On the campaign trail

Tejashwi Yadav: Formidable foeman

Print edition : November 20, 2020

Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal at an election rally at Bihpur in Bhagalpur district on October 20. He has been consistently drawing large crowds. Photo: PTI

Tejashwi Yadav along with a party colleague holding up a garland of onions in Patna on October 26 to protest against the steep hike in onion prices. Photo: PTI

Tejashwi Yadav proves more than a match for Nitish Kumar and the Bharatiya Janata Party as he steadfastly sticks to issues such as unemployment and inflation.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) online troll factory has attempted to dismiss Tejashwi Yadav as “Bihar ka pappu”. Yet, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s younger son has come across as someone who has infectious energy, cogent arguments to tear into his rivals’ accusations, and the rare ability to prevent the BJP from hijacking the election with communal rhetoric.

The former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar is headlining as many as 12 public meetings and rallies a day. The crowds so far have been swelling and clearly outnumber those of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The excitement and adulation he arouses in young people is palpable as they surround him seeking interaction or a selfie with him when he gets off the dais.

His speeches and interviews are succinct, intelligent and reflect his intent to focus on real issues affecting people such as unemployment, price rise and social welfare programmes. He keeps iterating that the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has taken a progressive and practical agenda to the people and that its cadre have been active in the field since the COVID-19 lockdown. He says that he is confident the people will recognise the party’s intent to work on solution models for Bihar and give it the opportunity to lead them.

The RJD manifesto centres around employment, the farm laws recently enacted by the Central government, education, health, smart villages and infrastructure development for the growth of industries and agriculture. It has been named “Hamara Pran” (Our Pledge).
Also read: Tejashwi Yadav's campaign interview (2020)

As the first phase of polling approached, he appeared willing to take on Nitish Kumar directly. On October 25, he said the huge turnout at his rallies showed that the people were not happy with the “energyless, conservative and narrow-minded” Nitish Kumar. “The crowds at our rallies show that people are not just angry with Nitish Kumar but they hate him now, this is the level of their angst,” he said.

When Nitish Kumar took an indirect pot-shot at the Lalu family, his rebuttal was pointed. Dismissing Tejaswhi Yadav’s vision for Bihar, the Janata Dal (United) leader had said: “Does anyone care? They have eight-nine children. They have no faith in daughters. After so many daughters, they had a son. You all can see—this is the kind of Bihar they want to make.” But Tejashwi Yadav made sure it boomeranged on Nitish Kumar. “By commenting on my family, Nitish Kumar is targeting PM Modi as he also has six siblings. Using such language, Nitish Kumar has insulted women and my mother’s sentiments. They don’t speak on the main issues, like inflation, corruption, unemployment, etc.,” he said.

Knowing well that despite all the pro-people sloganeering, elections in Bihar are greatly shaped by the caste calculus, he did not shy away from playing the caste card. On October 26, the last day of campaigning for the first phase, he told a gathering at Rohtas: “Jab Lalu Yadav ka raj tha, tab gareeb seena taan ke Babu Saheb ke samne chalte the. Lekin hum sab logon ko sath leke chalenge. Jo karmchaari kam karenge unhein samman diya jayega, jo apraadh karenge unhein saja di jayegi.” (When Lalu Yadav was in power, the poor used to walk before the ‘Babu Saheb’ with their head held high. However, we will take everybody along. Employees working honestly will be rewarded and wrongdoers will be punished.) He has calmly countered the BJP’s allegation that he is an entitled and inefficient dynast. On October 26, in Aurangabad, he said: “If I am inexperienced then why are you [the BJP] deploying full force against me? The BJP is the largest party in the world, but it doesn’t have any CM candidate.” He appeared unruffled by the induction of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in the list of BJP’s star campaigners. “It’s not important for us who comes from which State with what issues. For Bihar elections, only issues like unemployment, poverty, migration related to the State are relevant,” he said. (Adityanath had played the Hindutva card.) Tejashwi Yadav maintained his composure when a slipper was hurled at him at a rally in Aurangabad.

He has centred his election campaign on the promise of 10 lakh jobs if voted to power. He appears confident as he tours every nook and cranny of the State, connecting effortlessly with the people. “My first Cabinet meeting will be historic. It will provide the youth 10 lakh government jobs. Do you want government jobs?” he keeps saying at his rallies, attempting to shed the infamous legacy of jungle raj in Bihar and make his mark with Gen Next. He is armed with statistics, too. “About 4.5 lakh positions are lying vacant in the State government and an additional 5.5 lakh jobs will be provided in health, education, police and technical sectors,” he says in response to questions on the job promise.
Also read: Tejashwi Yadav's rise as an RJD during the 2020 polls campaign

His sleek kurta-pyajama are teamed with the Bihari gamchha or towel, but his dialect is more in sync with Bihar’s young generation, which speaks more or less chaste Hindi. He also employs just the right dose of humour while attacking the BJP, perhaps with the intent to not come across as a bitter rival. On October 26, he was seen holding up a garland of onions, hitting out at the Centre over the rising prices of the vegetable. “The common man is suffering because of back-breaking inflation, corruption and unemployment. Work and business have come to a standstill. Farmers, labourers, youth and traders are struggling to meet their food needs. The BJP has killed small businessmen. They roam round wearing onion garlands when there’s price rise. Now, we’re giving them this,” said the 31-year-old.

He also displays tact while dealing with potential allies such as the LJP. He has made sure the RJD’s overtures to it are sent at the right intervals. “If required we will seek support of the LJP during government formation,” he said at a rally in Jamui on October 19. Sensing the LJP’s possible role as a kingmaker in Bihar, he is going soft on Chirag Paswan. He recently criticised Nitish Kumar for showing “disregard” for Ram Vilas Paswan “at a time when Chirag needed his father the most”.
Also read: Ram Vilas Paswan (1946-2020)

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