The ‘resignation’ of former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh from the primary membership of RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) has prompted the need for the creation of Marg Darshak Mandal type of set-up where the senior leaders of the party could be ‘accommodated’. True Raghuvansh is not the leader of the stature of Lal Krishna Advani, who is considered as the mentor as well as saviour–during the Gujarat riots days when PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted him to be removed–of the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Neither the 74-year old former Union rural development minister is as towering a leader like Murli Manohar Joshi, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha or even for that matter slightly younger Arun Shourie.
Yet it is a fact that the RJD has its own quota of elderly leaders who had served under the leadership of Lalu Prasad for about three decades and are thus feeling misfit due to transfer of responsibility to the next generation.
It can be argued that in this era of so many young leaders in 30s and 40s all over the country there is little scope for gerontocracy. Now even leaders like Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Yediyurappa etc. are considered much older.
At the same time it can be pleaded that experience does count. But from Y S Jaganmohan Reddy to Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia to Tejashwi Prasad or Chirag Paswan all are the beneficiaries of the family connection. But this does not hold true to Prashant Kishor, Kanhaiya Kumar, Mukesh Sahni etc.
On the other hand it can also not be denied that Modi, Nitish, Lalu, Raghuvansh etc were all self-made leaders with no family backing.
In recent times the Left parties, especially in Bengal and Tripura paid the price for being led for too long by the old and too experienced leadership. They were thus trounced by much younger Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in 2011 after 34 long years of rule in Bengal.
Anyway the problem of RJD in Bihar is that ever since the conviction of Lalu Prasad in December 2017 the whole scenario has changed. Leaders like Raghuvansh, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, Shivanand Tiwari, Rama Chandra Purve, Ramai Ram etc who are all addressed as ‘Chachas’ (Uncles) by the leader of opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, find themselves extremely difficult to adjust. The present state president Jagdanand Singh is also of the same age yet he is somewhat adapting to the new reality.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party found in Marg Darshak Mandal a body of seniors to guide the party, other parties, including RJD, have not yet developed any such mechanism. It is other thing that the Mandal has been reduced to the status of Old Age Home.
Raghuvansh frustration is somewhat understandable though he was apparently upset over the recent induction of Rama Singh into the party too. Rama like him is a Rajput, who as the LJP candidate defeated Raghuvansh in 2014 Lok Sabha election. It is said that Raghuvansh was somewhat disturbed over Tejashwi’s reliance on fellow Rajput leader and another good friend of Lalu, Jagdanand Singh.
The Janata Dal United had its own set of problems of tackling old guards. It is alleged that Nitish Kumar totally neglected his mentor and the former Union minister and convenor of National Democratic Alliance, George Fernandes after he became the chief minister of Bihar in 2005. In 2009 Lok Sabha election Fernandes was denied ticket and he had to contest as an Independent candidate from Muzaffarpur. He lost to the Janata Dal United candidate Captain Jai Narain Nishad.
Fernandes died a neglected man. However later he was elected to the Rajya Sabha. Independent political observers also cite the example of Sharad Yadav who was compelled to quit as the national president of Janata Dal United.
Ailing Raghuvansh, on the other hand, is a bit lucky. Lalu himself wrote back to convey that he is not going out of the party—thus rejected the ‘resignation’.
Note: This article was written on September 12, a day before the demise of former union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.
(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views are personal.)