Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, Tej Pratap Yadav and Misa Bharti
Patna, May 3: Lalu Prasad, who pulled out wife Rabri Devi from the kitchen in 1997 and installed her as Bihar chief minister in one of the cheekiest succession acts in India's political annals, today announced that after his innings is over, the party's reins would lie with sons Tej Pratap and Tejashwi.
But there's a problem. Or two. Probably even three.
Tej Pratap and Tejashwi have seldom got along, they've spent their childhood and youth pulling different ways. Since they became ministers in the Nitish Kumar government, they've spent a fair bit of time, energy and resource prying on what the other's up to.
There's Misa, Lalu's eldest and probably the most favoured of the Lalu-Rabri children, and the most outspoken and ambitious. And behind Misa hovers her husband Sailesh, a quiet but quite crafty man.
There's also, don't forget, a documented political history of Lalu raging against dynastic rule in his early, and probably best, years in politics; he grew up on a diet of anti-Congressism and the main course to bite was the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. But had Lalu read Oscar Wilde he'd probably have quoted him to retort, "Consistency is the virtue of the unimaginative."
Lack of imagination is not a charge that sticks easy on him. Or, he could turn to one of his early gurus, Devi Lal.
Asked one time why he was making his notorious son, Om Prakash Chautala, the chief minister of Haryna, Devi Lal had said, " Apne bete ko nahin banaun, toh kya tere bete ko banaun? (If not my son, whose, yours?)"
" Mere baad, Tej Pratap and Tejashwi party ki bagdor sambhalenge (After me, Tej Pratap and Tejashwi will lead the party)," Lalu, who will turn 70 next year, said in Rajgir today, where the RJD is holding a three-day training camp.
Immediately after the announcement, whispers began doing the rounds on where it left Misa Bharti, who is now a Rajya Sabha member. Lalu had, during the Lok Sabha elections three years ago, picked Misa as the candidate for the prestigious Pataliputra seat, even at the cost of losing a trusted lieutenant in Ram Kripal Yadav, who crossed over to the BJP and won.
The message then was clear: had Misa won, the RJD mantle was hers. If she lost, she had family to beat. The following year, her brothers came of age to contest elections and both won. Tejashwi, 27, is deputy chief minister, Tej Pratap, 28, the health minister and widely seen as being Lalu's natural successor when it comes to mass popularity.
Misa wryly said that Indian tradition demands that after the father, the sons take over. "Sons get the mantle, that is the tradition here," she said at the meet being held at the International Convention Centre.
But she was quick to point out that finally it was up to the people to decide the fate of the sons. "In today's politics, there is no space for monarchy that after the father, the sons will take over the throne. In today's politics democracy is everything. It is the people who elected Tej and Tejashwi and it is only after winning the elections that both have become ministers. Those who have the calibre will sit on the throne. Lalu Prasad's family is not the first family to enter politics," Misa said.
Lalu's announcement was also a message to the party seniors such as Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Jagdanand Singh, Prabhunath Singh, all of whom were in attendance.
RJD sources said Lalu was also canny enough to have named both his sons as successor. "He doesn't want to precipitate a struggle for succession. Tejashwi appears to be the first among equals: he is deputy CM and leader of the legislature party. At the same time, Tej Pratap is hugely popular in his constituency (Mahua in Vaishali). Lalu doesn't want trouble in his home now. He will leave it to the people to decide, after all both sons have to keep winning elections like their father did," said a senior RJD leader who spoke under the cover of anonymity.
There had been talk that Lalu would name Tejashwi as leader of the parliamentary board - a virtual affirmation of his elevated status - but he did not.
Lalu though has opened himself up for criticism from the BJP which has been taking potshots at dynastic politics. The irrepressible RJD chief has previously rebutted the charges, saying those who level them don't have children.
Misa said the BJP should bring a law which will restrict family politics. "Let the BJP bring some law to the effect that family members cannot enter politics, the RJD will welcome it," she said.
Meantime, read the fine-print of Lalu's political will carefully. "Mere baad..." it begins, after me. He's isn't going anywhere yet. Keep watching, the Lalu clan is one of the best shows in town and it performs sans fee.