The 2019 Lok Sabha election is the first in three decades that is being held without Lalu Prasad. As Bihar’s arguably the most popular leader is serving time in jail, his younger son, Tejashwi Yadav, is trying to carry forward Lalu’s ideology, style and following. A cricketer-turned-politician, Tejashwi, for many, is an extension of Lalu. For some others, he is nowhere close to his father when it comes to crowd-pulling. There is, however, an overwhelming feeling among all that Lalu’s absence is a loss for the party and will also tell on the gathbandhan.
While Lalu’s conviction in the fodder scam dealt a heavy blow to the party, it gave Tejashwi the chance to come on his own. "In one way or the other, it was a blessing in disguise for Tejashwi as it gave him a wide exposure to sharpen his political skills. He is street-smart and has become a calculative politician now," said Ram Naresh Jha, a middle-aged shopkeeper in Patna.
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While the country is watching Lalu’s son grow as a politician, a comparison between the father and son is obvious. "Tejashwi is a young leader who has already acquired the basic traits of a mass leader. He speaks nicely; he is wise and polished. No doubt, Lalu remains a popular leader and his absence is likely to impact the RJD’s prospects, but at the same time Tejashwi has left no stone unturned in making his presence felt at rallies and meetings," said Gopal Prasad, a retired IAS and professor based in Patna.
Talking about his transformation from his IPL days to being a popular young leader, his cricketer friend and now RJD’s social media in-charge, Sanjay Yadav, said, "Tejashwi left cricket in 2012. He returned home and began focusing on politics. Both of us spent days in understanding and analysing the reasons that led to RJD’s defeat in the 2010 assembly elections. We also strengthened our social media wing. By then, Tejashwi had taken over as RJD’s youth wing’s chief."
Sanjay said there will always be some difference between Lalu and Tejashwi’s style of functioning but the latter has done his best to bridge that gap. "Tejashwi tries to reach out and listens to everyone. He is addressing 5-6 rallies a day. Most of his speeches are extempore. He smartly sprinkles his speeches with punchlines. For instance, when he said Bharat Mata ki Jai, he quickly quipped Aarakshan Mata ki Bhi Jai. When he was with Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata, he changed her slogan from ‘Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo‘ to ‘Kare ke baa, lade ke baa, jeete ke baa‘. He also said if Modiji calls himself chowkidaar, the public is thaanedar," said Sanjay.
RJD’s Bihar state president Ramchandra Purve believes that Tejashwi is cool-headed and strategically sound and that he is their future. "The way Tejashwi has faced political adversities is commendable. No doubt, he is the future chief minister of Bihar. For instance, when Nitish Kumar betrayed the people’s mandate and joined hands with the BJP, it was Tejashwi who stood up in the House and gave a speech that left everyone stunned. Political pundits still compare it with Karpuri Thakur’s speeches. In my words, Lalu Prasad Yadav+something = Tejashwi "
In a build-up of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Tejashwi hit the street for Janadesh Apmaan Yatra and Samvidhan Bachao Yatra in 2017 and 2018, respectively. He also stood by the Backward Castes when Bharat bandh was observed on April 2, 2018. Tejashwi also held a dharna in national capital’s Jantar Mantar to protest Muzaffarpur shelter home case, said Purve.
At the same time, a source close to the family, said Tejashwi is not communicative. Tejashwi is not a crowd-puller as his father is. He is non-communicative. Sometimes he cancels his meetings without prior intimation. At present, Tejashwi is undergoing the biggest test of his political career. There is no one who can substitute Lalu in the campaign. He has that lingo which connects with the masses whereas Tejashwi is trying to imitate his father but a big disconnect is there.
A party insider also said that the ticket allocation has been led by Tejashwi and that too has Lalu s fingerprints, keeping in mind his tested Muslim-Yadav vote bank, as well as the potential votes of extremely backward classes and non-Yadav OBCs. While Muslims and Yadavs, who continue to stand behind the RJD, make up 32 per cent of the electorate, the EBCs and other OBCs comprise 40 per cent.
Even as Tejashwi is seemingly trying his best to spearhead the party, there are many who feel that it was Lalu who would have posed a formidable challenge to the BJP.
Nalin Verma, author of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s autobiography- Gopalganj to Raisina, says, None can substitute Lalu Yadav in terms of campaign or communication with the people or in terms of the lingo that he used. Had Lalu been with Tejashwi, they would have easily won Begusarai, Khagadia and Madhepura seats. Some senior leaders like D Raja and all would have come in support of RJD candidates to stop BJP. Now Kanhaiya Kumar is not a seasoned leader and he cannot understand the political algorithm."
The biggest challenge that 28-year-old Tejashwi Yadav faces is the unpredictable nature of his elder brother Tej Pratap that has the potential to dent the RJD s poll prospects. It is said that keeping that in mind, Lalu had chosen Tejashwi over Tej Pratap as his political heir.
Professor Gopal Prasad reiterated, "Be it fielding candidates of his choice against RJD or calling his brother incapable and incompetent in comparison to their father, Tej Pratap has been unpredictable. I don’t think it will cause any serious damage to the party as everyone is known to the fact that both Lalu and Tejashwi are the face and decision-makers in the party,"
Senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwary said, The RJD is in advantage this time with Kushwaha, Malaha and Manjhi have come on board along with our loyal Muslim-Yadav factor. The RJD in Mahagadhbandhan is doing far better than before.
On Tejashwi s political maturity, Tiwary said, Lalu is the biggest campaigner I have ever seen. So his absence cannot be filled by anyone. But one must not forget that Lalu s era is gone. Now everyone has accepted Tejashwi as Lalu’s political heir. So people who support Lalu are supporting Tejashwi now. Besides, Tejashwi need not follow Lalu’s footprints. Both are from different era, dealing with different problems, so they should have their own style and troubleshooting skills. Let the young Tejashwi learn politics in his own way. Lalu will remain the posterboy of the RJD.