Tejashwi Yadav, 32, deputy chief minister of Bihar, was told by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in jest to “focus on fitness and lose some weight” at a government function. Weeks later, Tejashwi, the son of the legendary Lalu Prasad Yadav, gained political heft and weight by allying with Nitish Kumar and forming the government.
The loser was the BJP, which Kumar jettisoned to tie up with Tejashwi’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress party. Since 2017, when he first became deputy chief minister at 25 (youngest in India) as an overpowering symbol of dynasty and privilege, Yadav has come a long way as a leader. He has had some hard knocks in political life, which taught him life lessons.
During his earlier stint in government, Tejashwi had a reputation for playing hooky from the office and going AWOL (absent without leave) to Delhi to meet his friends, much to the exasperation of his boss Nitish Kumar. Tejashwi was sticking to his pattern of bunking classes to play cricket during his days at the Delhi Public School.
Tejashwi was obsessed with cricket. Yet, much like the start of his political tenure, he was always a twelfth man playing for the Delhi Daredevils in the 2008 Indian Premier League and Jharkhand. Tejashwi was a constant worry for his father Lalu, as he dropped out after school to focus on professional cricket, a move that hardly paid off.
Tejashwi matured as a leader after several setbacks. Kumar abruptly ejected him from power, which prompted Tejashwi to respond with the derisive moniker “Paltu chacha” (untrustworthy uncle). His father Lalu’s multiple prison stints and his serious and prolonged illness only exacerbated the situation. But Tejashwi learnt quickly.
He’s come around to working with Kumar again, realising that there are no personal friends or enemies in politics. Lalu Prasad counselled his son to get on board with his frenemy Kumar and told him to trust no one in politics.
Tejashwi 2.0 took charge of the party in the absence of his father The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Income Tax Department had filed cases against the Yadav family, including Tejashwi’s six siblings. But Tejashwi took the brunt of vendetta-driven politics. Yet he led the RJD in the 2020 Bihar legislative assembly elections, with the party winning 75 seats out of 243.
Tejashwi drew admiration for standing up against all odds and attracted huge crowds at his public meetings. The Yadavs, the RJD’s captive vote bank, and the Muslims of Bihar took Tejashwi to heart as the natural heir of Lalu Prasad Yadav. Lalu and Sonia Gandhi, the interim Congress president, are the only two leaders who have never compromised with the BJP.
Tejashwi married his schoolmate Rachel Godinho last December in a low-key ceremony, attended by Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi party. Lalu Prasad gave his blessings when his son told him that he was dating a Christian and wanted to marry her, Tejashwi told NDTV.
Members of the Yadav family believe that the marriage has brought Tejashwi luck, as he is back in the office for a second time. Tejashwi values the office as he had to fight for it this time; it didn’t come on a silver platter with a bow.