Tejashwi Yadav with Hina Shahab
Tejashwi Yadav with Hina Shahab, RJD candidate from Siwan and wife of party’s convicted leader Mohammad Shahabuddin, during an election campaign rally in Siwan. Image Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Tejashwi Yadav, 29, is the youngest opposition leader in the country in Bihar Legislative Assembly and represents the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), presently the largest party in Bihar Assembly with 80 seats. Politically, Bihar is an important state that has 40 Lok Sabha seats, wherein polling is happening in 7 phases. The remaining dates are May 12 and 19.

Tejashwi, former cricketer and an Indian Premier League (IPL) prospect, has been leading the RJD with success in the absence of his father Lalu Prasad, who is lodged in Birsa Munda Central Jail in Ranchi, Jharkhand, since December 2017 for alleged bribery case.

RJD’s victory in the bypolls held in Araria Lok Sabha constituency and Jokihat assembly seat last year not only enhanced Tejashwi’s stature in politics, but also resulted in his becoming a key player in Opposition alliance for the ongoing polls.

Standing in for his father, no amount of drawback is dampening Tejashwi’s spirit, which in turn has proved that he is a force to reckon with and plans to march ahead with RJD’s ‘lantern’ (party’s symbol) of hope.

What are the chances of the ‘grand alliance’ in Bihar with you as the face of the party?

Grand alliance is a rainbow coalition providing representation to all sections of society. The RJD is leading it with support from the Congress and coalition partners Hindustani Awami Morcha, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, Vikasshil Insaan Party and Communist Party of India (Marxist), who represent the underprivileged sections of society. We have performed well in the four phases and will do good in the remaining phases too, as the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance has failed to even fractionally meet the expectations of people. It only made tall promises and created unfounded hype. The BJP and Janata Dal (United), have duped people of Bihar repeatedly. Despite having governments both at the centre and the state, demands and concerns of the people of Bihar have remained unaddressed. People will make NDA pay for this arrogance.

Will it help RJD to increase its tally from 4 seats in 2004, since the party is contesting only on 20 seats out of 40?

Even our bitter rivals have no doubt that we, along with the grand alliance, will better our last polls tally with 100 per cent strike rate. It is solely the fear of RJD that has forced both the BJP and the JD (U) to stay in an unholy alliance despite the gaping differences.

The BJP and Congress are canvassing hard on slogans like nationalism and welfare, respectively. What’s the agenda for RJD?

RJD’s agenda is economic justice for all and social justice for all weaker sections of society. In the recent past, we saw how dalits (low castes), backward castes and tribals were at the receiving end. We have promised reservation for every section of society (as per their population) in jobs and educational institutions.

Bahujan Samajwadi Party chief Mayawati ruled out an alliance with RJD. Will the dalit vote get split to the advantage of JD (U) and BJP?

Every party has its own choice of alliances. Dalits in Bihar realise who has stood for their rights. The dalit vote will not split in Bihar, as it is only the BJP-JD (U) combine that has erased reservation and reservation in promotion. They tried to abolish the Scheduled Caste-Scheduled Tribe Act.

What was your father Lalu Prasad’s reaction to Mayawati turning down the alliance proposal? Two years ago also she had rejected his invitation to join the ‘BJP Bhagao, Desh Bachao’ rally in Patna?

My father is the first person who floated the idea of Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) just after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. That was the reason why JD (U) chief Nitish Kumar also joined us. My father has been asking all like-minded parties to take on these communal and fascist forces. Sooner or later, everyone has joined the idea.

The disgruntled former BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha said that he joined the Congress at the behest of your father. Don’t you think RJD would have benefited by taking him on board?

Shatrughan Sinha is a close family friend. For us, he is beyond party politics. Even when he was with the BJP, he openly spoke about our personal bonhomie and visited our house. Now that he has joined the Congress, there is no reason for me to believe that he will change. Come what may, he will always be an asset to Bihar.

How is RJD under Tejashwi different from RJD of Lalu Prasad?

I have learnt a lot from my father, a master communicator and mass mobiliser. And that at a time when there was no internet or 24x7 TV news channels and no social media platforms. He became a nightmare for his opponents and that’s why he has been put behind the bars to nullify his undeniable impact in electoral politics. The difference between him and me is time and technology. I use communication devices more rampantly as is the need of the hour. He is a full-time politician, which I am trying to be.

As a young leader, do you think the political rhetoric during rallies has fallen to a new low by all the parties?

When you have a Prime Minister shedding all inhibitions and modicum of dignified behaviour to target political opponents, then one has little hope from his followers. This follows a chain reaction.

Even as one finds fault lines in political succession, you are seen as one of the few political dynasties that have added value to inherited positions.

In a democracy, criticism of few leaders as political scions or promoters of dynastic politics is completely unjustified. It is true that we get a headstart, but then one has to prove oneself. I shall cherish the compliment, but at the same time would like to add that Indian politics is a gruelling and demanding experience, which requires a person to continually evolve to stay in the race.

Quick facts
• Tejashwi Yadav was born on November 9, 1989 to mother Rabri Devi and father Lalu Prasad in Gopalganj, Bihar.
• He studied up to Grade 12 from Delhi Public School, R K Puram, New Delhi.
• Played cricket on national level as middle-order batsman.
• On entering politics, was elected to the Bihar Legislative Assembly from Raghopur constituency on the RJD ticket — 2015.
• He was deputy chief minister of Bihar in the Nitish Kumar government — 2015-17.