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Power struggle in Lalu's khandaan

By Satyavrat Mishra
October 14, 2013 14:57 IST
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The jailed Lalu Prasad may have put his wife, Rabri Devi, in charge of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, but there's a subtle jostling for ascendancy within the family, notes Satyavrat Mishra.

In order to keep his flock together, Lalu Prasad has often addressed leaders of his Rashtriya Janata Dal as a big family. But with the pater familias now lodged in Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Central Jail after his conviction in a fodder scam case, the family in focus is not the RJD family, but the Yadav clan.

Following his jail term for five years for the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 37 crore from the Chaibasa treasury ostensibly for fodder-related expenses, Prasad has refused to step down as RJD president and resorted to a two-decade old ploy: have his wife, Rabri Devi, reprise the role of mother hen, a title she had assumed in 1997 under similar circumstances. But he has also appointed his younger son, Tejaswi, as her aide, immediately kicking off speculation in Patna about rifts within the party and the family.

The wily politician tried to show he is still the party chief by holding meetings inside the Hotwar jail section where he is incarcerated, but there are few takers for the charade. The air is rife with stories of senior comrades, and his children, sons Tejaswi and Tej Pratap and daughter Misa Bharti, jostling to take over command. Senior leaders are reportedly unhappy with the decision to bypass them and put the party’s reins in uncertain hands and there is an all-too-visible clash of ambitions within Prasad’s own family.

In 1997 too, when he was forced to give up the chief minister’s post in the same case, Prasad had checked the ambitions brewing in the ranks of his then Janata Dal by making his wife the head of the Bihar government. The repeat act has been welcomed by some. “We are certain that Laluji will get bail from the high court in no time,” says senior RJD leader and MP Ram Kripal Yadav. “He is our leader, and the party president’s post is no constitutional position. Therefore, he does not need to resign. In the meantime, Rabriji can guide us. She has done it earlier and she will do it again.”

Rabri, the quintessential housewife when not thrust into public life by her husband’s trysts with the law, is gamely playing out the deceit. “The current regime in the state has conspired against Laluji,” she says, trying hard to sound aggressive. “We will go to the people’s court and state our case. In the meanwhile, I will run the party with the help of Tejaswi, just like Sonia Gandhi runs the Congress with the help of Rahul Gandhi.”

Rabri’s statement makes it clear that Tejaswi, 24, will now be the second-in-command in the party. Most remember him as the youngster who tried to become a cricketer (he was even a member of the Delhi Daredevil’s squad in the Indian Premier League) but failed and is now keen to become a politician. His father’s favourite, Tejaswi has climbed the political ladder in a great hurry. He was at his father’s side the day he was convicted and escorted to jail. He kept his mother and senior party leaders in Patna briefed about the situation and at the same time counselled his father about the course of action to adopt.

However, Tejaswi’s lack of experience and the ambitions of senior party leaders are bound to make his political journey difficult. Several party leaders accept him as a valuable asset for the party, but do not want him at the steering wheel. “He is a promising member of our party, but he still has a long way to go. Just the fact that he is Prasad’s son does not make him a worthy successor,” says an elderly leader. Counters Ram Kripal Yadav: “Tejaswi represents the aspirations of the Bihari youth and he wants to work in the state. What’s wrong with that?”

The biggest challenge to Tejaswi’s authority will come from his siblings, Tej Pratap and Misa Bharti. At the height of the RJD rule in Bihar, many, including Prasad himself, thought that Tej Pratap, the older son, would be the next Yadav star. An indication of which way the wind seemed to be blowing in the clan: Rabri’s infamous brothers, Sadhu and Subhash Yadav, had scrambled to take the nephew under their wings. But Tej Pratap vanished from the scene for six years. When he finally returned to Patna in 2011, on his mother’s urging, he was made the leader of RJD’s student wing.

The current family equations can perhaps be gauged from the fact that when Tejaswi was at his father’s shoulder in Ranchi, Tej Pratap, 26, was holding the fort in Patna with his mother. Reserved by nature, Tej Pratap did not hog the limelight, but, according to party insiders, was a pillar of strength for Rabri as her husband was collared by the Central Bureau of Investigation court.

But the two lads are by no means the only claimants to the hot seat. Prasad’s eldest daughter has thrown her hat in the succession stakes. Born during the Emergency, Misa is named after the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) under which her father was jailed at that time. A doctor by qualification, she is married to a computer engineer and is settled in New Delhi.

The mother of two iterated her political interest by overseeing the preparations for her father’s Parivartan Rally in Patna on May 15. According to party insiders, Misa now wants to contest the polls from the Patliputra parliamentary seat, already eyed by several senior party leaders. She also wants a greater say in the matters of RJD. But unlike her brothers, she lacks support among party members.

The trio maintains that there is no rivalry among them. Says Tejaswi: “We have always been taught to love and respect each other. We share very cordial relations. This rivalry thing is nothing but the creation of idle minds.” As an afterthought, he adds, “Why should we fight? None of us holds any post in the party and none of us wants anything but the development of Bihar.”

However, the signs are unmistakable. Both the brothers have their own offices and one seldom steps into the office of the other. With their father in jail, both are busy expanding their own spheres of influence. There is some bitterness between the two -- party members recall a number of occasions when Tej Pratap was miffed about the media coverage and his father’s fondness for his younger brother. Misa is also less than happy about the promotion of her brothers. “She wants her share in her father’s political legacy. It has made matters worse for the party,” says a source.

The war of succession, some RJD leaders feel, could affect the party’s chances in next year’s general election. “The break-up between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal-United has provided us with a golden opportunity. People want a viable alternative with proven secular credentials, but we are struck with the Yadav khandan and its disputes,” complains a senior leader.

Another adds, “People want to believe in RJD, but as long as the Yadav clan is at the helm, it will be difficult to prove that we have learnt our lesson.”

Image: Lalu Prasad Yadav with his younger son Tejaswi

Photograph Courtesy: RJD website

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Satyavrat Mishra in Patna
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