local CPI leaders and followers during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
He lost the poll battle to Union minister Giriraj Singh of the BJP by a margin of over 4 lakh votes.
His ‘Jan Gan Man Yatra’ is his first attempt at direct interaction with the masses. It’s a tough task for him considering that he is labelled as a “member of the tukde tukde gang”.
The term ‘tukde tukde gang’ was coined after the February 2016 controversy in the Jawaharlal Nehru University where it was alleged that some people raised “anti-India slogans”.
Unlike Tejashwi and Chirag, Kanhaiya does not enjoy support of social groups that the former have inherited from their fathers. Kanhaiya is also saddled with a depletion in the mass support of the CPI.
It is a coincidence that all three parties — RJD, LJP and CPI — don’t believe much on the use of social media and election strategists.
Even in the 2015 assembly polls when Nitish was a part of the Grand Alliance, the RJD had credited Lalu Prasad, and not election strategist Prashant Kishor, for the victory.
“…these three young leaders have been operating mostly from Delhi or Patna, making occasional visits to Bihar. They must have realised that until they don’t remove the Delhi and Patna tags, they will never be accepted by the masses,” said a JD(U) leader, who didn’t want to be named.