History is a great teacher, but politicians, for one, hardly learn a lesson from the past to preempt their mistakes.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president Lalu Prasad Yadav’s sons, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav also do not appear to have learned enough as yet from Bihar’s political history of the last 30 years.
Tej Pratap, the elder brother, made a blistering attack on RJD’s state president Jagdanand Singh the other day. He not only accused the party veteran of running the organisation like an autocrat but also went to the extent of holding him responsible for Lalu’s illness.
Tej, who became the second-term legislator in the 2020 Assembly elections in November last year, was said to be miffed with Singh because he was apparently not received “properly” at the RJD office in Patna. Among other charges, he alleged that RJD’s grassroots workers could never meet him without a prior appointment.
Singh refused to take cognisance of Tej Pratap’s outburst, but it apparently left Tejashwi, who is leading the party in the absence of his father, embarrassed. Singh, after all, is not only a formidable Rajput leader but also remains one of the few Lalu Yadav loyalists from upper castes. Over the years, he has overtly and covertly spurned many overtures of rival party leaders, including Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United, to join them.
Tej Pratrap had evidently not looked into Singh’s credentials and contributions to the party, or for that matter, his equations with his father before he chose to target him. In July 1997, when Lalu had to resign as the chief minister after being charge-sheeted in the fodder scam, Singh was one of his few trustworthy associates, who had guided a political greenhorn like Rabri Devi through her early years of chief ministership.
In heaping scorn on Singh, Tej Pratap had also apparently forgotten that Singh remains a widely respected leader with a clean image, admired by the politicians cutting across caste and party lines.
Of all the four major forward castes (Rajput, Brahmin, Bhumihar and Kayastha in Bihar), Rajputs have been Lalu’s biggest supporters outside his traditional vote bank. In 2009, when RJD was reduced to only four seats in Lok Sabha, all its MPs, except Lalu, happened to be Rajputs. Singh was one of the trio -- the other two being Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Umashankar Singh --- both of whom are now dead.
An outburst against him by Tej Pratap has angered a sizeable section of Rajputs, with one JD-U leader calling it an insult not merely to Jagda Babu, as Singh is known in the political circles, but also the entire Kshatriya Samaj. Hardly surprising then, Tej Pratap’s remarks are learnt to have angered Lalu, currently admitted to All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.
A few months ago, Tej Pratap had also hit out at Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, shortly before his death, referring to him as an inconsequential leader whose exit from the party would not make any difference.
Tej Pratap may not be aware but Lalu has had a reason to understand the importance of upper caste voters, especially in the past 15 years. He was first elected to Lok Sabha in 1977 from Chapra constituency, where Rajput and Yadav voters are almost equal in numbers. In later years, when he was defeated by Sharad Yadav from the Yadav-dominated Madhepura seat, it was the voters of Chapra who came to his rescue, even though he faced a young and popular Rajput leader of BJP like Rajiv Pratap Rudy in the fray.
Even in the last Assembly elections, when RJD missed the chance of forming the government by a slender margin, Rajputs --- unlike the Brahmins, Bhumihars and Kayasth voters --- rooted for Lalu’s party in many constituencies.
Curiously, it is not only Tej Pratap, believed by many to be an impetuous leader, who has shown disregard for senior Rajput leaders. Even his younger brother Tejashwi, who has otherwise shown political gumption since taking over the reins of his party, committed faux pas during his poll campaign when he spoke about how poor people held their heads high while walking past Babu Sahebs, a term widely used for Rajputs, during his reign of his father.
The remark was rather surprising considering the fact that he had earlier apologised to the people of Bihar for any lapse that might have been committed during the 15-year-long reign of his parents between 1990 and 2005.
Back in the 1990s, when Lalu was the chief minister, he had allegedly made a casteist remark, giving a call to his supporters to get rid of all the four upper castes. Though he never bothered to deny that remark, widely attributed to him in his heyday, he chose to do so many years later. By that time, he had apparently come to realise that antagonising upper caste voters was not a wise political step at all.
In his early years, he could afford to do so simply because he had the mass support of the backward castes. He was then credited with having empowered the marginalised sections of society against the feudal forces in the state.
But with the emergence of other extremely backward caste (EBC) and OBC leaders such as Nitish Kumar, who subsequently made a dent into his backward caste vote bank, he also began to solicit upper caste support. And that is where leaders such as Jagdanand Singh came in handy for him.
As far as Nitish is concerned, he was careful enough to cultivate his image as a votary of inclusive politics in spite of having risen from the same JP movement-Mandal politics background as Lalu. Needless to say, he reaped benefits of it in successive elections since 2005.
Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, therefore, ought to realise that Bihar has travelled long distance since polarisation on caste levels worked in the state elections, Now, no party can afford to alienate any particular section or caste of voters.
If Yadav brothers --- who obviously have a long political career ahead --- have any misgivings about it, they would do well to do a quick recap of Bihar’s political history of the past 30 years.