Lalu Prasad has inducted his sons into the party. Tej Pratap and Tejaswi may hold aloft the lantern, but will they be able to light the path for RJD, asks Satyavrat Mishra
Ever the politician, Lalu Prasad has often addressed leaders of his Rashtriya Janata Dal as members of the RJD “family”. On May 15, he had a more intimate meaning of “family” to proclaim to the public.
During the party’s Parivartan Rally at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna, Prasad pushed two young men into the spotlight -- his sons, Tej Pratap and Tejaswi Yadav.
Affable and loquacious as only he can be, Prasad charmed the crowd into accepting the next dynasty of the Yadav clan as ready-made helmsmen. While the rally, the biggest he has addressed in recent times, was aimed at mobilising the people against “the misrule of the Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance government”, Prasad’s focus almost always seemed to stray towards how best to promote his sons. So, every banner and poster of the event had the photographs of the two youths, described without inhibition as “the future of Bihar”.
The veteran political leader and former chief minister of Bihar feels that his sons will inject new energy into RJD which has been listless with just 22 Members of Legislative Assembly out of 243 in the state House and three Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha. The father’s fond hopes are, however, not completely shared by party elders.
The older of the two, 26-year-old Tej Pratap, is not unknown in the party rank and file. At the height of the Lalu-Rabri Devi rule between 1990 and 2005, many, including the father himself, thought that Tej Pratap would be the standard bearer for the Yadav family.
Apparently, in the mid-1990s, a VIP guest at 1, Anne Marg (the official residence of the Bihar CM) asked Tej Pratap what he would like to become when he grew up. It was Prasad who interjected with, “He will become the chief minister of Bihar.”
One Janamasthmi day, when Prasad was in jail in the fodder scam case and his wife was heading the RJD government, some party leaders gifted a gold statue of Krishna to Rabri Devi, saying, “Madam, this is Tej Pratapji. He wants to be the chief minister. Please fulfil his wishes.”
At that time, Tej Pratap was still in Ishan International School, and yet to pass his Class XII examinations. Perhaps sensing that Tej Pratap was the man being in whose good books would bring them political clout, Rabri Devi’s infamous brothers, Sadhu and Subhash Yadav, took the nephew under their wings. What effect their mentoring had on the young Yadav couldn’t be ascertained since Tej Pratap vanished from the scene soon after RJD’s defeat in the 2005 assembly elections. He resurfaced only in July 2011.
What sort of a political leader he will become is not apparent yet. But party members will perhaps hope he will do better at politics than with academics. Of his absence from the state between 2005 and 2011, some say that he went to Delhi for technical education. Others add, half in dismay, that he had tried gaining entrance to reputed institutions, but failed to crack the entrance exams.
In 2011, he was admitted to Patna’s BN College to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science. However, he failed to clear even the first year exams. Required to score 45 per cent to pass in his two honours papers, the young man obtained just 39 and 37. His father rewarded him by elevating him to the leadership of the RJD’s student wing.
Tejaswi, 24 years old and more grounded than his brother, grew up away from the family. As an 8-year-old, he was bundled off to the national capital to study at Delhi Public School, RK Puram. His father was in jail and his mother had been foisted with the chief ministership.
The politically ill-at-ease Rabri Devi, as she herself admitted later, suffered from depression and her focus as chief minister was more on getting her husband out of jail than on running the state or looking after her large brood.
The younger Yadav, like his sibling, cheered no schoolteacher with his marks. But he found limelight on the cricket pitch. A middle-order batsman and offspin bowler, he played for his school team and even captained Delhi’s under-15 and under-17 teams. His mother’s government felicitated him with the Khel Kriti Samman in 2003.
He was later taken into the squad of the Delhi Daredevils for the Indian Premier League, though observers put two and two together to report that it was his father, who, in current parlance, tucked the towel into his kurta and fixed his spot in the squad. After all, Prasad was the railways minister then, while the IPL franchise owner was the infrastructure company, GMR.
To Prasad’s chagrin, however, all that the “prince of Phulwaria” did at the stadiums was ferry drinks for players on field. In 2010, the Delhi Daredevils dropped him altogether -- just months after Prasad lost his ministerial berth in the Union Cabinet.
Donning the whites of political wear, Tejaswi returned to Bihar to campaign for RJD in the assembly election. But when his party was annihilated, he again exchanged his whites for cricketwear and played for Jharkhand in the Ranji Trophy. But he had to bid cricket adieu due to the presence of more talented players.
If he thought his DNA would make politics an easier field, he was wrong. Tejaswi found that he had not inherited his father’s famous people skills -- last month, at an introductory meeting with the youth wing of RJD, he fumbled frequently while reading out a written speech.
Although the two brothers maintain that there is no sibling rivalry between them, the signs are unmistakable and they are rarely seen together. The equations are exacerbated by the fact that Prasad personally favours Tejaswi, while Rabri Devi roots for Tej Pratap.
The cold war between the two has implications for the party. “Even a blind man can see what’s going on,” says a party leader.
During the run up to the Parivartan Rally, Patna was rife with speculation about the Yadav family drama. Party leaders recall any number of incidents when Tej Pratap would be miffed about posters highlighting his brother and vice-versa. It came to such a pass that Prasad finally had to decree that every poster and banner for the rally should have the names and photographs of both his sons in equal dimensions.
While many RJD leaders think their prospects will brighten under Tejaswi, not everyone is happy at the promotion of the Yadav Next Gen.
“Prasad has proved that he is no different from other regional leaders,” says one political observer. “He is as patriarchal as the politicians in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh who can’t look beyond their families for political lineage.”
Others feel that Tejaswi and Tej Pratap should have ascended through the ranks and should have been subjected to tough political training. With no unanimity on the induction of the Yadav scions, there is some distress in the party.
“This is a time to capitalise on the anti-Nitish sentiments,” says one leader. “Instead, we are busy solving domestic disputes. You can imagine how we are going to perform in the coming elections.”
The discontented feel that Prasad acted in a hurry. Indeed, why did Prasad induct his sons into the party at their age -- one of them isn’t even eligible to stand for Parliamentary elections?
Many political analysts feel this is a manifestation of Prasad’s own insecurity. They feel that in a couple of years, when the case concludes, Prasad could be indicted by the Ranchi Central Bureau of Investigation’s court for his involvement in the fodder scam. Before he faces a jail term again, he wants to consolidate the position of his sons in the party.
Also, Prasad is 65-years-old and perhaps needs the assurance, a double dose of it at that, of a political legacy. Perhaps, but the RJD leader may not have foreseen that his party would have to first weather a battle of egos between two headstrong young men.
Tej Pratap and Tejaswi may hold aloft the lantern, the RJD symbol, but will they light the path ahead?
Image: Tejaswi Yadav