The first phase of polling in the Bihar assembly election of 2020 was scheduled for October 28. Till the first week of October, there was no sign of an opposition alliance, and nobody gave the Opposition even an outside chance of winning. The result was a foregone conclusion: a formidable NDA coalition of the BJP and JD(U), with support from caste satraps like Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi, looked all set for a landslide.
The ‘gathbandhan’ or the coalition of opposition parties, was announced on October 7. It barely caused a ripple. But over the next few days, media began to notice the rapidly swelling crowds at the election rallies of Tejashwi Yadav. They also didn’t miss that the election posters of the RJD now featured Tejashwi alone—no sign of Lalu Yadav or Rabri Devi (both former Bihar chief ministers). Something was afoot.
Before long there was a restless hubbub in NDA circles, and a victory that looked certain yesterday was suddenly looking shaky. With every passing day of the campaign, the possibilities looked more open, the NDA more fidgety and the Opposition a little more hopeful of pulling off an unlikelymiracle. The big crowds at Tejashwi’s rallies were getting bigger and more exuberant. They were greeting him with a fervour that took everyone by surprise—and the pundits were now reminiscing about Lalu Yadav in his heyday.
What about the new party posters? They were neither a mistake nor unconsidered nor even driven by an inflated sense of selfworth and personal charisma. They were an attempt to signal a new beginning, under a new leader; an attempt to make a break from the RJD’s past; an attempt to counter the NDA narrative that bringing back the RJD would mean a return to goonda raj. Tejashwi’s electoral pitch had something new, and it was clearly resonating with the crowds. He was addressing not just the same old constituencies known to be solidly behind his party (the famed Muslim-Yadav combination, or the ‘M-Y axis’) but the state’s wider audience, its unemployed youth, desperate for jobs. Hence, the promise to ensure 1 million jobs, announced on October 16. The tide was now turning and the young RJD leader was a man possessed. Pitted against a starcast of seasoned campaigners like PM Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and a formidable array of Union ministers and BJP leaders, this lone ranger was addressing 15-20 election meetings a day.
Tejashwi has certainly inherited a gift for communication, if not his father’s rustic turns of phrase. He is direct and simple, and he seems to have a finger on the political pulse, a sense of what people really care for. What do the people of Bihar want, he’d ask in his rallies. ‘Kamai, Dawai, Padhai, Seenchai’ (Jobs, healthcare, education, irrigation). He would repeat this in meeting after meeting, letting people know that he had done his homework. His promises were not just hot air, he would insist, alluding to the many unkept promises of Narendra Modi’s BJP.
On the campaign trail, he refused to rise to the baits of the prime minister, who mocked him publicly as ‘Jungle ka Yuvraj’ (the prince of anarchic kingdom). When the media pumped him for a reaction, he would simply ask: what kind of party abuses rivals to seek power? How is it going to help Bihar and its people? The gathbandhan did not finally make it to power, but it came within sniffing distance, and made the NDA sweat and smell defeat before making it by the skin of their teeth. The RJD emerged as the single largest party with 75 seats, one more than the BJP.