Bihar's young leaders get ready for rigours of state politics
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav had become the chief minister of Bihar at the age of 42 in 1990. His son Tejashwi Yadav became deputy chief minister in 2015 when he was only 26.
Five years later, he emerged as a strong claimant to the post of CM in the 2020 Assembly election. So, Bihar’s young leaders have arrived on the scene, some hitting targets, some missing.
“As Bihar’s young leaders navigate the tough terrain of state politics, it is still unclear how they will manage to survive the test of time when political dynamics are changing fast,” said a political observer.
It is also an undeniable fact that the state politics still revolves around the chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar as it is mainly divided between pro-Nitish and anti-Nitish leaders. It is only reminiscent of the past when state politics was mainly divided between pro-Lalu and anti-Lalu forces.
Though it will be premature to say who is leading the pack, at present, RJD president Lalu Prasad’s ‘lal’ (son) Tejashwi Yadav holds great promise. In the last Assembly elections, Tejashwi missed the throne by a whisker as the grand alliance’s seat tally got stuck at 110, just 12 short of the magic figure of 122 in the 243-member Assembly.
Tejashwi, a former cricketer, has some natural advantages. His biggest plus is that he has inherited the political legacy of Lalu Prasad, who is credited with giving a voice to the downtrodden and deprived sections of society.
Secondly, he belongs to the Yadav caste which constitutes 14-15% of the state’s population. Thirdly, senior leaders including state RJD president Jadanand Singh are always available to give him valuable advice when he needs it most.
Tejaswi spearheaded RJD in the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections by impressing both his political friends and foes as his party emerged as the single largest party – winning 75 seats. The party’s remarkable performance also partially erased the bitter memory of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when the party had drawn a blank.
So unlike many other leaders, he started his political career with a clear edge and now he is seen as the main challenger to Chief Minister Nitish.
On the other hand, late Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan is yet to emerge as a formidable leader matching his strong family background and his own potential even after winning two successive Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019. Ram Vilas had the rare distinction of serving as a minister in the Cabinets of six Prime Ministers.
After senior Paswan’s death in October 2020 when Bihar polls were underway, Chirag and his uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras started staking claim to Ram Vilas’ political legacy. There was a split in the parent party, LJP, as Chirag now heads LJP (Ram Vilas) and Paras, now a Union minister, leads the Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party.
In the process, Chirag’s political strength has apparently dwindled and he cannot hope of emerging as a force to be reckoned with until he spends a good amount of time in the state’s hinterland, building the party’s organisation, opined a political analyst.
‘Son of Mallah’ Sahni
Vikasshil Insaan Party’s (VIP) chief Mukesh Sahni faces an even tougher challenge as he was sacked from the post of minister after he fell out with the BJP. He had contested the last Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections and even dared to field his party’s candidates against BJP nominees, inviting the wrath of the saffron party. Sahni also calls himself a ‘Son of Mallah’ to strike a chord with the members of the community.
Virtually left in the political wilderness, Sahni, a former Bollywood stage designer, perhaps, has to start from scratch, irrespective of the fact that he still commands good support from the members of his community.
“Sahni, an overambitious politician, has to tread on the political tightrope cautiously if he wants to regain his lost ground,” said political observer Indrajit Singh.
Another young leader from Bihar is the Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai, who is considered close to his boss Amit Shah.
Initially, there was speculation that the BJP may prop him up for the CM post as he had also played a leading role in making preparations for Veer Kunwar Singh’s ‘Vijayotsav’ in Bhojpur district, organised on April 23. The function was also attended by Amit Shah.
“I do not think that the BJP will declare Nityanand Rai, a Yadav, as the chief ministerial candidate at least ahead of the 2025 Bihar Assembly elections as it will antagonise its core voters, particularly upper castes,” said a political analyst.
Former Jawaharlal Nehru Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar, known for his fiery speeches, is yet to make a visible impact in Bihar politics as he joined the Congress last September by quitting the CPI. He had contested the last Lok Sabha election against the BJP’s firebrand leader and Union minister Giriraj Singh from Begusarai even as prominent Bollywood personalities and intellectuals campaigned for him. But he lost badly.
It has always been a subject of speculation whether Tejashwi is comfortable with Kanhaiya as the latter is also popular among a section of people, particularly among youths for his hard-hitting speeches and his oratorical skills. The situation only became more complicated when Kanhaiya joined the Congress, a long-time ally of the RJD.
Kanhaiya, however, is not showing much interest as if he has no political ambition in Bihar. It seems the Congress high command wants to use him for national politics as he has established himself nationally as one of the sharpest critics of the Narendra Modi government’s programmes and policies.
Kanhaiya was last seen active in Bihar when he had participated in ‘anti-Agnipath’ satyagraha against the Agnipath scheme in the state capital. He, however, faced a hostile crowd there as locals raised ‘deshdrohi’ slogans against Kanhaiya.
Will Chirag joins hands with Tejashwi?
As the BJP started giving short shrift to Chirag even after ‘using’ him in the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections, there was speculation that Chirag may join hands with Tejashwi for bolstering his party’s prospects in the state.
But there is also a twist to it as he had attended an NDA meeting in New Delhi on the preparations for the Presidential polls. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had sought LJP (Ram Vilas) chief Chirag’s support for the Presidential elections. Singh even reportedly told Chirag that the BJP still considers him a part of the NDA.
Political analyst Pravin Bagi said that Chirag could join hands with the grand alliance as the RJD might find it prudent to accommodate him by conceding 2-4 seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and 15-20 seats in the Bihar Assembly elections next year.
Who will succeed Nitish in JD(U)?
There is no clear indication who will succeed Nitish after he retires from active politics due to his old age. Former bureaucrat RCP Singh who was once considered a successor of Nitish has virtually become a ‘persona non grata’ in the JD(U) after he fell out with the CM for taking unilateral decision to join the Union cabinet and also for growing his proximity with the BJP.
“There is only one leader in the JD(U) and he is Nitish. There is no second-generation leadership in the JD(U) as the party even runs the risk of splitting with some leaders joining the BJP and others the RJD in the post-Nitish era,” said Bagi.