In his recently published memoir ‘Gopalganj to Raisina’, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav talks about his inspiration in life — Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. In doing so, he compares his journey with that of the two legendary civil rights activists.
Between the lines of the book, quite literally, Yadav sheds light on his enduring desire that his legacy, too, endures like that of his heroes.
On Tuesday, when the RJD celebrated its founder’s 72nd birthday at its Patna and Delhi offices, the question that loomed large among many minds was how successful the RJD would be in keeping Yadav’s legacy alive, let alone strengthening it.
Yadav’s daughter Misa Bharti, along with other party leaders like Manoj Jha and Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav were present at the function in Delhi, while his elder son Tej Pratap Yadav took charge of the celebrations at the Patna office.
Yadav, who is serving a jail term at the Birsa Munda Central Jail in Ranchi after being convicted in a fodder scam case, is undergoing treatment at RIMS hospital.
In such a scenario, the birthday celebrations looked nothing more than a tiring exercise by his family members and supporters to continue the legacy of a leader who is vilified, praised, adored and mocked at the same time by different sections of society, but remains a key figure who was instrumental in shaping post-Emergency multi-party politics of India after the decline of the ‘Congress System’ in the late 80s.
While the ceremonial cake cutting and ‘chaach-lassi’ offering took place, the essence of festivity was missing the way it used to be when Yadav was in action.
The forced smile that Misa and rest of his supporters were wearing, was indicative of the low morale of party cadres and leaders.
This was the first occasion when party leaders and supporters had gathered to celebrate anything after the complete rout of the RJD in the recently held Lok Sabha election.
This is for the first time since its inception that the RJD has no representation in the lower House of Parliament.
In Yadav’s absence, the party is facing a never-seen-before leadership crisis. Former Bihar chief minister and Yadav’s younger son Tejashwi Yadav, who was considered politically mature and prudent, has failed to keep the flock together.
Infighting and factionalism within the family and party have caused severe damage to the party’s voter-base as was evident in the last election.
The RJD is looking at a divided house, as Tejashwi has not been successful in commanding respect among family members and other party leaders.
Yadav’s elder son Tej Pratap, on several occasions, has caused an embarrassment to the party by opposing the decisions of his own brother, who was spearheading the RJD campaign for the parliamentary election.
In fact, Tej Pratap even campaigned against grand alliance (of which the RJD is a senior partner in the state) candidates in Shivhar, Jahanabad and Chapra.
The steady decline in the number of seats in the Lok Sabha — from 22 in 2004 to four in 2014 and to zero in 2019 — explains well the continued erosion of the support base of the RJD.
The party’s vote-share has reduced from 20 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha election to 15.3 per cent in 2019. The biggest challenge before the RJD now is to redeem itself from this scenario.
Many political pundits feel that erosion in the party’s support base is mainly because of ignorance of the leadership on the political churnings, besides lack of inner-party democracy and infighting in the family.
Soon after the results were announced, two veteran party functionaries — Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Shivanand Tiwari — burst out against the leadership.
Singh has questioned the party’s stand on issues like 10 per cent reservation for upper castes in education and employment and stressed that this was one of the main reasons for its debacle in the election.
However, some party leaders are still hopeful. RJD spokesperson Bhai Virendra said, “There is no leadership crisis in the party. There is some misunderstanding which will be sorted out soon and we will take the thoughts and ideas of Lalu Prasad Yadav to the people, especially to those at the lower strata of society and they will reward us for our work.”
Manoj Jha, RJD’s general secretary said, “It is not 72nd birthday of Lalu Prasad but it is the 72nd birthday of his principles which millions of his supporters are celebrating.”
While such claims may help raise the spirits of RJD supporters, the fact remains the party is staring at a big challenge that it has to deal with in the coming months.
The Bihar assembly election will take place next year and the RJD’s biggest challenge will be the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Despite differences, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar has made it clear that he would remain with the NDA and would contest the state election with the BJP.
Now, the question remains would the RJD be able to reinvent itself to defeat the NDA in the coming election.
Veteran socialist leader Ramjeevan Prasad Singh who was a minister in the Yadav government expressed serious doubts about the prospects the RJD’s revival.
“No other RJD leader has Yadav’s charisma and the fact is that politics based on caste equations is a passé. Now, whoever bats for people-friendly policies will be victorious in elections,” he said.