Takeaways For Tejashwi Yadav
Bihar, a template for the Opposition
Is there anything in common between cricket, movies and politics?
Apart from the Indian Premier League (IPL) running parallel to the Bihar Assembly election, a failed cricketer and a one-film Bollywood wonder emerged as the most important political figures in the Bihar polls, which also turned out to be a contest of two generations.
In the end, Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s reigning chief minister, barely managed to survive the onslaught of his young rivals, who went all out to dislodge him in their own different ways.
Despite coming so close to victory, young Tejashwi Yadav had to contend with a narrow defeat for his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led Mahagathbandhan. Nevertheless, Yadav has emerged from his rite of passage, so to speak, with flying colours by giving a mighty scare to the numerically-superior National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Although our parliamentary democracy envisages a system where to the victor go the spoils, 30-year-old Tejashwi’s performance of rallying his party to a near-victory against huge odds needs to be put in perspective.
It has to be recalled here that the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan was nowhere in the race to begin with, the caste arithmetic skewed heavily in favour of the ruling combine. From a near ten percent deficit at the beginning of the poll to pulling level with the NDA in the final tally on vote percentage is no mean feat.
The Congress’ role in taking the Mahagathbandhan down and the rationale of allocating 70 seats to the grand old party itself will continue to be talking points in the days to come. But let’s be honest: Almost everything had to fall in place for Tejashwi and the Mahagathbandhan to emerge victorious; even the crucial spoiler role played by Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) was integral for its win. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
There are many takeaways for Tejashwi Yadav from this election. The audacious goal to win the election by campaigning on the ground for less than two months, without doing the necessary ground work, proved to be costly for the RJD in the final analysis.
While Nitish Kumar was rightly accused of shutting himself up during the migrant exodus and for not doing enough in the wake of the floods, a seemingly entitled Tejashwi was similarly cooped up in Delhi’s safe environs.
Tejashwi Yadav will have to emulate his father Lalu Prasad Yadav in becoming a rooted politician. After being routed in the 2019 general election, Tejashwi did a disappearing act while smaller parties like the CPI (ML), AIMIM and even lone ranger Pappu Yadav were seen on the ground working among the people.
Back in 1990, when the then 42-year-old Lalu Prasad Yadav got the nod to be Bihar’s chief minister over the claims of more experienced campaigners, he had reportedly quipped about his senior colleagues in the Janata Dal: “Let them be Chanakyas, let me be Chandragupta in Pataliputra.” Lalu Prasad was not an heirloom politician, who rose to power merely by virtue of the accident of his birth. He was a regular fixture in state politics after winning his first election in the Janata Party wave in 1977 and had briefly occupied the post of Leader of Opposition in 1989 before going on to become chief minister.
Likewise, Tejashwi needs to put in the hard yards, endear himself to the masses and emerge as the default alternative in the next election.
As for Chirag Paswan, his dream of becoming a kingmaker, a la Ram Vilas Paswan in 2005, proved to be futile. Despite performing creditably and polling more than 5 percent votes contesting on 137 seats, his party could not win more than a solitary seat. However, he managed to decide the winners and losers on 73 seats with JD-U being the worst impacted on 28 seats even as the LJP played spoilsport for the Mahagathbandhan on 30 seats. Chirag Paswan, too, would have to stay the course and stay back in the state to emerge as a force going forward.
The silver lining for the opposition is the emergence of a rainbow coalition of the broad anti-BJP parties in this election. Although the AIMIM eventually played spoilsport for the alliance, the coalition experiment seems to have succeeded in the transfer of votes and adopting a common approach.
In future, in what could turn out to be tight contests in some states, smaller parties with influence in certain pockets would have to be accommodated additionally in such alliances to bolster the numbers. As for Congress, in states where they are left with residual votes, the grand old party will have to be more realistic about their status as a unifying force and become more accommodative. This election crucially saw a revival of the Left fortunes in the state after two-and-a-half decades, with the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation emerging as a force to reckon with in Bihar’s polity.
This election also marks the beginning of the end of Socialist politics in Bihar, dating all the way back to the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal experiment in the late sixties, even preceding the JP movement.
The protagonists of the JP movement, riding on VP Singh’s anti-corruption crusade in the late eighties, had revived the socialist movement in the state which metamorphosed into social justice and identity politics in the Mandal era.
The inheritors of the socialist legacy – including Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag Paswan – are now propounding a newer kind of politics anchored on ‘economic justice’, not limiting themselves to castes or the wider caste groupings.
Notably, Nitish Kumar, the last in the line of politicians of the JP era, had announced that this was going to be his last election, and although Kumar can always be counted to go back on that, his party’s return of 43 seats in this election, 31 less than the BJP, renders him a lame duck chief minister.
In fact, there is a major possibility that he could be eased out from his chair by the BJP following the 2022 general election, much before the end of his term. The next election, in all likelihood, is likely to be a straight contest between Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the BJP.
Bihar is one state where the BJP hasn’t really made inroads beyond the upper castes despite getting a sizeable number of Yadavs to switch allegiance in the general election. The BJP is eyeing not only the Extremely Backward Classes (EBC) and Mahadalit vote bank of Nitish Kumar but also the Yadav constituency of the RJD. The promotion of the likes of Nityanand Rai, a Yadav, as union minister is a step in that direction.
Tejashwi Yadav would not only have to retain his core base of Yadavs and Muslims, but also cover much more ground in breaking into the EBC and Mahadalit base, one-time voters of the RJD. For that he will have to supplement his ‘economic justice’ plank by working on the ground with people on livelihood issues and, ensure a more equitable representation for other caste groups in key positions within his party.
Anand Kochukudy is a Kerala-based political journalist and former editor, The Kochi Post.