Tejashwi Yadav may be a failed cricketer, who despite being in the Delhi Daredevils squad for four seasons didn’t play a single game. In fact, his father and RJD patriarch, Lalu Prasad Yadav, had once summed up his role in the franchise as the one who fetches water and towel for other players, an extra.
But on the political pitch of Bihar, full of extras (read: vote cutters), Tejashwi has played the trusted skipper whose strike rate has impressed all even though his team failed to reach the target. He scored 75 out of 144 seats that his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) contested in Bihar 2020, with a strike rate of 52 per cent, just behind the BJP’s 67 per cent (74 out of 110 seats). Behind the RJD and the BJP, were Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) (JD-U) and the Congress. The JD(U) with 43 seats out of 115 posted a strike rate of 37 per cent while the Congress was at a pathetic 27 per cent, winning just 19 out of the 70 seats that it contested.
Tentative data on the Election Commission website suggests the RJD polled the highest number of votes – 97,36,242 – with a vote share of 23.11 per cent. Behind the Yadavs’ party was the BJP which secured a vote share of 19.5 per cent. The JD(U) polled 15.39 per cent votes while Congress’s was at 9.5 per cent.
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Many of the seats where it lost, the margins were lesser than what is seen in the students’ body elections. For example, in Hilsa constituency in Nalanda district of Bihar, RJD’s Atri Muni (alias Shakti Singh Yadav) conceded defeat to the JD(U)’s Krishnamurari Sharan alias Prem Mukhiya by just 12 votes. In Ramgarh, it lost to Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by 189 votes while in Parbatta too, the defeat margin was lesser than 1,000, an indication how close the contest was.
Though RJD’s seat share has reduced by five, compared to 2015 when it had won 80, the party has retained the tag of being the single-largest party, though by just one seat more than the BJP. But given the 2019 Lok Sabha election performance of the RJD, where it drew a miserable blank, 2020 is what will restore confidence in the 31-year-old captain of Team RJD.
Losing it all in 2019 was the lowest moment for the RJD at the national level and the second-worst situation after the 2017 windfall when Nitish Kumar had junked it as an ally and formed the government in partnership with the BJP. Disastrous as it sounds for a party, this year’s election was an important opportunity for the younger Lalu son to go past the debacle that must have haunted him for these one and a half years.
Tejashwi made important moves for the 2020 elections, the most significant of which was making the democratic process all about himself. He removed photos of his parents – Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi, both former chief ministers – from party posters and addressed directly the youth of Bihar, promising them what they want the most, jobs. And the voters did respond, making RJD the single-largest party.
Tejashwi also commanded big rallies during his election campaigns attracting huge crowds that would testify to his rise in the political arena of Bihar. Besides, the demise of Ram Vilas Paswan, imprisonment of Lalu and the diminishing of Nitish Kumar is leaving a void in Bihar’s leading parties that needs replacement by leaders with strong political backgrounds. This is where Tejashwi’s leadership was up for a test and has delivered a response to the former Mahagathbandhan leaders who had questioned his chief ministerial candidacy.
All these despite the image issue that the RJD suffers due to the alleged collapse of law and order in the state during the reign of Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi, something that the ruling alliance has termed as the “jungle raj” in Bihar. Tejashwi has also been called the ‘yuvraj’ (prince) of the jungle raj, an image that would take a lot for the 31-year-old to white-wash.
RJD was given the best possible for these elections, with Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party swinging most of the pro-JD(U) votes. LJP, which fought JD(U) on 113 of the 135 the Nitish-led party contested, dampened JD(U)’s prospects in nearly 40 seats, easing victory for the opposition candidates. For example, RJD’s Lalit Kumar Yadav emerged victorious in Dardhanga rural by polling 64,929 votes against JD(U)’s Faraz Fatmi who secured 62,788. Emerging third in the race, LJP’s Pradeep Kumar Thakur secured 17,605 votes, which is being seen as a major factor that helped RJD’s victory.
One prominent loss to Tejashwi is perhaps RJD’s performance in the Seemanchal region, which comprises 24 assembly segments and is located close to Bangladesh and Nepal international borders, where the AIMIM has eaten into the Grand Alliance’s Muslim vote bank. This time, the AIMIM won five seats in this region, four of which were won by the Mahagathbandhan in 2015. Then, RJD had bagged a total of four seats in this region, compared to just one this time.
The next major election being four years away, the losses are expected to be forgotten with time. Tejashwi’s gains earned by throwing the gauntlet at Nitish, a battle-scarred veteran more than twice his age, are expected to motivate him rather than pulling him down. For, Tejashwi may be a failed cricketer, but in 2020 Bihar, he is not a loser.