Like Father Like Son: Tejashwi's Battle Against the BJP

By explicitly championing Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, the young RJD leader is trying to stop the saffron party's march, something that Lalu Prasad Yadav has experience with.

Patna: Tejashwi Yadav’s eloquent battle cry against the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal has many resemblances to his father Lalu Prasad Yadav taking on the saffron patriarch Lal Krishna Advani in the early 1990s.

As the chief minister of Bihar then, Lalu’s minority government was dependent on the BJP’s support besides the Left. In addition to that, the V.P. Singh government of the Janata Dal-led coalition too was dependent on the support of the L.K. Advani-led BJP.

Lalu had enormous risk at hand in taking on Advani when the latter embarked on his first Ram rath yatra in 1990 that had to pass through Bihar on its way to Ayodhya where the Babri mosque was located.

Newspapers and the TV channels were reporting how Advani was chanting, “Saugandh Ram ki khate hain, hum Mandir wahin banayenge (I take a vow in the name of Ram, to build the temple where the Babri mosque stands)” at his rallies in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh on his way to Ayodhya.

Advani’s ‘favourite’ then, Uma Bharati, reportedly followed up with more venom: “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri masjid tod do (Give one more push and demolish the Babri mosque).”

Reports were doing the rounds that Advani’s yatra had created a frenzy with large numbers of Hindus getting united behind the BJP. Most of the Janata Dal leaders were in the grip of fear that they would lose power if action was taken against Advani.

The then prime minister was busy trying to persuade functionaries of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-BJP and its sympathisers to convince Advani against the yatra. But Advani was unrelenting.

L.K. Advani during his 1990 rath yatra, flanked by Narendra Modi, who was then an RSS pracharak. Photo: Reuters/Files

Putting everything that a ‘powerful’ politician lives and dies for at risk, Lalu got Advani arrested shortly after his cavalcade entered Bihar at Samastipur and lodged him at a secluded place in the sylvan hills of Masanjore in Santhal Pargana region, now in Jharkhand. Lalu’s actions stunned political circles across the country.

The BJP was swift in withdrawing its support both to the V.P. Singh government in Delhi and the Lalu government in Bihar. The Singh-led government fell but Lalu a foxy fighter broke the BJP’s legislature party in Bihar, with 12 of its MLAs under the stewardship of Inder Singh Namdhari siding with his government, which survived.

Also read: Lessons From the Bihar Results on the Electoral Politics in West Bengal

Tejashwi’s situation

The risk that Tejashwi has is enormous. His embattled and ailing father is in prison for over three years. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) left no stone unturned to oppose his bail. The CBI has embroiled Tejashwi in a railway scam case that had been dropped in 2011. Tejashwi was a minor when the case cropped up for the first time, during Lalu’s tenure as the Union railway minister.

Moreover, the BJP with Narendra Modi-Amit Shah at the helm of affairs at the Centre is more powerful than what Advani was in the 1990s.

Though many non-BJP leaders, including Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party of Uttar Pradesh) have supported Mamata Banerjee, few are as vocal and expressive as Tejashwi is. Accompanied by senior Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) functionaries Abdul Bari Siddiqui and Shyam Rajak, Tejashwi travelled to Bengal to meet Banerjee early this month.

He pointedly announced, “Our purpose is to defeat the BJP and support Mamataji. Our support for Mamataji is unconditional.” The West Bengal CM reciprocated by describing Lalu as a “father figure” for whom she shared “mutual respect”. While other parties have sufficed with spokesperson issuing statements in favour of Banerjee, Tejashwi’s social media accounts are filled with her pictures – be it the ‘attack‘ on her or her attacking the BJP.

Also read: Akhilesh, Tejashwi Voice Support for Mamata, but No Clarity on Alliance Yet

Non-compromising path

The 1990s witnessed many members of the old janata parivar making compromises with the BJP. Lalu remained defiant. For example, George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav all bought peace with the BJP and enjoyed the fruits of power. Even anti-caste leaders like Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party broke bread with the BJP. For a brief period, Mamata Banerjee too had an alliance with the BJP, when she had joined the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government during the 1999 Lok Sabha polls. But Lalu did not compromise at all.

Tejashwi seems to have inherited his father’s streak. In the given situation, he could have extended “symbolic” support to Banerjee like others. But it is not so. Tejashwi is explicitly asking those who live on the border areas of Bihari and Bengal to vote for Banerjee.

While it is not clear how much impact Tejashwi’s campaign would have on Banerjee’s prospects in terms of the number of MLAs, his message will not go unheard. Tejashwi’s RJD emerged as the single largest party with 75 MLAs in Bihar in the 2020 elections. This shows that Tejashwi’s leadership has been widely accepted, just like Lalu’s was.

Tejashwi has inherited his father’s legacy as the leader of weaker sections and minorities. People from marginalised communities still reserve a special place for Lalu, wherever they are.

Lalu Prasad Yadav. Photo: PTI/File

Risk and gains

Lalu took a huge risk by arresting Advani. It had paid off for him. By arresting Advani, Lalu had taken the wind out of the BJP’s sail. The minorities, encouraged by Lalu’s decision to take on the BJP, and the weaker sections, impressed by Lalu’s implementation of the Mandal Commission report with all his might, overwhelmingly supported him.

Under his stewardship, Lalu’s Janata Dal won 48 out of the 54 Lok Sabha seats in the 1991 elections in Bihar. His party kept on winning assembly elections for the next 15 years. In a way, he had changed the course of history in the Hindi heartland.

In the present context, it is perhaps only Mamata Banerjee who taking on the Modi-Shah duo in the manner that Lalu took on Advani. Lalu had become the “darling” of the liberal-secular forces after taking the BJP head-on in the 1990s. The then Bengal chief minister, Jyoti Basu; Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) general secretary, Harkishan Singh Surjeet; CPI general secretary, A.B. Bardhan and later Congress president, Sonia Gandhi – all of them expressed their admiration for Lalu.

If Mamata retains power in Bengal, she too will become a rallying point for all non-BJP parties across the country. And Tejashwi will have played a crucial role in stopping the Sangh parivar’s march.

Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author and professor of journalism and mass communications at Invertis University, Bareilly.