There was a time when the vast sections of poor, Dalits, deprived sections of the society and people with “secular” looked impressed with the kind of politics pursued by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), a party headed by jailed politician Lalu Prasad. Such was RJD’s popularity that it ruled Bihar uninterrupted for 15 years. But currently, the party is battling for survival, literally. With Lalu in jail, the current leadership is proving incompetent to run the party. With RJD’s politics still centering on issues of the Mandal era, masses are slowly losing interest in the party.
The RJD came into being in the 90’s when the Mandal wave was at its peak. This was the time, the country’s socially weak and deprived class were battling for social recognition and due representation in power. Now, that this goal has almost been achieved, the same section is now seeking financial security.
Those born during the 90’s have now become adults and are seeking employment, however, with the RJD still talking about “socially security”, they are switching their loyalties to other parties, say experts.
One of the main reasons behind RJD’s poll debacle in Lok Sabha elections, where it drew a blank, is said to be the growing aspiration of a huge number of unemployed youth from the socially deprived class. “The very section is slowly drifting towards other parties as they are fed up with the decreasing employment opportunities. The RJD hardly looking serious about their future,” says social scientist Sachindra Narayan. The RJD with 80 MLAs is the main opposition party in the Bihar Assembly.
The party brass also feel that the RJD will have to come out of “outdated” political issues and look for newer ones which could attract masses. “There seems to be an ideological stagnancy in the RJD. The party will have to go beyond secularism and look for fresh issues to suit the interests of the society. There must be a flow in ideology to keep itself relevant. You know when the water gets stagnant and doesn’t flow, it emits foul odour,” says Shivanand Tiwari, RJD vice-president.
All through the Lok Sabha poll campaign, the RJD, which was led by Yadav scion Tejashwi Yadav in the absence of his father – who is serving a prison term for the fodder scam – had focussed on the issues of secularism, reservation for socially-weaker class and how political opponents had “conspired” against his father. He neither said anything detail anything about his party vision not its programmes.
The problem for the RJD is that the Muslim community, which had earlier supported it too looks divided in its support. This can be underlined from its performance in Muslim-dominated border region where it lost all its traditional seats to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
One theory being put forward by experts is that while Muslim women may have voted for the NDA since it raised the issue of the triple talaq, the men backed the Opposition’s Grand Alliance.
This was the first time in its 23-year-old history that the RJD had failed to open its account in a Lok Sabha election. Even in the worst case, 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the party had won four seats, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity was its peak. The RJD leadership was not prepared for such setback this time and had hoped to win at least half of the total 40 Lok Sabha seats.
But the result was beyond their imagination and a “shattered” Tejashwi went missing from the political scene for over a month. Even if he returned to Patna after much taunts and political pressures from the Opposition, he didn’t attend the first four days of the ongoing Bihar’s monsoon session. He also skipped the party’s 23rd foundation day functions, inviting criticisms from his own partymen.
“Tejashwi must shun his childish act and work seriously for the party. If you call yourself a lion, you will have to come out of den and face the circumstances head on,” Tiwari had suggested.
Tejashwi had single-handedly led the party’s poll campaign in the elections, addressing as many as 270 election rallies. It is said he ignored the old, experienced and dedicated party leaders and trusted a particular section who were new entrants to the party but the move boomeranged. Also, he focussed his attention more on doing politics through “Twitter”, instead of meeting villagers and knowing about their woes.
“I admit I have committed the mistakes but not everyone can be Lalu Prasad. But we have to go beyond the past and do politics in a new style,” Tejashwi has promised his party.
But experts believe that the RJD will have to go beyond secularism and do inclusive politics by roping in all sections of the society, instead of remaining dependent on Muslim-Yadav voters. Only then the party can make a comeback. The million dollar question now being debated is if Tejashwi can achieve the miracle with barely about 15 months left for the next assembly elections in the state.