Tejashwi Yadav, whose blockbuster rallies have been the talk of the Bihar campaign, says this election “will surprise everyone”. But the 31-year-old Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader, the opposition’s chief ministerial candidate, also says he has nothing to lose as he tours Bihar to cover as much ground as he can, often addressing a dozen meetings a day.
“I have nothing to lose. I am happy I fought on good issues. I have age on my side. I will try hard, work more,” Tejashwi Yadav tells NDTV, asked if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign – or any other factor – makes him nervous ahead of the November 10 Bihar results.
Besides, he says, even PM Modi has been forced to notice him. “PM recently said that if something comes in a good packaging, looks good, but one regrets after consuming it… he is actually accepting that everything is good,” he said.
The Prime Minister had dubbed him “Jungle Raj ka Yuvraj (prince of jungle Raj)” last week.
The RJD leader deftly tackles questions on whether he has distanced himself from the 15-year reign of his father Lalu Yadav and mother Rabri Devi – generally believed to be an era in Bihar associated with rampant corruption and crime.
RJD founder Lalu Yadav, who is serving a jail term for corruption during his years as Chief Minister, is rarely seen on a Tejashwi poster.
“I do take my father’s name. But I have to speak on what I can offer. My father’s era was of social justice, now is the time for economic justice. One cannot provide economic justice without social justice,” he says.
After his failed Lok Sabha campaign last year, Tejashwi moped for months, or so it seemed, as he remained mostly MIA from Patna.
From a year ago, the first-time lawmaker’s learning curve has been steep. His promise of 10 lakh government jobs has forced seasoned NDA leaders to respond and the BJP to match it with its own offer of 19 lakh job opportunities.
“Thakau bhashan nahin denge …seedhe muddde ki baat karenge. Kitna log berozgar ho? (Won’t give boring speech, will get straight to the point. How many of you are jobless?)” he says, and the crowd goes wild.
“Padai (education), kamai (jobs), dawai (health), sichai (farmers), mehngai (inflation). These are the issues here, but the PM does not speak about them…Ek Bihari, sab par bhaari (one Bihari is making everyone nervous),” junior Yadav roars, displaying flashes of his father’s mass appeal at rally after rally.
Each day, he begins his campaign with comments to the media about Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, his former boss: “He is too tired, he cannot run Bihar anymore.”
Nitish Kumar’s response to the jibes in rallies has been fierce and unfiltered. He even took a swipe at Lalu Yadav’s nine children, wondering if this is the kind of Bihar the RJD wanted.
“No one expected Nitish Kumar to stoop to this level. I call it a blessing,” says Tejashwi.
He also has a response to the Chief Minister’s swipes at his “inexperience” for even suggesting he can give 10 lakh jobs. “If I was so inexperienced, then why did he make me deputy Chief Minister?”
Tejashwi claims he has addressed more than 200 rallies in his campaign. “My father’s record was 16 in a day. Once I addressed 19 rallies,” he smiles.
The rally-hopping is aided by a chopper at Rs 1 lakh an hour which, he insists, is paid by the party.
“Even for a rally without chair and or a tent we get an Income Tax notice. So we would have to account for choppers. Some people (NDA) are using 30 choppers. No one asks them,” he comments.