For Tejashwi Yadav, General Election 2019 has been a baptism by fire. His mercurial elder brother calls him Arjun. But as he fights to safeguard the subaltern legacy of Lalu Yadav, Tejashwi appears more like Abhimanyu.
Like Abhimanyu, he is bereft of his father’s presence in this make or break election. Like Abhimanyu, Tejashwi, all of 29 and with less than five years of political experience, is battling the combined might of Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi whose political experience is more than his age. Like Abhimanyu, Tejashwi is leading the fight bereft of the might of money, muscle and power of the NDA.
Yet, if the reports on the ground is anything to go by, unlike Abhimanyu, Tejashwi seems to have emerged unscathed and unconquered. He has resuscitated his party and the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar and is primarily instrumental in giving a tough fight to NDA.
Bihar is no ordinary state. As the third largest state by population (over 11 crores), of which more than half are below poverty line sequestered in a complex maze of caste and sub-castes acutely polarised in their political views/preferences, Bihar offers 40 Lok Sabha seats – a must win for any party looking to take a shot at power in Delhi.
Being a leader is a tough job in Bihar and being the Leader of Opposition is way tougher - it never has been easy even for die-hard politicians with decades behind them. Tejashwi has been going strong in this role for close to 22 months; ironically it wasn’t a role of his choosing. He was thrust in the chair of the Leader of Opposition by the political sanguinity of Nitish Kumar, who, in June 2017, on a call of his now (in)famous Antaratma (conscience) abruptly decided to break ties with the RJD and the Congress and return to the fold of NDA to form the government again.
Ever since Tejashwi has kept the Nitish Kumar government on its toes. He has not let any issue pass un-flagged – either in the House or outside. Whether it is the Srijan Scam, Muzaffarpur Shelter Home case, MNREGA Scam, Medicine scam or the issue of deteriorating law and order in the state, he has been prompt to raise them.
During this period he also had to contain with on and off family rumblings, his father’s constant incarceration, particularly his failing health, the larger alliance politics of which he is the face in Bihar, his fight to retain his bungalow which also doubled up as his working office and not to mention the frequent court visits in the IRCTC case.
When the General Election of 2019 was announced in March 2019, the opposition in Bihar appeared in complete disarray. There was no certainty of allies of the Mahagathbandhan except for the Congress and the RJD. It took a fortnight of hectic parleys to stitch together the Mahagathbandhan of various parties with the RJD and the Congress in the lead. The RJD walked an extra mile to accommodate various allies including the smaller parties like HAM, RSLP and VIP.
It is contesting only 18 seats, leaving the seat of Ara to CPI(ML) Liberation, perhaps, the lowest it has ever contested in any General Election. People in the know will tell you that Tejashwi played an important role in the negotiations and in stitching together the alliance. Such parleys called for lot of maneuvering and political maturity, which, to the surprise of many seasoned veterans, he amply displayed. It was, by his own admission, in the larger interest of defeating the NDA.
By far, Tejashwi Yadav has kept the party, family and Mahagathbandan together and it hasn’t been easy. He has fought a gallant battle and led a spirited campaign. He is the main campaigner for his party and for Mahagathbandhan in Bihar. He isn’t a rabble rouser but speaks steadily, often with good humour and borrows from his father’s unique style of conversing with the audience. He speaks on the failed promise of jobs, of rising poverty, of inadequate reservation, of unaccounted scams, of how prohibition in Bihar has failed abysmally.
He cautions his listeners to the polarisation by the NDA, the importance of maintaining communal harmony, of how the NDA government has failed Bihar and the country, of the dangers to the Constitution of India, if the NDA wins. He doesn’t get personal in his attacks, despite the fact that this is one of the most acrimonious and bitterly fought elections in Indian electoral history. His only indulgence, if any, in his speeches is to refer Nitish Kumar as “Paltu Chacha”. The crowd loves it.
Significantly, in this election at least, he isn’t speaking to a caste or a group. He has steered clear of that. His address is to his Bihari bhaiyo aur behno- to the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden.
Perhaps, he wishes to broaden the reach and identity of his party beyond Yadavs and Muslims. Perhaps, he thinks that going forward, politics has to be more inclusive, beyond caste and religion; of poverty and development and harmony. Whatever be the reason, he is attracting crowds, huge crowds. They wait for him in sweltering heat. They wait to listen to him. Are these the signs of change? Only time will tell.
However, the fact remains, for quite some time, Tejashwi Yadav has been on his own, charting his course through the rough and tumble of politics. General Election 2019 is where he seems to be clearly consolidating his reputation as a mass leader in his own right.
Tejashwi Yadav comes across as battle hardened. Irrespective of the results on 23rd May, it is no denying that Tejashwi Yadav has arrived and is here to stay for long.