The 2020 Assembly elections of Bihar was nothing short of a rollercoaster journey, as the Nation witnessed the first State going to polls in the midst of a prevailing global pandemic. This article focuses on addressing the rise of Tejashwi Prasad Yadav from being the ‘Yuvraj’ of the RJD dynasty to becoming one of the strongest faces of the Opposition the NDA has fought against in the Assembly elections of recent times.
Rohit Kumar V
The State of Bihar witnessed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) returning to power with the Janata Dal United (JD(U)) chief Nitish Kumar at the helm in the recently concluded assembly elections. What was seen as an election in early 2020 predicting a smooth victory for Nitish and the NDA, saw a drastic shift in the pre-poll predictions leading up to the elections where the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led Mahagathbandhan (MGB) was depicted to claim power under the party’s new chief – Tejashwi Yadav. Emerging out of the controversial shadows of his father, Tejashwi had a daunting task ahead of him to re-imagine his party’s glory and restore the faith of the people in the RJD. While the Mahagathbandhan was not the front that emerged victorious in the battle for Bihar, several positive points lay out a strong prospective future for the RJD and the face of Opposition in Bihar’s political sphere.
RJD put NDA on the Defensive
The JD(U) could have aligned its campaigning framework towards highlighting the party’s achievements in the past 15 years, instead, it decided to go ahead with backward politics by targeting the so-called ‘Jungle Raaj’ of the RJD back in the 1990s. This trick however failed to work this time around for the party given that 11.17 lakh people were first time voters and 1.79 crore eligible voters (25 per cent of the State population) were under the age of 30 who have not been witness to the RJD’s rule, rather have only been accustomed to seeing Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) in power. Tejashwi was effective in picking up on these campaigning flaws of the JD(U) which resulted in a startling number of people joining his rallies. He went on to create history by successfully hosting a stellar 247 rallies this election season, – ripples of which were seen in the ineffective campaigning antics of the Opposition. His promise of delivering 10 lakh jobs to the youth, if elected to power, was initially mocked and looked down upon for being impractical by the NDA. Ironically, the Opposition later was forced to go on the defensive and promised to provide 19 lakh jobs if the front gets elected to power.
Lalu to Tejashwi – A Shift in Leadership
For a leader who recently took over the reins of a party, the RJD securing 75 seats in this election is certainly a big boost to Tejashwi’s career. A primary reason for this, is the stark difference one could spot in the leadership style of Tejashwi in comparison to his father Lalu Prasad Yadav. Lalu, as a leader, laid RJD’s foundations on aggressive backwardness and never hesitated from taking shots at any caste or community other than the Muslim-Yadav (M-Y) cadre. His staunch opposition to the Left parties, especially the CPI(ML)(L) has been quite evident over the past two decades, which is one of the reasons for the RJD vote bank always being limited to the M-Y community. On the contrary, Tejashwi ensured that his image does not reflect any radical stance. He warmed up to the Left parties under the Mahagathbandhan banner as he understood the prospective socio-economic impact that an alliance with the Left would have on his party. The impact of this alliance of the RJD with the Left is rightly visible in the massive victory margins of the Left parties in these elections. The CPI secured the Teghra constituency with a margin of 47,979 votes, the CPM won the Manhji and Bibhutpur constituencies with a margin of 25,386 and 40,496 votes, respectively and the CPI(ML)(L) established its stronghold in Balrampur, Ziradei, Paliganj, Agiaon and Dumraon with margins of 53,597, 25,510, 30,910, 48,550 and 24,415 votes, respectively. Besides, by carving out the elections on the issue of unemployment, Tejashwi portrayed himself as a bankable image for the youth population, especially those belonging to the upper castes – something that Lalu would never attempt doing.
Women Candidates Witness Positive Support from RJD
The 2020 election showed a positive increase in the participation of women candidates in comparison to the past elections. In the 2015 elections, there were only 273 women candidates (8 per cent of the contesting candidates) which increased to 371 candidates in the 2020 elections (10 per cent of the contesting candidates). What makes this narrative important is the performance of the RJD in this front. While one cannot dispute the fact that the JD(U) has had the strongest vote base amongst the female voters – courtesy Nitish Kumar, one cannot disagree that the RJD changed several perceptions of gender inclusivity in these elections, courtesy – Tejashwi Yadav. Under Lalu, the RJD was seen to be radically opposite towards being gender inclusive. Since 2000, the party has won 430 Assembly seats but has had a disappointing strike rate in the reserved seats for women candidates – winning a mere 28 seats in 20 years. Tejashwi attempted to break this by fielding 16 women candidates in these elections and emerging victorious in 7 of them. While the outcome was not one of great success, when compared to his regional opponent (JD(U)), he fared well – given that the JD(U) secured victory in only 6 of the 22 constituencies with women representation.
