Tejashwi Prasad Yadav was almost written off after the RJD failed to win a single seat in the Lok Sabha elections last year. With Lalu Prasad Yadav in Ranchi jail serving a sentence in the fodder scam, the party was a rudderless ship in Bihar’s politics. In less than a year-and-a-half, the 31-year-old appears to have stepped into his father’s crowd-pleasing shoes. This is what appears to be the biggest takeaway from the assembly polls in Bihar, which elects a new government on November 10. Tejashwi has been drawing huge crowds to his rallies, showing signs of a leader who has cracked the code of how to connect with the masses, a trait that had once propelled his father to power.
The jury is still out whether Lalu’s youngest son will pull off what his father failed to do in the past 15 years and finally dislodge Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) from power. But if the loud cheers of his supporters on his campaign trail are any indication, he has certainly come a long way. Tejashwi may not yet have acquired his father’s earthy humour to establish a rapport with the crowds, but he has mastered the art of playing to the gallery. Taking the fight of his alliance into the enemy camp almost single-handedly, he has been holding 10 to 12 rallies every day. The response has apparently been ecstatic. “The people have made up their mind,” he says confidently, “Nitish Kumar is a tired man. He will be given a farewell on November 10.”
Tejashwi’s supporters interpret the presence of huge crowds as a tell-tell sign of a lehar or wave in his favour. But the moot point remains: will the footfalls at his rallies really convert into votes?
Nobody has an answer yet. Probable reasons behind the presence of big crowds are up for grabs this poll season. Political commentators believe that Tejashwi’s promise to provide 10 lakh government jobs appears to have struck a chord with the youngsters in the state, where the unemployment rate has shot up to a staggering 46 per cent. It may turn out to be a trump card for him given the fact that 52 per cent of Bihar’s population is under the age of 35, they argue.
But Nitish is no pushover. A master poll strategist who wears his ‘inclusive growth’ plank on his sleeves, he has remained unbeaten, regardless of who has been his ally in the past 15 years. Like other NDA leaders, he too rubbishes Tejashwi’s claims on jobs. “Will funds for so many jobs be arranged from the prison or they will mint fake currencies?” he wonders. Deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP makes a similar point, saying Tejashwi’s promise is a decoy to hoodwink people. The two leaders point out that the RJD government provided only 95,000 jobs between 1990 and 2005, while Nitish has given more than 6 lakh jobs.
Tejashwi has made unemployment a major poll issue in a state where caste equations have always overshadowed everything else. That in itself is quite an achievement for the young leader—whatever the outcome.