RJD had a strong dominance in Bihar's caste-based politics but now it is unable to cope up with the leadership of Lalu Prasad's son Tejashwi Yadav.
Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav is on a massive image makeover drive. Haunted by criticism from the opposition as well as his own party members over his regular sabbaticals, Tejashwi is ensuring that he is visible on the ground and makes his presence felt at important juncture. And the impact has been visible — Tejashwi has been unsparing in his attacks against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, he was there to express his condolences to Sushant Singh Rajput’s family and has raised his voice against the government on rising fuel prices.
Even as the attempts by Tejashwi, also Lalu Prasad Yadav’s heir apparent, to present himself as an alternative to Nitish Kumar, the leadership issue continues to haunt the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) ahead of the Assembly elections. Although Lalu introduced his family into politics well before he was sent to jail, the issue remains unresolved and only appears to be worsening with each passing day as polls near.
The party that had a strong dominance in the state’s caste-based politics is unable to cope up with the leadership of Lalu Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav.
The leadership question: Who is the CM face?
Five years ago, Lalu had overlooked his trusted aides and senior party leaders to bring his family into politics. He had introduced Tej Pratap, Tejashwi and daughter Misa Bharti. He handed over the reins of the party to his younger son Tejashwi before being sent to Ranchi jail.
However, the growing discontent among RJD leaders over his leadership is out in open and many blame that the crisis is steered by Tejashwi himself.
There is a discontent prevailing within a section of the party about Tejashwi’s attitude which many feel is arrogant.
Tejashwi’s attitude has only added to the party’s woes which began with Lalu’s imprisonment in December 2017.
Under Tejashwi’s leadership, whom the RJD has positioned as the CM candidate, the party contested the general elections but failed to deliver. His failure triggered talks about his continuation as the leader of the alliance. Almost all the constituents of Bihar’s grand alliance have already expressed reservations over Tejashwi being projected as an alternative to Nitish Kumar and asserted that the issue remains open.
Is RJD losing its biggest support base?
Most recently, the RJD was rattled after 5 of its MLCs jumped the ship and sided with the rival camp of Nitish Kumar. The RJD was left red-faced as these 5 MLCs don’t face the anti-defection law given that they make two-thirds of the party’s total strength. When the 5 defected, the RJD had 8 MLCs which is more than two-thirds.
But what truly sent the RJD in a tizzy was senior leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh’s resignation from the post of RJD’s national vice-president. RJD’s state vice-president Vijendra Yadav has also resigned from the party. Lalu’s close aide and former MLA Bhola Yadav has also hinted that he may take a decision on similar lines.
Both Vijendra and Bhola have a dominance in the party and are connected to the ground workers. Vijendra comes from the Bhojpur region and has been the party’s face in Ara and Bhojpur for the RJD. Vijendra said that the RJD doesn’t care about its senior leaders. “The party is clearly not the same which it used to be under Lalu’s leadership in the 90s.” His brother Arun Yadav is an RJD MLA from Sandesh.
Bhola Yadav was once among the trusted aides of Lalu. A former MLA from Raghopur, Bhola had held a sit-in outside Rabri’s residence recently. He vacated the seat in 1995 for Lalu. After Lalu, his wife Rabri Devi contested from here and won. It was Bhola who was managing Lalu and Rabri election work in Raghopur. The seat is currently held by Tejashwi.
Bhola has already threatened that the RJD will have to face consequences in the elections.
Ground slipping beneath Tejashwi’s feet?
On Monday, Tejashwi’s decision to induct don-turned-politician Rama Singh was overturned apparently by Lalu after Raghuvansh Prasad’s objection in his resignation letter to the party leadership. As the elections near, there is a buzz around many more RJD leaders deserting Tejashwi and joining the ranks with Nitish. Any departure be it at district or state level, would only widen the vacuum within the party leadership and the ground workers.
HAM leader and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi has already said Tejashwi lacks experience and with him, the alliance cannot pose a challenge to Nitish’s popularity. The Congress too has kept its cards close to its chest but hinted that it was not ready to accept Tejashwi as the CM face. Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) chief Upendra Kushwaha has also openly expressed reservations over Tejashwi’s leadership.
While these could be issues that could be categorised as pressure tactics ahead of seat-sharing talks, RJD is also losing its most trusted vote bank. It is a known fact caste is an important factor in the politics of Bihar and politicians calculate the caste matrix to triumph. Many of the leaders who have quit recently hail from the Yadav community, which has traditionally backed the RJD.
The RJD sees Yadavs and Muslims as its vote bank, but leaders deserting the party just ahead of the elections pose a potential threat to the party. The Yadavs account for 15% of the total voters and traditionally vote for Lalu’s party.
The BJP and JD(U) too know that the Yadavs hold the key and therefore it is necessary to secure their trust and translate it into votes in elections.
In 2000, there were 64 MLAs from Yadav community. The number reduced to 54 in 2005 and 39 in 2010. But in 2015, 61 Yadav MLAs were elected to the Legislative Assembly when RJD and JD(U) had contested in an alliance. Of the 101 seats, the RJD had fielded 48 Yadavs and 42 had won. The JD(U), on the other hand, had given tickets to 12 Yadav candidates and 11 of them had won. The Congress had fielded 41 candidates. Four of them were Yadavs and two had won.
The BJP in 2015 too tried to gain the trust of Yadav by fielding 26 Yadavs but only 6 had won.
The RJD which lost the power to Nitish Kumar in 2005 has only seen a drop in its vote share. In 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the RJD had secured 30.7% votes. In 2005 Assembly polls, the party got 25% votes. In 2009 when general elections were held, the RJD bagged 19.3% votes and 18.8% in 2010 assembly polls. In 2014 general elections, the RJD pocketed 20.5% votes and 15.4% in 2019. In the 2015 Assembly polls, the party had secured 18.3% votes.