January 17. It was the day Lalu Prasad was made RJD president for the ninth time. At Patna’s Shri Krishna Memorial Hall, there were speeches from his wife Rabri Devi, who mocked RSS elders for wearing shorts, and from their son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who spoke of his good governance agenda as Bihar’s deputy CM. The other son, Tej Pratap Yadav, did not speak, choosing to applaud the others’ speeches.
January 30. Tej Pratap, as Bihar’s Health Minister, was to be the chief guest at a homoeopathy congress in Patna. The organisers kept waiting but he never arrived. It was eventually Lalu who turned up, explaining that Tej had an “important meeting” and going on to deliver a speech on health — how “there is not much difference between urine and antiseptic solutions”.
January 31. Tejashwi, also road construction minister, was “launching” the construction of a bridge over the Ganga linking Patna to Raghopur. It had in fact been inaugurated earlier, by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar; this “relaunch” was a gesture to Raghopur, a Lalu family bastion that has elected him earlier and Tejashwi now. Nitish, Lalu and Tejashwi spoke. Tej Pratap, who represents neighbouring Mahua, folded his hands, smiled and applauded the rest.
Since the day Lalu launched his sons in politics, Tej Pratap has been rarely heard save a few sentences on occasions. He spoke briefly when Nitish Kumar went to Mahua to campaign for him, and during his nomination when he pledged to make Mahua an industrial hub. And ever since he fumbled while taking oath — he pronounced apeokshit (desired) as upekshit (neglected) and was made to repeat his oath by the governor — Tej Pratap has fallen largely silent.
This silence, RJD sources in Patna conceded, was because the party wanted to protect Tej Pratap from making any slip while speaking. “He has been consulting top leaders of the party to improve his oratory skills. Meanwhile, Lalu has been grooming him,” said a source close to the RJD chief.
“Tej Pratap is somewhat short on confidence about conveying his good ideas to the public ,” RJD national spokesperson Manoj Jha said. “He is learning fast and will become a good speaker with time.” Jha felt that the scrutiny of Tej Pratap is
Lalu’s interventions go beyond Tej Pratap’s speeches. Tej holds three departments and it is in health that Lalu has been intervening directly or indirectly. He carried out an “inspection” at Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in December, while another of his interventions went on official record. In a letter with a copy marked to Lalu but not to Health Minister Tej, Darbhanga’s civil surgeon mentioned telephonic instructions he had got from Lalu not to retrench some private health workers. Amid criticism from the opposition, CM Nitish Kumar justified such “suggestions and interventions from the leader of the grand alliance”.
Away from Lalu, Tej Pratap has been silent in the legislature, too, while his brother has turned into a strong speaker. Tej Pratap is No. 3 in the government and sits next to Tejashwi, the No. 2. Tej skipped a Legislative Council session on a day he was supposed to take up questions on health. The reason cited was that he was “unwell”.
“Tej Pratap has not spoken in the House,” said BJP legislature party leader Sushil Kumar Modi. “When he was supposed to answer queries on his department, he did the vanishing act. He looks for excuses not to speak. Lalu openly acts as proxy for him. It would be good if Nitish appointed Lalu his political adviser and gave him a licence to intervene in governance matters.”
The RJD’s allies say it it is a matter of time before Tej finds his voice. JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar said it was an internal matter of the RJD, but added Tej Pratap “could not have asked for a better trainer than his father Lalu”. Anwar said, “Every young leader passes through such a phase. Just that Tej has not been vocal does not mean he cannot make a good leader. He will learn with time.”
And AICC media panellist Chandan Yadav echoed: “A leader is known more by his actions than his words. Oratory is just one of the qualities of a leader. Tej Pratap will learn with time.”