Can Tejashwi Yadav be the leader Bihar needs? Does he have the courage to tell his party that despite the trust they put in him, he must resign because something much bigger is at stake?
Dear Tejashwi Yadav,
I know that you find yourself in a difficult situation as far as your political career is concerned right now. A case has been filed against you on charges of corruption and pressure is mounting on the state government to seek your resignation. In the cross-hairs of the Bharatiya Janata Party, you are constantly being attacked. The BJP is making attempts to lure your party’s ally, chief minister Nitish Kumar, to its side by tempting him with external support if he forsakes the alliance with your Rashtriya Janata Dal.
What Nitish decides will be a test of his political maturity as well as political ethics. In a recent statement, party leaders have made it clear that there will be no compromise with Nitish’s clean image. This is an interesting statement as it merely refers to his “image” and not his political principles.
It is common knowledge all across Bihar that Nitish is very careful about his political image, just as a finicky dresser is particular about the creases on his kurta. We know that a person’s image can be easily manipulated, camouflaging the reality of a person. It is not easy to take off the mask and find the real person behind the layers of what is portrayed about them.
It is an open secret that over the past 12 months, corruption in Bihar has grown a hundred times. Post the liquor ban, police stations are making substantial amounts of money from under-the-table transactions. At many places, including Patna, access to liquor is not a problem. Despite such widespread corruption, Nitish remains without a blemish. What is this, if not the magic of a well-manufactured image?
But right now, the debate is about you and not Nitish. There are charges of corruption against you. It may be argued that corruption is a rather relative notion. For when political leaders give business houses huge benefits in exchange for financial contributions and air travel on corporate jets, this is called ‘political necessity’. There never is an uproar over it.
With you, however, the problem is your pedigree, and more specifically, your father’s political legacy. Leaving aside the legal and technical aspects, the blot on Lalu Prasad’s image in the public mind – supporters and opponents alike – is indelible.
In his defence, Lalu’s supporters audaciously claim that he is not the only one profiting from such practices. People like us are convinced of your father’s political courage – his stand on secularism, his decision not to desert Sonia Gandhi when the question of her foreign origins was raised. But he has been a disappointment for us too. The love of his immediate and extended family was such that he forgot that there were millions of people outside the bubble whose interest he had failed to serve. Lalu ji has betrayed the public who put their trust in him. Though he got his punishment, the public suffered more.
Two years ago, he got another chance to start afresh. But instead of shedding the old feudalistic tendencies, your father again sacrificed the interest of the public on the altar of familial love. Giving a free passage to you and your brother into the newly-formed cabinet was absolutely unwarranted but it happened anyway. And we saw how easily public opinion got trampled upon.
Amid all this, however, we saw you and heard you. Despite being so young, or perhaps because of it, it seems you wish to lead the party on a different path. You believe in an ideological foundation. You are sincere and seem eager to learn, and know more. In contrast to your brother, you gave a new hope to people for which they were ready to even bear with him.
But now, the situation has taken a bizarre turn. Serious charges of corruption have been levelled against you. A legal challenge may prove the accusations false but right now in a battle of clean political images you have your back against the wall.
Do you have the courage to tell your party that despite the trust they put in you, you must resign for there is something much bigger at stake? Are you brave enough to stand up to your father and your mother and tell them that the trust the public put in you is not solely due to your family legacy but also because of your own politics and that you are prepared to demand respect for it?
Can you not declare that the RJD has a number of leaders, unlike Nitish’s party, who are capable of bearing the trust of the people? That experienced leaders like Abdul Bari Siddiqui are eligible for the chair of deputy chief minister?
Do you have the courage to leave your post and enter the wider political fray outside? Because that will be the ultimate test. That is where your fight to defeat the BJP will have to take place.
Bihar needs a real political leader, new blood, someone who believes in his himself and who has his life’s principles to stand up for, not an ‘image’ that is merely for show.
You need to move several steps ahead of your father who perhaps got tied up in the shackles of the insecurities of the political era from which he emerged. You are free from that insecurity.
I know that if you resign, the BJP will rejoice and take credit for it but the question is not about such small victories or losses. The question is of India. Should the country be handed over to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh? The question is of millions of ordinary Indians, Muslims and Hindus, who are pinning their hopes on what happens Bihar as the big electoral battle of 2019 approaches.
It is only if you step out of power that you can become a true mass leader, perhaps even a statesman. This might be a blessing in disguise if only you are wise enough to recognise it. You are a young man. You should be ready to risk it all and not let the decrepitude of old age envelop you before your real political career has even begun.
A citizen of Bihar and India.
Apoorvanand teaches in Delhi University.
This article was originally published in The Wire Hindi and has been translated by Naushin Rehman.