RJD learns to cope without Lalu

Changes are underway in the RJD, which is coming to terms with the absence of its jailed leader Lalu Prasad.

By Amit Bhelari in Patna
  • Published 17.01.18

Patna: Changes are underway in the RJD, which is coming to terms with the absence of its jailed leader Lalu Prasad.

"It is not just handing over the baton to the next generation," said a senior RJD leader. "There is a difference in the way politics was done when Lalu emerged in Bihar's political scene and what we are witnessing now."

The change is most visible in the person who has to fill Lalu's shoes: His younger son Tejashwi Prasad.

Not even his staunchest supporter will credit him with his father's earthly touch or charisma, but Tejashwi is bringing new things to the table. Earlier shy while meeting party leaders, he now spends hours with them and seeks suggestions from grassroots leaders.

"The most important characteristic about leadership is how accessible one is; Tejashwi is finally showing traits of this quality," said RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari. "He has become easily accessible. After meeting him, workers go back satisfied. If you want to compare Tejashwi with Lalu ji, that will never happen. Today's challenges are different."

Tejashwi, Shivanand said, throws no tantrums. "He gives due respect to party workers and leaders. Most young people get bored meeting people for a long time but Tejashwi does so patiently," Tiwari said.

One major change is the division-wise meetings that Tejashwi has started. Lalu never believed in marathon meetings. He would call four-five top leaders to his residence and take a decision. But Tejashwi is meeting block presidents and seeking their suggestions.

"Tejashwi ji starts his day at 11am and finishes around 8 or 9pm. It is an overwhelming situation for me to see the young leader hold marathon meetings," said RJD state unit president Ram Chandra Purbey.

On January 12, after holding a meeting with leaders from the Magadh division for six hours, Tejashwi attended another meeting of the RJD youth wing for around three hours.

Tejashwi, insiders said, keeps senior leaders in the loop. The party meeting on January 6 was not one person's decision. On December 26 last year, Tejashwi called 18 senior leaders to Lalu's 10 Circular Road residence to discuss strategy. The January 6 meeting decision was taken there.

"Tejashwi listens to senior party leaders very carefully," said senior RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui. "He is always open to new suggestions. There is no if and but in the party for any post among senior leaders. If you want to find Lalu ji's quality, then you will not get it in anyone. He is a mass leader, but even his children are on the same path. We want to send a message to people so that they do not feel Lalu ji's absence."

Another new Tejashwi initiative is fixing a time for meetings. From 3pm to 5pm, any leader or party worker can meet him. The message he is harping on, insiders said, is that the RJD has not become weak.

"If the target is fixed and we know who we are fighting, there is no sense of talking about Lalu ji being absent," senior RJD leader Jagadanand Singh. "He is still the president of the party and the RJD is functioning on his diktat. Politics is there in Tejashwi's veins, as he has seen two former chief ministers (Lalu and Rabri Devi) from close quarters.

"Everybody has accepted his leadership," Jagadanand said. "Has Dhoni stopped performing under the leadership of Virat Kohli or was Sachin not performing under the leadership of Dhoni? The team always performs under the leadership of the captain. The captain is Lalu ji. With time, his son Tejashwi will also do the same and he is doing very well."

Close Lalu aide Bhola Yadav, who has been stationed in Ranchi, keeps passing on Lalu's message to leaders in Patna.

"Lalu ji's message is very clear," Bhola said from Ranchi. "He had even written a letter, which was distributed among the leaders. He keeps telling me that the RJD should continue the battle against the fascist forces and the message should reach every man in this country. I think Tejashwiji has taken the lead and is spreading Lalu ji's message.

Every week, three people are allowed to meet Lalu in jail. Lalu meets those people who he thinks can take his message to the grassroots. One such person is Ejya Yadav, RJD MLA from Mohiuddinnagar in Samastipur district. She has met Lalu twice in the past two weeks.

Ejya stressed that Lalu was not tense.

"Lalu ji told me that the RJD should not bow down in front of communal forces and the battle for equal rights to the downtrodden must continue," she said. "He categorically told me he was not afraid and said every worker in the party is Lalu Prasad."

Rabri Devi, it is learnt, keeps telling Tejashwi and Tej Pratap to do politics like Lalu did.

Tejashwi accepted nobody can take his father's place.

"Our enemies are spreading the canard that all is not well in the party, but we are not bothered by what they say. Ever since Lalu ji went to jail, our party has become stronger. And this is a feedback I am getting from the grassroots level," Tejashwi said. "At present I am busy making a strategy for the party with the help of my seniors. I will embark on a state-wide tour in the next few days. Before going to every district, I wanted to understand their issues. That is why I called the division-wise meetings. My aim is to spread my father's message and make our party stronger."

Despite the confidence, the real challenge - elections - is yet to come. Talks will have to take place with allies on seat-sharing. Money, too, will be needed to fund the campaign. Lalu's family is hoping he will be out of jail by then.