Perhaps the last thing the ruling Janata Dal United and the Bharatiya Janata Party would like ahead of the Assembly election in Bihar is the public spat between newly inducted MLA Chandrika Rai and his estranged son-in-law, Tej Pratap. The NDA bigwigs may allow Chandrika to vent his anger upto a limit; otherwise the issue has the potential to politically backfire.
On August 20, that is after just after joining Janata Dal United, Chandrika Rai claimed that the two sons of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, the leader of opposition in Assembly Tejashwi Prasad and his elder brother Tej Pratap, are anxiously searching for safe seats in Bihar to contest the coming Assembly poll. He even went on to challenge them and also announced that his daughter Ashwariya Rai may or may not fight the election.
A day later Tej Pratap was quick to retort. In his inimitable style, Tej Pratap said he did not know who Chandrika is, but is ready to take on anyone anywhere in the state. He said that the issue between him and Ashwariya is pending in the court and the the matter is personal. He warned that he too has a lot of materials against Ashwariya.
What the Janata Dal United and BJP leaders fear is that the RJD rank and file–if not Lalu and Tejashwi–may rake up the similar marital ‘discord’ involving their top leaders. One often comes across such comments in social media against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. Recently, a former IPS officer Amitabh Kumar Das directly raised the issue of Nitish Kumar’s marriage life in a social media post. Many people thought that it was too offensive a remark and should have been avoided.
Apart from marital discord between Tej Pratap and Ashwariya the NDA leaders want to target Tejashwi more strongly than his elder brother.
Be it allegation of corruption, land deal, Income Tax evasion, IRCTC case etc. the names of Lalu, his wife Rabri Devi, Tejashwi, daughters Misa and Hema and their husbands have figured but not of Tej Pratap. This is a part of a larger strategy as Tej Pratap has, according to the NDA insiders, the potential to score self-goal and damage the RJD and the family. He had done so in the last Lok Sabha poll when, it is alleged, that he had ensured the defeat of a couple of party candidates by supporting the Independents.
Tej Pratap had sometimes back made unsavoury remarks against deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi. Even then the BJP top leaders criticised Lalu and Tejashwi more strongly than Tej Pratap.
As damaging Tejashwi suits the NDA’s purpose more, their think-tank would not do anything which unite the Lalu-Rabri family. They would do everything to drive a wedge between brothers.
Apparently Tejashwi and even for that matter jailed Lalu himself have largely kept themselves aloof from the family dispute. Ashwariya has problems with Tej Pratap, his mother Rabri Devi and sisters, especially Misa Bharati. This is at least what has come out in the media.
In such a complex scenario the NDA leaders will have to do a lot of tight rope walking on the issue of marital discord in the Lalu-Rabri family. The latter too should be cautious as the intra-family trouble sometimes leads to the downfall. The rivals may certainly exploit the situation. There is a lesson from the Mulayam Singh Yadav extended parivar, where the inner-family squabble lead to humiliating defeat of his Samajwadi Party in March 2017 Assembly election.Otherwise his son Akhilesh Singh Yadav-led government was not doing so badly till November 2016 and many people were predicting that it may return to power.
What happened is now a well-known fact. The Samajwadis even failed to exploit the situation arising out of demonetization.
Anyway there is a small consolation for the Lalu-Rabri family in Bihar as the NDA leaders may not blow out of proportion the Ashwariya Rai issue because of several such instances within their own rank.
(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views are personal.)