Patna: Senior Dalit leader Shyam Rajak joined the Rashtriya Janata Dal on Monday, just a day after his dismissal as the Bihar industries minister and his simultaneous expulsion from the ruling Janata Dal (United).
Calling Nitish Kumar “anti-Dalit”, Rajak criticised the JD(U) for its lack of inclusivity. “There is no room for dignity of the scheduled castes in the JD(U). The party dismissed me without serving me even the customary showcause notice. There is dictatorship in the JDU,” he said.
It is being speculated that Rajak may have taken the step taking into consideration the perception gaining ground that Muslims in the state will not be voting for the JD(U)-BJP combine this time as anger continues to simmer over Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and acquiescing to the BJP’s anti-minority agenda.
Rajak represents the Phulwari Sharif assembly constituency in Patna, which has overwhelming Muslim population – making it impossible for anyone to win that seat without the support of Muslim voters in the area. The RJD, Rajak’s “original home”, is likely being considered a safer bet to retain the seat.
Rajak joined the RJD in the presence of the leader of opposition in the Bihar assembly and Lalu Prasad’s heir apparent, Tejashwi Yadav.
“The RJD is Rajak’s original home. He has been a champion of social justice as envisioned by the party’s supreme leader, Lalu Prasad. His homecoming will strengthen the social justice movement,” Tejashwi said.
The minority question
Beyond these “politically correct” statements and the usual posturing associated with such occasions; Rajak’s shift from the JD(U) to the RJD in the run-up to the polls – due ahead of November – speaks volumes of a larger story: the mood of minorities in the election-bound state.
Rajak doesn’t fall in the category of perennial party hoppers who keep changing party loyalty at the drop of the hat. Rajak had earned the sobriquet of Lalu Prasad’s ‘Hanuman’ for his strong bond with the RJD chief for over 25 years. He crossed over to the JD(U) in 2009 when Nitish launched campaign against the emergence of his then Gujarat counterpart, Narendra Modi, earning the goodwill of the minorities. Rajak had no threat of losing his Phulwari Sharif seat with Nitish emerging as the “pivot” of the Modi style of politics.
Political observers believe that Rajak’s decision to join the RJD is an indication that Muslims, who constitute over 16% of the Bihar voters, have lost “faith” in Nitish’s leadership, particularly after his party unequivocally supported the CAA in parliament as well as his studied silence on the growing atrocities on the minorities across the country.
Tejaswhi Yadav said, “Nitish has reduced himself to a carbon copy of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah’s brand of the BJP. There is no place for the leaders adhering to the socialist, secular politics in his JDU. We welcome Shyam Rajak back in the realm of socialist-secular politics as enshrined in the constitution of India”.
Rajak’s political past
An old warhorse, Rajak has played a key role in Bihar’s politics over the years. Rajak had extended a helping hand to Nitish Kumar in the early 1980s after the latter lost back-to-back assembly elections in 1977 and 1880. It was Rajak who helped Nitish get access to the Socialist patriarch and former prime minister Chandra Shekhar in 1983 on the latter’s Bharat Yatra at Mathura in 1983. Rajak was close to Chandra Shekhar, who in turn helped Nitish get a foothold in socialist politics based on Rajak’s recommendation.
Rajak played a ‘key role’ in getting Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar together as well after Nitish dumped the BJP in 2013. Rajak, then a JD(U) MLA worked as “interlocutor” between Lalu and Nitish. This turn of events eventually led to the formation of the RJD-JDU-Congress Mahagathbandhan that defeated the BJP in the 2015 assembly elections.
“I had joined politics to pursue social justice. The JD(U) is no longer a platform to carry out the politics of social justice. Dalits and marginalised sections are feeling helpless and neglected in the JD(U), which in company with the BJP has become viciously anti-Dalit,” Rajak said.
Even so, it appears that the party-swapping has just begun – there are indications that at least three RJD MLAs might join the JD(U) soon. In fact, RJD expelled its three MLAs, Maheshwar Yadav, Faraz Fatmi and Prema Choudhary on Sunday for their “anti-party” activities.
The trio have their own reasons to switch over to the JD(U). Maheshwar Yadav represents the Gaighat assembly seat in north Bihar’s Mithila region with Brahmins and non-Yadav EBCs (extremely backward castes) in sizeable in number. Fatmi is the son of former Darbhanga MP, M.A.A Fatmi, who is a JD(U) leader, and wants to contest the Keoti seat to harness the influence of his father. Choudhary is an MLA from Patepur and the configuration of her constituency might better suit the JDU-BJP combination.
But none of the three MLAs dismissed by the RJD have as big a stature or standing in Bihar politics that Rajak has. Besides, Rajak belongs to the Dhobi caste and is the sole leader of his caste in the Bihar political scene.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist and author of Gopalganj to Raisina—My Political Journey, Lalu Prasad’s autobiography. He has also written The Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar.