Tejashwi Yadav Strikes Out on His Own
Drops father Lalu Yadav from campaign
Tejashwi Yadav, just 31 years old, has emerged from the shadows of his father Lalu Prasad Yadav’s image to lead an energetic campaign for the Bihar Assembly elections. So much so that he has moved out of a political abyss to effectively challenge Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his supporting ally the Bharatiya Janata Party, with exit polls predicting the victory of his mahagathbandhan - Rashtriya Janata Dal, CPI-M, CPI, CPI-M: and the Congress party.
Sweet spoken Yadav has acquired teeth, and this time around did not even pretend to be under his father’s shadow. Instead Lalu Prasad disappeared from all posters that carried photographs of the scion. Asked by reporters about this Tejashwi insisted that there was no need to remember his father through photographs as “he is everyone’s hearts.” The more cynical, of course, felt he was sending out a ‘no baggage’ signal and had used these polls to emerge as a leader in his own right. Without the baggage of corruption that he incidentally has been charging Nitish Kumar with.
Yadav has acquired a presence on social media, and is very visible on Twitter and Facebook. He was not that visible on the roads, a criticism that he has refuted strongly. To the charge that he did not visit the flood affected area, he told a journalist that this was not true and photographs on his Facebook wall were testimony enough. To another question on his slow response to the Corona impacted migrant issue, he said his tweets on Twitter would testify his concern.
He has acquired new confidence over these years, tinged of course with some arrogance. The Left parties had to knock on his door long enough to know who was the leader, before he accommodated them in the alliance. In the last elections he had not wanted a larger alliance, and has clearly been chastened somewhat by the poor RJD performance. According to him he treated everyone with respect, and the idea was for all to contest not for the heck of it, but to contest to win.
He has shifted from his earlier rigid position where he was not even willing to give a seat to youth icon Kanhaiya Kumar. This time around the CPI is contesting three seats from Begusarai, with the RJD candidates having been given the green signal to invite Kanhaiya Kumar for their campaigns. Earlier the message down to the RJD workers was ‘hands off’ as Tejashwi Yadav reportedly saw competition from the former JNU students union president. Or so insisted the Bihar political grapevine.
He has changed his strategy for these elections somewhat, and instead of promising the moon has made it clear that if in power he will fix what Nitish Kumar has broken. Or not implemented at all. This has worked, as he does not hesitate to point out, that if any work was done by the earlier Nitish Kumar government it was “while we were with him in power.” And that when he switched to the BJP, Kumar betrayed the people's mandate and his promises.
His mother remains a viable support. His relations with his brother, also a political aspirant, have never been good but to give Tejashwi his due he has never aired familial differences on a public platform. He shows a maturity beyond his years, and those who chuckled quietly when Lalu Prasad named him as his political heir, have had to accept that the young man has come into his own. He has taken special care not to be drawn into controversy, and his ‘son of the soil’ projection has worked. As was visibly from the enthusiastic crowds at his election rallies.
That some of the excitement was also to do with disaffection with Nitish Kumar is clear. But that even the BJP paled besides Tejashwi Yadav during the campaign is significant. He takes care not to hurl abuse, and in fact took the moral high ground against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by saying that he should use parliamentary language while speaking of political opponents. Or words to that effect. The BJP is busy trying to de-code the recipe for the Tejashwi ‘tsunami’ as his supporters describe it, with the grand alliance cautious and yet exuberant about the outcome.
The only one issue that other political leaders raise about him, is his tendency to disappear from the political street. And a certain lethargy that was visible on more than one occasion during these years leading up to the election. As Chief Minister we expect him to be far more responsive, and hopefully we will not be disappointed, a Bihar Congress leader confided. According to him, Tejashwi Yadav will have to guard against arrogance, and remain accessible to the people.
It is not likely that he will follow a new, younger style of governance as the trimmings of a ‘leader’ are very much apparent in the infrastructure around him. But if he delivers he will be King, and can look at Bihar as a diving board for the national pool, more so as he has age and charisma on his side.