Big shoes to fill in Bihar

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Big shoes to fill in Bihar

Wednesday, 14 October 2020 | Kalyani Shankar

If Chirag and Tejashwi are not able to benefit from the legacy of their fathers in the forthcoming Assembly elections, then who will?

Will the two young leaders of Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Chirag Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) be able to fill the big shoes of their fathers? Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan had been players in Bihar politics for decades and held their own despite various ups and downs in their lives. They sensed a political opening in the late eighties to challenge the dominant Congress and succeeded to a certain extent. Now, years down the line, an ailing Lalu is in a jail in Ranchi, serving his sentence in the fodder scam while Paswan passed away recently.

Now, the two young leaders will be playing a much more pronounced role in Bihar politics. They are leading two important caste groups, the Yadavs and the Dalits in Bihar, estimated to be about 24-30 per cent of the electorate. To their advantage, their fathers declared both the young leaders as their political heirs long ago.

The 39-year-old Tejashwi Yadav is the leader of the Opposition alliance called the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance). The Congress Party, the CPI, CPI–M and some smaller parties are part of the coalition. This Mahagathbandhan will be facing the ruling JD(U)–BJP alliance in the Assembly elections in the State.

Tejashwi is young, ambitious, articulate and has learnt some tricks of politics from his father. Once Lalu went to jail, he grabbed the opportunity and quickly moved to neutralise his opponents. However, Tejashwi has many challenges ahead. The first is to keep the flock together. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, a close confidant of Lalu, resigned as the party’s vice-president and left the RJD just before his death last month. Senior leaders like Shivanand Tiwari and some MLAs are leaving the RJD and joining Nitish Kumar’s camp. Though Tejashwi has inherited Lalu’s name, his identity and political legacy, we have to see whether he inherits his father’s vote bank, too. Lalu had carefully built up the Yadav–Muslim (MY) electorate. With his one action of halting BJP leader LK Advani’s famous Rath Yatra in 1990, he has claimed secular credentials for all time to come. In all probability this vote bank will remain with Tejashwi.

 Then there is the youth vote. There are four crore young voters who should be targetted by the two young leaders. Tejashwi has built up his social media platforms, posters, slogans and election jingles. Though he has studied only up to Class IX, he is also proficient in English. However, Tejashwi has a long way to go as he lacks the political shrewdness of Lalu.

Second, he has nothing much to show for his achievements as he was the Deputy Chief Minister only for 20 months. Third, Lalu overlooked the claims of his elder son Tej Prasad Yadav and daughter Misa Bharti and declared Tejashwi as his political heir, which has created jealousy and trouble in the family. Tejashwi has to sort this out and ensure his family’s support. Fourth, Tejashwi got his position on a silver platter. He became the Deputy Chief Minister at the young age of 26 and is now waiting to become the Chief Minister. When the Mahagathbandhan ended in 2017, he became the Leader of the Opposition and now the leader of the Grand Alliance.  Now is the time for him to show his leadership skills.

 Chirag’s story is different. He wanted to become a film actor but after failing to make an impact in Bollywood, joined his father in politics and soon rose to become the party chief. He has been involved in many crucial decisions of the party, including the recent decision to go solo in Bihar Assembly polls, leaving the Nitish-led NDA in Bihar.  

 Ram Vilas Paswan was known as a weathercock and he had worked with eight Prime Ministers, serving in their Cabinets for decades. His recent death would help Chirag in boosting the party but we will have to see how he translates the sympathy factor into votes. Chirag is yet to emerge as a new Dalit icon like his father. He will also face the challenge of galvanising the party workers and consolidate his position. He should be able to make his voters believe that he is the right person to fill the space left by his father.

In Bihar, Dalits comprise over 17 per cent of the population and they are one of the game-changers. While Paswan could keep his Dalit constituency intact by going “solo”, Chirag will be allowing the LJP’s rank and file to contest the election on a much bigger scale and expand its organisational footprint. Rumours say that he has also sealed a deal with the BJP for the post-election scenario. The two leaders will be facing a formidable combination of the JD(U) and the BJP, who have established leadership, experience, money power, muscle power and the electoral machinery at their beck and call. However, if Chirag and Tejashwi are not able to benefit from the legacy of their fathers, then who will? Could it be the JD(U) or the BJP or the Congress? Probably both might succeed in keeping their flock together if they play their cards well. Or else their voters might move away and then the playing field will be open to all.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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