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There is a similarity between Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. Both are surviving because of their PR skills: Tejaswi Yadav

Posted on: October 20, 2013

Rabri Devi is on a swing, waiting for a former Bihar minister to call on her. Lalu Prasad is in jail, but all is seemingly well at home.

Inside their sprawling bungalow in Patna, their younger son — Tejaswi, 24 — looks confident. “The party is running just like before,” he says.

Lalu Prasad is in the Birsa Munda jail, Ranchi, serving a five-year term in a case involving embezzlement from a Bihar government fund for animal fodder. When he had quit as chief minister in 1997 after the scam broke, he had installed his wife as the chief minister. But this time, speculation that Rabri Devi would head his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) was soon overtaken by whispers that Tejaswi could be the new leader.

The son, however, insists that he has no plans to take over. “My father is the party leader. It is just that he is not physically present. But he will be back soon.”

The coming months are not going to be easy for Tejaswi. Party members, who were unhappy but silent when Rabri Devi was asked to head the RJD, are not welcoming him with open arms yet. “He barely knows anything about politics,” a senior leader says.

But the RJD president’s younger son — Tejaswi has eight siblings, including brother Tej Pratap, older by a year and a half — has started talking like a politician. About 5’8” tall and pink cheeked, Tejaswi looks like a suave version of his father. But unlike the rustic Lalu, who likes to revel in his rural antecedents, Tejaswi is urbane. And again, unlike his outspoken father, he weighs his words with care. “It’s time to hold the party together,” he says.

That, of course, may turn into an uphill task in Lalu’s absence. The RJD, which ruled Bihar for 15 years, has been out of power since 2005. In the 2010 state elections, it won only 22 seats in the 243-member Assembly.

But political observers are not ready to write him off yet. In fact, his associates say that Lalu is charting out his party’s strategy. Senior party leaders have been asked to organise meetings across the districts. Lalu has drafted duties for Tejaswi too.

“My job is to mobilise the youth,” he stresses. “He has told me that I can yearn for a post or a seat only when I am accepted by the party. Till then, I have to keep working like any party worker.”

Tejaswi had his first brush with politics during the 2010 state elections, when he campaigned for over 90 seats. Some in the party blame him for the drubbing the RJD got. Tejaswi differs. “We lost connectivity with the people when my father was busy at the Centre (as a minister). We lost because of this,” he holds.

Lalu’s jail term has led to political whispers about a power struggle in the Yadav family. Some say that while Tejaswi has his father’s backing, Tej Pratap, who is into religion as well as flashy cars, is his mother’s favourite. “We both are equal for our parents,” Tejaswi insists.

The family has been meeting the paterfamilias in jail. When he was convicted, Lalu had urged his son “not to worry”. Tejaswi is now planning to move the Jharkhand High Court, challenging the order of the CBI court. The family also plans to move a bail application.

When Lalu was jailed in 1997 (in a case related to the fodder scam), Tejaswi was eight and could have barely understood what had happened. “I was sad and confused. My sisters used to tell me that it was a political conspiracy,” says Tejaswi, who was packed off to Delhi Public School (DPS), New Delhi, along with his younger sister, Raj Lakshmi.

He started playing cricket in DPS. In some years, he was the captain of the school cricket team. He played for Jharkhand and was later included in the Indian team. “I travelled with the Indian team for the 2011 World Cup but never got a chance to play,” he rues. “I miss cricket. But I want to pursue politics seriously as I did cricket earlier,” he adds.

He was also with the Delhi Daredevils team in the IPL games for four seasons, but did not play a match. Lalu had then joked: “He will at least get the opportunity to serve water to the players even if he does not play.”

Lalu’s characteristic brand of humour has often evoked laughter, and sometimes derisive snorts. Gags about his father’s comments and hairstyle troubled Tejaswi when he was small, he says. “The jokes bothered me a lot. But I tried not to listen to them.”

He regrets that he didn’t see much of his father while he was growing up, but fondly remembers a family holiday in 2007 from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. “For the first time I got to see my father for such a long period.”

But all that is behind him now. For the present, Tejaswi has to focus on political equations. What does he think about rumours that the Congress is thinking of dumping the RJD in favour of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United)?

The question has to be repeated twice. “Not at all,” he finally answers. “Soniaji ke saath Papa ka dil ka rishta hai; inme len den ki baat nahin hoti” (Sonia Gandhi and father have a relationship of the heart; they don’t talk of give and take).

Tejaswi’s focus now is on archrivals JD(U). “Development in Bihar under Nitish Kumar is a myth. He makes tall promises but does nothing,” he says.

Bihar is like Gujarat, he adds, like a seasoned politician. “Development in Gujarat is also mere hype. Large parts of the state have remained underdeveloped,” he says. “There is a lot of similarity between (Gujarat chief minister) Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. There is no real development in either state. Both are surviving because of their PR (public relations) skills.”

Tejaswi says he wants to join hands with all secular parties, including the Congress, before the 2014 elections: “Fighting communal forces is the motto of our party.”

Just like his father, Tejaswi claims he can connect with the masses. “I am a dehaati at heart. I speak in Bhojpuri with people in rural areas,” the commerce graduate from Delhi’s Shri Ram College of Commerce says.

Also, hair has been an issue with him too. Lalu — known for his silver-grey fringe — used to complain that Tejaswi kept his hair too long. “I always wanted it long. Finally, I chopped it off in 2009,” he says, ruffling his own unruly fringe.

Politics is another world, but Tejaswi hasn’t quite given up his youthful ways. He likes driving his Ford Endeavour, and loves to play video games. And he enjoys films such as Inception and Avatar.

But with a political career looming large, he is now busy reading a book on Manmohan Singh. It’s called Ek Alpsankhyak Pradhan Mantri ki Peeda (the agony of a minority Prime Minister). Look out now for a new volume — the agony of a cricketer who would be a politician.

(This was published in The Telegraph, October 20, 2013)

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