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Why in working formula, Lalu Yadav is stay-at-home dad in Patna

At a moment when Nitish Kumar looks out at the larger political horizon, his old rival and competitor Lalu Yadav is being cast in the role of stay-at-home dad.

Written by Vandita Mishra | Patna |
May 5, 2016 3:45:59 am
JD(U)-RJD, JD(U), RJD, JDU RJD alliance, nitish kumar, lalu, tejaswi yadav, congress, BJP, Mahagathbandhan, Rabri Devi, indian express news, Yadav bastion, india news RJD chief Lalu Prasad with son Tejashwi. (Express Photo: Alok Jain)

A new common sense is settling over Bihar’s capital city: RJD chief Lalu Prasad, the more volatile partner of the ruling Mahagathbandhan, whose party also occupies more seats in the assembly than Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), and who therefore holds the keys in the arranged marriage between the two parties, will not rock the government anytime soon. Because like Nitish, he has nowhere else to go.

But, it is being said, there is another reason: Because Lalu must establish his younger son, Tejashwi, heir apparent and deputy chief minister in the Nitish government, politically.

At the same time, in recent days, Nitish has been at the centre of turbulence. He has become president of JD(U), and with the JD(U)-Congress-Left as nucleus, spoken of forging “maximum possible unity” against the BJP-RSS, nationally. He has made overtures to, or received overtures of, smaller parties in UP and Jharkhand — Ajit Singh’s RLD, the Peace Party, and a faction of the Apna Dal apart from long-time friend, Babulal Marandi’s JVM.

With most important regional players still outside the formation-to-be, for now it only serves to underline the Patna irony: At a moment when Nitish looks out at the larger political horizon, his old rival and competitor is being cast in the role of stay-at-home dad.


Of course, taking second place, even to his own son, does not come easy to the flamboyant Lalu. In the course of an interview to The Indian Express, along with the “deputy CM” (as he calls Tejashwi), the old Lalu jostled and jousted with the new.

He holds a daily open house, Lalu said, in which the poorest get a hearing, and redressal, for their grievances — it is larger and longer, the implication was unsubtle, than Nitish’s “Janata darbar” held three Mondays in a month. “I don’t have a darbar once every Monday, mine is not a sarkari darbar. My doors are open. From morning, without appointment, bina munh haath dhoye (without even getting dressed), I meet people, listen to their grievances.” He takes petitions, makes calls to the DM or SP, and to party cadres, to settle disputes, find solutions, or to make “alternative arrangements”.

He is the original prohibitionist, said Lalu: “In 1991, my government had come out with a law that prohibited the sale of toddy around schools, temples, mosques and other such public places… When we were in opposition to this government, prohibition was our demand, our movement.” He pointed out that he spoke about private sector quotas before Nitish did so: “In UPA’s time, I raised the demand of reservations in the private sector.” And that he, too, had dreamt of being PM: “I had also said, mein bhi PM banoonga. There is nothing wrong in dreaming.”

There was all of the old rhetorical flourish: “In logon ke paap se Ganga sookh gayi (the Ganga has dried up because of their sins) and there is no water in Latur,” said Lalu on the RSS-BJP.

And yet, when Tejashwi answered a question — throughout the interview, Lalu urged that questions also be directed to his son, “deputy CM se poochiye” — it was a different Lalu who listened to him intently. The irascible leader, famous for his impatience with the small print, pitched in, uncharacteristically sotto voce, to help his son with a word here, a nuance there.

“Our agenda is that the youth must come into policymaking. In our party, we want to give 50 per cent of the tickets to the young. In this (2015 assembly) election, 60 per cent of RJD tickets were given to youth and women… all the women won,” said Tejashwi. “The women represent all communities,” he added, at Lalu’s prompting. “Not only me and my brother, new faces should come into politics.” And then, taking Lalu’s cue: “Of course, they should also have public acceptance.”

On politics, Tejashwi is evidently following his father’s lead. He rails against the Centre: “Why are you defaming Bihar? At least, don’t punish the people of the state.” And against Hindutva politics: “They call us jaativaadi (casteist). Yet, in the assembly election, they attended all the caste sammelans.” And “if you believe in Karpoori Thakur and Ambedkar, you cannot also believe in Golwalkar.” Or, “ultimately, we have to fight poverty. But alongside, we also want to end discrimination… It is about mentality, ideology. Like Papa said, it is there in Guru Golwalkar’s book.” Among the things he has learnt from his father, he says, is “commitment to social equality”.

But Tejashwi seems more on his own ground elsewhere: “The country’s longest bridge, six-laned, nearly 10 km long, will be built across the Ganga from Kacchi Dargah to Bidupur in my constituency. We asked the Centre for help but now we are taking a loan from the ADB (Asian Development Bank) and the rest will come from the state government, not even 1 paisa from the Centre,” he says. Asked about his priorities, “Infrastructure, law and order, youth,” he responds, in that order. Here, moreover, he seems to look up to, not his father, but Nitish: “Staying focused and implementing the agenda with perfection and excellence” is what he has learnt from Nitish, he says.

The wheel has turned in Bihar and turned again. The leader who upended congealed upper-caste dominance in a state of fierce deprivations and inequalities, the politician who freed up space for a development agenda to take centrestage because he had fronted the battles for social justice and dignity, the Lalu who created room for a Nitish, now sits next to his young son, fresh-faced and sober-eyed, as he talks of building the longest bridge.

Despite the Tejashwi glue, however, there have been moments in the last six months of Nitish-Lalu togetherness, when the strain has seemed to show. The arrest of Raj Ballabh Yadav, RJD MLA, for instance, on charges of rape. Or the RJD’s “we dunnit first” reaction to prohibition, that sought to upstage Nitish. Or when Lalu spoke up for the toddy tappers — in the 1990s, a Lalu-led government had exempted toddy from excise duty, providing relief to members of the Pasi community.

The RJD grumbles, off the record, about a gathbandhan or alliance government only in name. There is little or no coordination on policy matters, says a senior leader, and of the 16 departments allotted to the party, as many as six are monopolised by Lalu’s sons anyway, who have three each.

But neither the chafing in the RJD, nor its MLA under-a-shadow, suspended by the party since, has visibly ruffled the ruling arrangement. By all accounts, Lalu’s apparent focus on his son’s career has helped ensure that nothing life-threatening has happened to Patna’s coalition government.

“This is a stable government,” says RJD veteran and former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh. “Swabhavik hai”, it is only natural that Lalu should want to establish his son, he says. Across the fence, Bhupender Yadav, Bihar BJP in-charge, disagrees to agree: “Aswabhavik hai, this is an unnatural arrangement, because one is in it to be PM, and the other wants to sustain it only because of his son.”

BJP leader Sushil Modi, who was deputy chief minister in a previous Nitish government, questions his successor’s role — “it is not the rules of business, but the chief minister and the nature of the alliance that define the powers of the deputy CM… I also held the finance portfolio which gave me power to review other departments, while Tejashwi doesn’t”. But even he concedes, albeit grudgingly, that “it seems the alliance will hold in the foreseeable future”.

And Shivanand Tiwari, senior to both Lalu and Nitish in Bihar’s Lohiaite-socialist political stream, says, “Lalu and Nitish will remain together because both know that going alone will be harmful to both — everything will scatter. Lalu also wants to settle his son. Tejashwi is doing well, the general opinion about him is that he is sober and mature.”

In Lalu’s words: “Bihar is our base… After me and Nitish, it is these boys.”


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries?list=PLrDg7LoYgk9wv_QK-mHWFxTf8Y52LVsNB%5D

(Tomorrow: The father and son interview)
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