In November last year the RJD took everyone by surprise when it appointed 74-year-old Jagadanand Singh, a Rajput, as its state president. It was the first time in the party’s 23-year history that an upper-caste politician had been appointed its Bihar chief.
The decision was as much informed by the RJD’s intent to recast the party’s image of a Yadav-dominated OBC outfit, as it was by the family’s desire to have a loyalist old-timer by the side of Tejashwi as he takes on the NDA for the second time without charismatic father Lalu Prasad.
A product of the socialist political movement, Jagada Babu — as he is popularly known in Bihar — is one of the founder members of the RJD and has represented the Ramgarh constituency in Central Bihar multiple times as an MLA. He remained a minister almost all through the Lalu regime.
In 2009, Singh contested the Buxar Lok Sabha seat on an RJD ticket and defeated the BJP’s Lal Muni Choubey by just over 2,000 seats. The most popular leader then in that region, Choubey had not lost from Buxar since 1996. The seat was wrested back by the BJP in 2014 and retained in 2019, with Singh losing both times.
While Singh is said to have considerable influence among Rajput voters in Central Bihar, his importance in the RJD is attributed more to his unwavering loyalty to Lalu’s family. Sources say it was Lalu himself who suggested Singh’s name for the post of state president and everyone in the family was quick to approve.
As a tall but quiet leader, Singh has always endeared himself to the family. Unlike the other influential Rajput leader in the party, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who left the RJD days before he died recently, Singh has never been vocal, nor ever challenged Lalu. Also, while Raghuvansh was oriented nationally in his politics, Singh has been happy staying in the state.
He sealed the palace trust in him when in 1997 he proposed to the family to make Rabri Devi as Chief Minister after Lalu resigned in the wake of the fodder scam charges. Another sign of his loyalty came when, in a 2010 Assembly bypoll, he campaigned against own son Sudhakar in his bastion Ramgarh and ensured his defeat to the RJD’s Ambika Yadav. Sudhakar had accepted a BJP ticket after the RJD ignored him for the seat. This time, incidentally, Sudhakar is the RJD candidate from Ramgarh.
“Jagada Babu may not be a pan-Bihar mass leader but he has a good political mind. He is also a tough leader and a disciplinarian. So ever since he has taken the reins of the party in Bihar, things have become a bit more systematic and the approach to the polls is more coordinated. He is also very logical and difficult to argue against even if you don’t agree with him. That workers know that he has the weight of the first family behind him helps,” says a senior RJD leader.
The RJD also hopes that Singh’s appointment sends the message that it is not against upper castes. In the run-up to the 2019 polls, the RJD’s vocal opposition to 10% EWS quota for upper castes was seen to have backfired. The NDA had swept the state then, winning 39 out of the 40 seats (the Congress had won the remaining one). With Nitish Kumar having appropriated the Extremely Backward Classes, the RJD sees upper castes as a vote bank it can tap into to expand its social base beyond Yadavs and Muslims.
“Let’s also not forget that Jagada Babu was the de facto CM during the RJD regime when Lalu was absent for several years. The family wants a veteran and loyalist to guide Tejashwi in a contest that is appearing increasingly close,” an RJD leader says.