Posts Tagged ‘Tej Pratap

Are Lalu Prasad’s two sons and daughter jostling to succeed him as a leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal? Sonia Sarkar weighs the matter

A picture speaks a thousand words. A poster right outside the residence of Lalu Prasad says it all. Bihar’s present – and would-be – chief minister Nitish Kumar stands next to Prasad’s son, Tejashwi, almost hand in hand, while two of his other children – daughter Misa Bharti and son Tej Pratap – are on the other end of the poster.

Political pundits in Patna believe that’s the way the wind blows. Tejashwi could end up as Prasad’s heir apparent – and eventually be handed over the reins of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

“Lalu ji sees the future of the party in Tejashwi. He wants him to walk along with Nitish Kumar and learn the tricks of politics and governance,” says an RJD leader.

Prasad’s RJD won 80 seats in the just-concluded Assembly elections in Bihar. Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), which led a grand alliance of which the RJD was a part, won 71 seats and the Congress, 27.

Prasad, who had almost been written off before the polls, however, may have to handle another war – at home. A battle for supremacy could be looming in his own family.

The three have all taken a plunge into politics. The sons are now elected legislators – from Mahua and Raghopur constituencies, respectively. Misa fought and lost from Pataliputra in the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Misa is the eldest of his nine children. Tej Pratap is the older son, born after six sisters. Tejashwi is the younger son – and seemingly the favourite of his father. Mother, ex-chief minister Rabri Devi, is said to favour Tej Pratap.

The two sons – so named because they were born during memorable thunderstorms – do not get along. They may have grown up playing volleyball and cricket together, but are now seen as adversaries with different teams of people working for them. “The two hardly interact with each other,” claims a party insider.

Misa, who is 39, has been away from the brothers for long. The Patna Medical College graduate and her IT engineer husband Shailesh lived in Bangalore for a few years before she moved to Delhi to join her father who was then railway minister.

Born during the Emergency, she was named after the infamous Maintenance of Internal Security Act (Misa), imposed on political opponents of Indira Gandhi. She often introduces herself as ” andolan ki beti” – daughter of the revolution.

She seems to have inherited her father’s penchant for drama. When she was given a ticket for Pataliputra, which Prasad’s then close aide Ram Kripal Yadav had earlier won, Yadav took umbrage. Misa then barged into his house, with the media, refusing to leave till she had a chance to make up with her “uncle”.

Earlier, at a huge rally in Patna in 2013, where Prasad’s sons were officially launched, she made a sudden entry, taking party leaders by surprise.

“Misa wants to be at the centre of politics,” Delhi-based political scientist Manisha Priyam says.

Misa believes that like her father she can connect with people. “That’s one of the qualities I have inherited from Papa,” she asserts.

Like her father, she is known to be driven. Pataliputra was won by Yadav who joined the BJP in 2014. But Misa has not given up on it.

“I will work for the people of Pataliputra and concentrate on the parliamentary polls,” she says.

Misa claims that she was the “crisis manager” when Prasad was in jail for 135 days in 1997 on charges related to the Rs 950-crore fodder scam, in which he was convicted for siphoning off money earmarked for cattle fodder.

“I have seen the functioning of the party very closely during those years. Since then, I have acquired political maturity. I also have a great connect with senior party leaders,” she says. “But the leaders have always treated my brothers as kids.”

But, clearly, they are kids no more. At a party national executive meet in April, Prasad told a core group of leaders that “only a son could succeed a father”. But he didn’t name either Tej Pratap, 29, or Tejashwi, 27.

Sources say that the two sons – who refused to speak to The Telegraph despite repeated efforts – want Cabinet berths in the new alliance government. There is also speculation that Tejashwi would be made the leader of the RJD Legislature Party.

Senior party leaders contend that neither has the ability to hold a responsible job. Tej Pratap, they point out, wanted to contest student union elections in Patna’s Bihar National College, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was the union president in Patna University in 1970. But he failed his exams and couldn’t contest the polls.

“He cannot speak like his father, nor does he have his charm,” an RJD youth leader says. “Except Lalu ji’s arrogance, he has inherited nothing from him.”

Influenced by the teachings of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, he is mostly engaged in religious activities. The insiders say that he dresses up as Lord Krishna or Lord Shiva and plays the flute or the dumroo. A close associate says that he posed as Sai Baba at a family function in Delhi a few years ago.

Prasad, it is said, initially did not want him to join politics. A motorcycle showroom was opened for him in Aurangabad. But Tej Pratap took little interest in it. Rabri Devi, the whisper goes, persuaded her husband to allow him to contest from Mahua, denying a ticket to party old timer Jageshwar Rai.

Party members believe that Tejashwi, a former student of Delhi Public School, R.K. Puram, is more grounded. He connects with people, is a good listener and speaks well. “He has observed how party leaders conduct themselves politically and picked up the skills,” a senior RJD leader says. “Also, he speaks the language of the younger generation of Biharis, who want jobs.”

Prasad introduced him to politics in the 2010 state Assembly polls, after Tejashwi failed to make a mark as a cricketer. He addressed several election rallies, but the RJD won only 22 of the state’s 243 Assembly seats. The RJD head, however, continues to back him.

“One of the indications of that is that Lalu made him contest from Raghopur, which he had won in 1995 and 2000, and Rabri Devi in 2005,” Priyam points out.

Prasad’s aides, however, believe that he is in no hurry to hand over any major responsibility to Tejashwi yet. He knows the havoc that inexperience can play. When he was in jail in 1997, there was a statewide outcry against Rabri Devi’s misrule.

Indeed, today’s Lalu Prasad is vastly different from the man who lorded over Bihar in the Nineties. Then he was the tallest leader of the state and a power at the Centre. But he has been out of power for over 10 years in Bihar and has no role to play at the Centre. Now that he has been given another chance, he is unlikely to fritter it away.

“His body language has changed and he is less arrogant now. He would want his children to be like that,” an aide says. “He wants long-term politics for his sons, so would want them to learn.”

Political observers agree. “Lalu would want them to be politically trained before they take up important responsibilities,” says Shaibal Gupta, who heads the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute. “And he would want Nitish Kumar to train them in governance because they have good family bonding.”

Misa too believes that winning an election doesn’t mean either of her brothers would become Prasad’s successor. “Now it is no longer Lalu ji’s prerogative. The electorate would choose the successor depending upon our work.”

She dismisses rumours that she may be named deputy chief minister, though she did not contest the elections. “Let someone who won an Assembly seat take up the post. Why should I be dragged into it,” she says.

Senior party members, who are watching the developments within, are concerned. None of the three, they believe, is capable right now of handling a post. But they are demanding, and Prasad is known to be a fond father. “Lalu ji is extremely emotional when it comes to his children. They always get what they ask for,” a party leader says.

But who’ll get the lantern – the RJD’s election symbol – and become the torchbearer for the party? The question hovers in the air.

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)