Lok Sabha Election

Tejashwi Yadav: Reviving social justice as a counter to Hindutva in Bihar

Like father, like son: RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav at an election rally in Begusarai earlier this week.  

Rain or sun, enthusiasm for politics doesn’t easily dampen or wilt in Bihar, but this summer, it appears different. Pulled in multiple directions and crowded by issues and personalities, the mood is listless. Tejashwi Yadav, 29 — standing in for his jailed father Lalu Prasad, chief of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — is campaigning hard to enthuse his base and define the 2019 Lok Sabha election as a battle to further social justice politics.

“When my father was around, nobody could dream of stealing our rights. They have put him in jail to steal our rights... But let me tell you, his son, your son, is standing here. And we shall not allow anyone to take away our rights.” Opening his speeches thus, Mr. Tejashwi Yadav makes a conscious effort to imitate his father’s style and represent his politics. Mr. Lalu Prasad, in his absence as the key campaigner, is the key campaign issue for the RJD-led Grand Alliance (GA).

NYAY is the name of the minimum income guarantee scheme promised by the Congress, but the word nyay or justice plays out differently in the GA’s campaign. Samajik nyay or social justice has been the slogan of Bihar’s socialist politics against caste oppression. Mr. Lalu Prasad, the principal political figure in Bihar for three decades now, personifies it and his imprisonment signifies a threat to it.

“When we win, we will ensure that Laluji gets justice. We will ensure that Nitish Kumar [Bihar Chief Minister] faces justice. And we will ensure that injustice will not be done to Backward Classes and Dalits,” Jitan Ram Manjhi, former CM and Dalit leader, said ahead of Mr. Tejashwi. Mr. Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) led by former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha, and Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP) led by Mukesh Sahni are the other constituents of the GA, besides the Congress and the RJD.

The crucial quota factor

“There an impression that the BJP is against reservation,” said Shaibal Gupta, social scientist and member-secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute in Patna. This fear among the lower castes has forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clarify in speeches that there is no threat to reservation.

It was Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for a debate on caste quotas in the peak of the Bihar Assembly election campaign in 2015 that queered the pitch for the Hindutva consolidation that Mr. Modi had carefully planned. An alliance of all social justice parties, led by Mr. Lalu Prasad and Mr. Nitish Kumar, along with the Congress, won a landslide.

“Bihar does not have a capitalist culture. Therefore, reservation is the biggest subject of political contest here,” said Mr. Gupta. “People have got the message that the BJP wants to change caste-based reservation and introduce reservation based on economic criteria. The 10% reservation for the upper castes, announced by the Modi government, has alerted them,” said Shivanand Tewari, RJD leader and a contemporary of both Mr. Kumar and Mr. Prasad.

Mr. Kumar has since left the social justice camp and is now ruling with the support of the BJP. He is paltu chacha — turncoat uncle — Mr. Yadav tells his uproarious supporters. “We shall fight the RSS and BJP because they deny us our rights... We make our friends and foes not for power, but for what we believe in... Paltu chacha is different. He makes friends and ditches friends, all for power,” he says.

Sole question

Mr. Yadav, Mr. Manjhi and all non-Congress campaigners of the GA have turned the spotlight on one question — reservation. “Jobs are all moving to the private sector, and there is no reservation in the private sector. We need reservation in there too,” said Mr. Manjhi.

They call out Nitish — also an OBC leader — for betraying the cause. “Paltu chacha whispered into Modiji’s ears that Laluji should not be allowed to meet anyone in jail. And now I cannot meet my father. Is this nyay? You decide,” Mr. Yadav tells the crowd.

Mr. Prasad’s imprisonment is a catalyst for social justice politics, but his absence is cutting both ways. While Mr. Prasad could command a large following across several backward and Dalit castes, Mr. Tejashwi Yadav’s appeal is strong in the Yadavs’ core base and he can count on Muslims as partners, but in the wider terrain of social justice politics that involves numerous other castes, he has limitations. Outfits such as VIP, HAM and RLSP were roped in with the hope of expanding the tent.

“The GA started off well. While it marginalised the Left, it put too much trust in caste outfits. It is a gamble and one can’t be sure of how it will pay off,” said Mr. Gupta. Eleven of the 40 seats are being contested by these three parties, while the RJD is in 20 and the Congress in nine. In 2014, the BJP-led alliance had 31 seats. A senior RJD functionary said these groups were unable to galvanise social justice politics, while in seats contested by the RJD and the Congress, tailwinds are stronger for the GA.

“The RJD is trying for an aggressive Backward [Classes] consolidation, but Lalu Prasad had a different style and he could keep leaders of all castes within the RJD umbrella,” points out Mr. Gupta.

Mr. Tewari said a section among the numerically smaller Backward Caste members is also sympathetic to Hindutva, in another challenge to social justice politics. “But this is only in urban areas. The overwhelming majority will rally behind us for samajik nyay,” he said.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 1:26:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/tejashwi-yadav-reviving-social-justice-as-a-counter-to-hindutva-in-bihar/article26958713.ece

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