Tejashwi Yadav: Lalu Yadav's Savvy Heir Awaits Primetime Success

Bihar Election 2020: The politically savvier of the two sons of the wily Lalu Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav caught the public eye in 2015 taking oath as Nitish Kumar's deputy but failed to deliver in the 2019 polls. Will this time be different?

Tejashwi Yadav: Lalu Yadav's Savvy Heir Awaits Primetime Success

Tejashwi Yadav has managed to grab a great deal of attention in this year's Bihar elections.

Patna:

He may be leading an opposition front called the "Grand Alliance" that includes three major political blocs, but Tejaswi Yadav's arsenal in this election looks nothing like his opponent Nitish Kumar's.

Unlike the incumbent chief minister who has the entire might of the BJP - from the star power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his cabinet to other leaders like Yogi Adityanath -- Tejashwi Yadav has been a one-man show on the campaign trail.

But the absence of an army of star campaigners and his charismatic father Lalu Yadav, who is in jail for corruption since January 2018, has uncovered an instinctive politician in the 31-year-old unproclaimed heir of the Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD.

At public rallies, he is often seen interacting with the crowd spontaneously, not unlike PM Modi. The crowd cheers when he asks "Naukari chahiye? (Do you want jobs?)" and then he goes on to explain how if voted to power, he will sign off on 10 lakh government jobs in his first cabinet meeting.

He announced it in September, much before the elections, but leaders of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are only now realising how deeply it has resonated with the masses in the time of economic crisis; in public, they still maintain that it won't fetch any more votes than his disastrous 2019 national election outcome.

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Tejashwi Yadav's headline promise in these elections has been 10 lakh jobs.

The politically savvier of the two sons of the wily Lalu Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav caught the public eye in 2015 taking oath as Nitish Kumar's deputy after the RJD and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) buried years of enmity (briefly) and partnered to stop the BJP juggernaut in state elections.

However, with Nitish Kumar ditching the game-changing coalition in 2017 over corruption allegations against the Yadavs, especially Tejashwi, and switching back to his old ally the BJP, the RJD leader found himself going from No. 2 in the state to the opposition bench overnight.

He took over the reins of the RJD next year after Lalu Yadav's arrest in a years-old corruption scandal. With his smooth repartees, the junior Yadav appeared to punch way above his weight while his elder brother Tej Pratap made national news for his festive costumes and a feud with his wife.

However, despite snappy soundbites and the adulation of TV pundits, Tejashwi Yadav, who fronted the opposition campaign in the 2019 general elections in Bihar, flopped miserably, taking home not one of the state's 40 Lok Sabha seats.

He vanished for more than a month and resurfaced in late June, explaining his disappearances on treatment for a leg injury. Since then, the junior Yadav has been slowly building up the pressure on "Chacha" (Uncle) Nitish Kumar.

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Tejashwi Yadav has consistently drawn large crowds at his rallies this time.

In these elections, those close to Tejashwi Yadav say he has overseen every detail personally. His decision to let go of allies Jitan Manjhi, Upendra Kushwaha and Mukesh Mallah was a calculated move after he realised their votes were not benefitting the RJD-led front and if they go their separate ways, then they will eat into the traditional voter base of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

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Based on surveys and feedback, he allied with Left parties, which can help his candidates in central Bihar and some parts in the north. Although an alliance with the Congress was full of glitches, he went ahead and conceded 70 seats, reportedly after an intervention by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

He also dropped photos of his parents - mired in corruption scandals - from RJD posters. A senior BJP leader conceded that they now must speak for 10 to 15 minutes to remind voters of the rule of Lalu Yadav and Rabri Devi as many of them, especially the young ones, hardly recall those days. Even Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has only recently started using the term "Jungle Raj" to refer to that time.

Confident of his wit and oratory, Tejashwi Yadav challenges 69-year-old Nitish Kumar to open debates all the time and has slick replies to all attacks against him - from his ninth-grade education to the 2019 debacle.

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Tejashwi Yadav has held as many as 12 short rallies in a single day in these elections.

On being called inexperienced and immature, he asks why did Nitish Kumar make him his deputy during their partnership in 2015. And on corruption charges against his parents, he says, "Please point out any irregularities in my departments when I was part of Nitish ji's cabinet."

"Nitish Kumar is mentally and physically tired," he keeps parroting in rallies and to the media. It is a dig that the Chief Minister has been forced to respond to often.

On prickly questions about fielding tainted strongmen like Anant Singh and giving tickets to candidates accused of crimes like rape, he says, please wait for the court verdict and deflects to queries about such leaders contesting under Nitish Kumar's banner.

In a state where everything is decided by caste and voting patterns are institutionalised enough to merit their own psephological terms like the M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) factor, these elections will test how much Tejashwi Yadav can convert his affinity with the crowds into votes and whether his poll pitch of creating jobs and reviving the economy resonates with voters.

But whatever the result, even his worst critics privately admit that with his untiring campaign, Tejashwi Yadav has gone from nowhere before 2015, somewhere in 2019 to everywhere in 2020. He is here to stay in Bihar politics.