Bihar: ‘We not only have MY with us, we also have BAAP’

In smart wordplay, Tejashwi Yadav said 'BAAP' stands for Bahujans, Agda (forward castes), Aadhi Abaadi (women) and the Poor

Tejashwi Yadav during his 10-day Jan Vishwas Yatra across Bihar
Tejashwi Yadav during his 10-day Jan Vishwas Yatra across Bihar

Abdul Qadir

Tejashwi Yadav launched a 10-day Jan Vishwas Yatra on 20 February—the crowd response reminded people of his campaign in the 2020 assembly election. That had been an acid test for the callow leader with his father Lalu Prasad Yadav still in jail.

Campaigning alone, the barely 31-year-old Tejashwi stepped confidently into his father’s shoes. In the face-off with the double engine government and Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi pipped his ‘Chacha’ (uncle) by leading the RJD to emerge as the single largest party. The RJD–INC–Left Front alliance almost pulled it off, falling short of the halfway mark by eight seats.

Now 35, Tejashwi connected with the boisterous crowds with ease, and wordplay. “People say the Rashtriya Janata Dal is a party of MY (Muslims and Yadavs),” he said. “Let me remind them that we not only have ‘Mai’ (mother) with us, we also have ‘Baap’ (father)!”

BAAP, he elaborated, stood for the Bahujans, the Agda (forward castes), Aadhi Abaadi (half the population, that is, women) and the Poor.

Amidst speculation that the state assembly is likely to be dissolved after the ongoing session, the 10-day yatra will take Tejashwi to 30 districts, three per day. While rumour has it that Nitish Kumar would like the assembly election to be held with the Lok Sabha polls, Tejashwi Yadav says he knows for sure that ‘Chacha’ is planning an early election.

Former poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who is scathing about most political leaders, dismisses Tejashwi as a ‘class 9th pass failed cricketer’. His only political salience is that he is his father’s son. “He can drive what he likes, jeeps or tractors or helicopters, but he will make no difference on the ground,” says Kishor.

Despite such criticism, Tejashwi has overshadowed his other ambitious siblings, especially older brother Tej Pratap and their eldest sister Misa. He has built a social media team and an IT team led by Sanjay Yadav, now a Rajya Sabha MP. Above all, his pitch of having delivered on his promise of filling up 3.5 lakh vacancies in the state government in just 17 months has many takers.

His focus on unemployment and the indifference of the BJP and Nitish Kumar— who had scoffed when he said there were a million job vacancies in the state government—will give the NDA a run for its money, say those with their ear to the ground. They are convinced: this election will be jobs versus jumlas.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar


The ‘tired’ old uncle

The jibe by Tejashwi Yadav that his uncle was now a tired old man who needs to retire has been lapped up by the youth, says retired IPS officer M.A. Kazmi.

Perceptions of Nitish Kumar’s mood swings, failing memory and health have lent credence to the image of a ‘tired’ chief minister. It was politically savvy of Tejashwi to exploit this without being disrespectful, says Kazmi.

Nitish had announced in 2020 that it would be his last election. The JD(U) still managed to win 45 seats in the assembly in 2020 although it had won 16 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. BJP won 78 seats in the assembly—as against 79 by the RJD—and 17 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.

The BJP–JD(U) and LJP (Lok Janshakti Party) with six assembly seats had won 39 LS seats in the last general election. The fading aura of Nitish Kumar has unsettled JD(U) MPs, MLAs and workers, who have started looking for more secure nests.

However, nobody underestimates Nitish Kumar’s shrewdness and ruthlessness, least of all Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is known to repeat the provocative line, “Aisa koi sagaa nahin, jise Nitish thaga nahin (No one close to Nitish who hasn’t been backstabbed by him)” before rattling off the names of some of those ‘victims’— George Fernandes, Sharad Yadav, Lallan Singh, R.C.P. Singh and Prashant Kishor.

The BJP, however, is no less ruthless and several political parties that embraced the BJP have felt its kiss of death. While conventional political wisdom suggests they dump Nitish Kumar after the general election and install a BJP chief minister in Bihar for the first time, Nitish Kumar is unlikely to give any quarter.

No one will bat an eye if he goes back on his retirement plans and pads up for a fresh innings, albeit as the 12th man, quipped one wag. With nothing to lose, he is more than likely to strike a hard bargain with the BJP for seats. “Those who have little to lose, sometimes end up gaining,” says a perceptive banker.

Moreover, this is perhaps the last chance for Nitish to settle old political debts. So, the moral of the story is: Bihar mein picture abhi baaki hai (The show isn’t over yet in Bihar).


The NDA’s woes

BJP insiders are distrustful of Nitish Kumar and point out that a weaker BJP would suit him just fine. They also doubt his ability to transfer votes to the BJP. His re-entry into the NDA has disturbed many within the party as well as its allies, especially Chirag Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Chirag, with a hefty five per cent vote with him, is said to have sabotaged the prospects of several JD(U) candidates in the 2020 assembly election and he can certainly do so again, with or without the BJP. The backward–forward divide in Bihar is more pronounced than anywhere else in the cow belt with Triveni Sangh, a coalition of intermediate castes like the Yadav, Kurmi and Kushwaha that was formed a century ago.

It was in Bihar that Shoshit Samaj leader Jagdeo Prasad launched the movement to discard the sacred thread. Some Kushwahas in Bihar do not invite Brahmins to perform their marriage rituals, which involve neither priests nor seven steps around the holy fire.

Both Chirag Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha, and his two current deputies Samrat Choudhary and Vijay Sinha, had been spitting venom against Nitish Kumar until last month.

The BJP was more focused on dealing a blow to the I.N.D.I.A. bloc by gaining Nitish Kumar than on gaining electorally. Now that Nitish Kumar is in the NDA, it realises it might just have invited trouble.


Double-engine government on the road to nowhere

The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) claims to lay 21 km of roads every day. By that brag, the road widening of the 127-km Patna–Dobhi road, which would connect the state capital with the Grand Trunk Road, should have taken no more than a couple of weeks.

The project started in 2014; 10 years later it is still under construction. IL&FS was awarded the contract to construct the road which required 11 major bridges, 17 minor bridges, three service roads, three road overbridges and 218 culverts.

Bihar: ‘We not only have MY with us, we also have BAAP’

As per the NHAI’s deadline, it should have been completed by 2018. Originally estimated to cost Rs 2,015 crore, the NHAI is silent on the cost escalation due to the delay.

In December 2019, the then chief justice of the Patna High Court found the underconstruction road so bumpy that he abandoned his car and returned by train. Things have not improved since, and the back-breaking journey takes four hours. Tourists to Bodh Gaya and locals are unable to take full advantage of the flights to and from Patna and Gaya.

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