Holding Fort for the Yadav Family
Bihar is no stranger to the dysfunctionality that exists in the Yadav family. Issues between Tejashwi, his brother Tej Pratap and other members of the Yadav family have been on the rise since their father Lalu Yadav was jailed in the fodder scam case. Not-with-standing his younger brother’s position in the party, Tej Pratap rebelled against the RJD by backing three independent candidates against the RJD in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019. He went on to create his own party called the ‘Lalu Rabri Morcha’ following the election. Given the Modi-Nitish duo that stood before them, the last thing the RJD wanted was to deal with an internal divide in the party. In this election, however, Tejashwi understood the need and value that his brother brings to the table and was willing to carry his burden of inefficiency. He titled the RJD’s rally and campaign slogans as ‘Tej Raftaar, Tejashwi Sarkar’, ensuring his brother’s name echoes in the election season while at the same time keeps him satisfied.
In the process of seat allotment to candidates, Tejashwi did not budge on the demands of his brother to provide tickets to his five loyalist candidates. He understood that fielding candidates and providing tickets to party allies and loyalists without proper introspection of the constituency were one of the key reasons for the fall of the RJD’s vote share percentage in the General elections of 2019. Tej Pratap’s unhappiness over this issue was tackled by Tejashwi recommending his brother to contest from the Hasanpur constituency, instead of his current seat of Mahua, for a more impactful victory. He accompanied Tej Pratap while filing his nomination and strongly campaigned for him in his constituency that secured him a resounding victory with a margin of 21,139 votes. Besides this, Tejashwi ensured reconciliation with his sister Misa Bharti and his party, given that her presence in the party is needed now more than ever. The recent war of words between Tejashwi and Nitish in the Assembly session, saw Tejashwi standing up to Nitish and defending the honour of his siblings and family members.
Facebook Factor Affects RJD
One area that Tejashwi and the RJD failed to focus on strengthening was the party’s social media campaigning. While the party’s strategy of hybrid campaigning through virtual interfaces and door-to-door rallies certainly proved effective, its absence on Facebook had a big impact on the voter perceptions of the party. The NDA used this opportunity to corner the opposition, specifically Tejashwi. They spent more than 80 lakh on promoting political advertisements and running several unofficial proxy pages with the names ‘Rashtriya Jangal Dal’; ‘Modi sang Nitish’ and ‘Bhak Budbak’, etc. The posts found on these pages were offensive towards Tejashwi, Lalu and the RJD and were financed strategically during the right moments of campaigning to increase audience base. This strategy of running proxy pages has proven to be quite effective for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections as well. A study by Ipsos, a market research company, shows that Facebook is the third-most widely accessed social media platform in Bihar with an audience base of 45.7 percent of the State’s population. If these numbers are true, Tejashwi and the RJD have a daunting task of restructuring the party’s campaigning strategies on social media to ensure this disaster does not repeat.
Increase in Victory Margins and Vote-Share Percentage
The RJD’s vote share in the elections increased from 18-19 per cent to 23.11 per cent – a drastic increase that certainly has large-scale implications on the caste politics of Bihar. The Muslim-Yadav vote bank which has been the RJD’s sole cadre of reliance consists of 18 per cent of the State’s votes. The increase in the RJD’s vote share certainly establishes that the party successfully expanded its vote bank to the EBCs and Dalit voters, breaking the customary M-Y curse.
While the RJD did emerge as the single largest party in the elections with 75 seats, one major factor that defines the magnitude of its victory is the staggering victory margins the party had won most of its seats with. Out of those seats which had a victory margin of more than 20,000 votes, the BJP emerged victorious winning 30 of its 74 seats under this category. The RJD was not far behind in catching up with the BJP, as Tejashwi led the party to win 26 of its 75 seats with a victory margin of more than 20,000 – a staggering number that is incomparable to the JD(U) which won a mere 9 seats under this category.
On a whole, while the results of the Bihar elections saw the NDA return to power, one cannot dispute the rise of a new era of politics in the State under the current RJD chief. His own words “I have nothing to lose, Age is on my side.” is certainly a reality which reassures Bihar that the Tejashwi Yadav time has just begun.
Rohit Kumar V is Research Intern at the Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.
Featured Image Source: NDTV