Has Lalu Yadav’s son thrown a wrench in the RJD’s chief succession plan?

Tej Pratap Yadav’s ongoing tussle with a party veteran may offer a clue.

ByAnand Vardhan
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Has Lalu Yadav’s son thrown a wrench in the RJD’s chief succession plan?
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With the backing of his father, Tejashwi has been at the helm of the party as Lalu has been battling legal and health troubles as well as incarceration in recent years. Besides being appointed the leader of opposition, the Yadav scion got clear precedence over his elder brother when Lalu chose him to be the deputy chief minister in the short-lived coalition government with the Janata Dal United and the Congress, while Tej Pratap was made the health minister. The initial lack of interest in active politics shown by Tej Pratap and his impulsive outbursts perhaps dissuaded Lalu from passing the baton to his elder son. There was also a realisation that a recalibrated RJD could do more with a calmer Tejashwi than a seemingly temperamental Tej Pratap. If these factors tilted the scale in Tejashwi’s favour, Lalu’s conviction in the fodder scam cases hastened the younger son’s elevation to the top. Retaining Jagdanand as the state party chief was Lalu’s way of ensuring a connection with the older generation of leaders, which in turn would lead to a measure of continuity and reverential discipline in the party.

The recent years have been a tale of Tejashwi’s rising political stock and Tej Pratap’s marginalisation in the party. A failed marriage with the daughter of an influential Yadav family in Bihar reinforced Tej Pratap’s public image of an eccentric person. At the same time, Tej Pratap was trying to accept his role as playing second fiddle to his younger brother in the party affairs. Perhaps the fact that the party was out of power also helped because power and perks of the office weren’t at stake. In his public statements, he expressed his wish to play kingmaker, and be the steering force behind Tejashwi’s rise to the chief ministership. Drawing on his penchant for mythological analogies, he likened himself to playing the charioteer Krishna to his brother who was like Arjuna in the epic battle of Mahabharat.

However, the same period saw two more factors at play, both contributing to a sulking Tej Pratap showing sporadic dissent. First, he has grown deeply resentful of the influence of Sanjay Yadav, a tech-savvy management post-graduate from Haryana and Tejashwi’s political aide, on the party’s affairs. His association with Sanjay over the last four years is seen to have left its imprint on Tejashwi’s evolution as a leader as well as his decisionmaking. Tej Pratap has trained his guns on Sanjay as an “outsider” with disproportionate sway in the RJD. The fact that Sanjay’s rise in Tejashwi’s scheme for the party has coincided with Tej Pratap’s devaluation hasn’t gone unnoticed by the elder Yadav. Giving a villainous twist to his Mahabharat analogy, Tej Pratap compared Sanjay to Duryodhana and Jagdanand to Shishupal.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, when Tej Pratap’s preferred candidates weren’t given RJD tickets from three constituencies, he reacted by fielding them as independent candidates. In a way, it was the closest Tej Pratap came to a political rebellion within the family.

Second, Rajya Sabha MP Misa Bharti, the eldest of Lalu’s seven daughters, is believed to be fuelling Tej Pratap’s political ambitions. The obvious aim is to not let one son monopolise the family’s political legacy. Since Lalu has sided with the younger son in his lifetime, other legatees of the family, including his sons-in-law, are keen to secure their share of the political capital attached to the party patriarch’s name. Misa has been sympathetic to Tej Pratap on the political front and Tej Pratap’s estranged wife Aishwarya has even cited her “meddling” as one of the reasons behind the failed marriage.

In their lifetimes, regional satraps like M Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu did struggle with family feuds over their political legacies. But, more or less, they were settled in their lifetimes. Karunanidhi, for instance, swung it in favour of MK Stalin vis-à-vis MK Alagiri. In Maharashtra, Bal Thackeray, unsurprisingly, preferred his son Uddhav to his nephew Raj Thackeray. The disgruntled nephew went on to launch his own political party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. In Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav saw an intense family feud between his son Akhilesh Yadav and younger brother Shivpal Yadav even after passing the baton of chief ministership in 2012. The nephew-uncle rift left Mulayam a languishing party patriarch divested of effective power in the twilight of his political innings. In recent months, a very different tale of nephew-uncle turf war happened in the Lok Janshakti Party within months of the passing of its founder Ram Vilas Paswan. The fact that Ram Vilas had picked his son Chirag as the heir apparent didn’t deter the late leader’s brother Pasupati Paras from engineering a veritable coup against his nephew. Many more examples can be added to this list of unpredictable turf battles fought within families of dynasty-run parties.

The sedate story of leadership succession in the RJD may still wait for a denouement, even if it’s only a dramatic footnote. The tussle between Jagdanand and Tej Pratap suggests that the settled power equations in a post-Lalu arrangement aren’t exactly settled. The brewing discontent might still jolt the transition plan, even though a minor one. However, it would be put to a real test when the party wins power, and the man behind the party is no longer there to have the final word.

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