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From 'decent cricketer' to deputy CM: Tejaswi Yadav's meteoric rise

November 30, 2015 11:53 IST

Why has Lalu Prasad picked his youngest child, Tejashwi Yadav, as his political heir, Satyavrat Mishra & Dhruv Munjal find out.


It has been three weeks since the results of the Bihar assembly election were declared but the crowd at 10, Circular Road in Patna is only growing. Home to two former chief ministers -- Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi -- and two current ministers, their sons Tejaswi Yadav and Tej Pratap, this is today the most powerful address in the state.

Like any other evening, Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad has set up “durbar” in his house where he is busy interacting with the newly elected members of the legislative assembly, the media and party office-bearers. Occasionally, party workers walk up to him with garlands of marigold. As Prasad brushes them aside in his trademark style, they head towards his younger son, Tejaswi Yadav, and garland him instead.

Yadav, 26, is, after all, the chosen one and, for all practical purposes, Prasad’s political heir. That he is the youngest of Prasad and Rabri Devi’s nine children did not come in the way of his being sworn in as the deputy chief minister of Bihar last week.

In a span of five years, the young RJD leader has tasted many failures before a spectacular election victory earlier this month. Since his debut into politics in 2010, Yadav has been the rock his father relies on.

He grew up away from his family and this, say party insiders, is the reason why he is more grounded and practical than his siblings. Getting to meet the man in person proves futile. It is early days yet for Yadav in politics and his politically hardened father, party sources say, is keeping a close watch on what he says and to whom.

Prasad, say party workers, has not allowed Yadav a one-on-one with any journalist since he took oath. Not just this -- although Yadav, who has been allocated the portfolios of public works department, forest and environment, and his older brother, Tej Pratap (health ministry), are entitled to official bungalows, the family home is where they will stay.

“Laluji thinks they are still too young to deal with outsiders. So he is not ready to take any chance and has decided to keep them by his side,” says a party official.

Visits to Yadav’s schools in Delhi help get a glimpse into his personality.

On a misty morning, the cricket coach at Delhi Public School, R K Puram, is putting his wards through a rigorous warm-up routine. The marshy path that encircles the cricket field is largely empty, as the unmistakable smell of freshly cut grass hangs heavy in the air. At the net session that follows, a hard-hitting batsman is belligerently going after the bowlers.

Almost a decade ago, a young Yadav batted in these nets for the last time. A standard IX student at the time, Yadav unexpectedly quit school soon after, deciding to pursue his dream of becoming a full-time professional cricketer.

Back in those days, Yadav was a precocious cricketer -- a pugnacious top-order batsman who could bowl a bit of handy off-spin. Studies fascinated the budding sportsman little and he was seldom found in class. The school’s principal, D R Saini, who was actively involved in the school’s sports set-up at the time, describes Yadav as a talented and obedient student.

Seated in his spacious office, the silver-haired, mustachioed Saini says all Yadav wanted to do was play cricket. “There was nothing he liked more.”

Teachers at Delhi Public School, Vasant Vihar -- where he studied till Class V -- remember Yadav as a bashful young boy. In spite of his scrawny frame, he packed a punch when he had a bat in hand.

Surjeet Singh, a sports teacher, reminisces how a 10-year-old Yadav once struck a series of massive sixes in a junior game. “The poor bowlers did not have an answer,” he says. “I remember how ball after ball kept crashing into the line of red-brick buildings that surrounded the ground. I was astounded.”

Vaibhav Poonia, who played alongside Yadav when he was captain of the school team, says that he was a “silent leader” who talked little but had a sound understanding of the game. “He wasn’t outspoken. Always mellow in his approach, he allowed his batting to do the talking,” says Poonia.

At the time, everybody who played with him or saw him bat was convinced that Yadav, despite being raw, was destined to make it big in the sport.

His talent did not go unnoticed. Soon, he received call-ups to the Delhi under-17 and under-19 teams. His debut to the Delhi under-15s, in fact, came at a time when Virat Kohli was the captain of the side. However, the stupefying talent soon gave way to a spate of middling performances, ensuring that his cricketing career never fully took off.

Yadav’s career in domestic cricket was brisk: one Ranji Trophy and two limited-overs games for Jharkhand. In his only first-class match -- against Vidarbha -- in 2009, he scored an insipid 1 and 19 in the two innings, and went wicketless with the ball.

A year earlier, Yadav had been a surprise pick for Delhi Daredevils in the inaugural edition of Indian Premier League. The fact that his father was railway minister in the United Progressive Alliance-I government at the time was missed by no one.

Long hair, slight stubble and a radiant smile -- Yadav was the apotheosis of the young swashbuckling cricketer. But the swagger remained limited to the bench. In the four seasons that he spent with the Daredevils, Yadav did not play a single game.

His father even took a swipe at the franchise, saying that his son was only there in the side to carry drinks for the senior players. A former Daredevils teammate of Yadav says, on the condition of anonymity, that he was never good enough to play at the highest level. “He was a decent player. But IPL is a completely different level and he just wasn’t up to scratch,” he says. “Moreover, we had better alternatives in the squad.”

Disappointed, the “Prince of Phulwaria” returned to Bihar to campaign for RJD in the 2010 assembly election. That year, RJD was annihilated. Yadav stood by his father’s side, learnt the art of politics and climbed the political ladder at a pace that was missing in the cricket field.

He was by Prasad’s side the day the RJD patriarch was convicted in the fodder scam. Yadav said his father was, in fact, the whistle-blower in the scam and not the culprit. With his father in jail, Yadav was the one who kept the flow of information going between him and his mother and senior party leaders, while at the same time advising his father about the future course of action.

This was really the turning point. Yadav became indispensible to his father. Such was the faith that Prasad had in his younger son, who was barely 24 then, that he was made the de-facto head of the party. The move also stemmed whatever ambitions other party leaders nurtured.

Insiders say it was Yadav who convinced his father to join hands with Janata Dal-United chief Nitish Kumar after Kumar's embarrassingly poor show in the 2014 general election. Not only did the unexpected Lalu-Nitish partnership succeed in stopping the Narendra Modi juggernaut in Bihar, it has had the Bharatiya Janata Party rethinking its election strategies.

“When Laluji was in jail, some RJD leaders who were eying the top post thought they could get the better of Yadav. They dismissed him as a child,” says a newly elected RJD minister. “They forgot he has politics in his blood. He has inherited his father’s style and charisma.”

Like Prasad, Yadav has a penchant for rhyming sentences and keeping crowds hooked. Last month, at an election rally in Motihari, he shared the stage with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Such was the confidence he oozed and so fiery was his attack of Modi’s policies and Bharatiya Janata Party strategies that Gandhi sat up to listen. “He is a dynamic leader with a bright future,” says Ashok Chaudhary, state Congress president.

“The most clear-headed person in the family” is how party workers describe him. And, he is someone who does not mince words. He was the first in the party to reprimand RJD legislators who had forcefully occupied official bungalows.

BJP leaders, too, praise his oratorial skills. “Not as good as his father, nevertheless he is a good orator. He is much better than our current flock of young guns,” says a senior BJP leader. “He doesn’t shy away from tough questions by the media and shows conviction while answering. That’s a good sign.”

For Yadav, the innings have only just begun. So far, he appears in full form.

Photograph: Tejaswi Yadav/Facebook

Satyavrat Mishra & Dhruv Munjal