On April 9, Rahul Kumar got up at 4 am to get ready for a Rashtriya Janata Dal election rally in Gaya where former Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav was going to be present. At the rally, Kumar wore just a pair of green shorts – the colour of the Rashtriya Janata Dal flag. He got his bare body painted in the same colour, the party symbol, a lantern, drawn on his back and the words “RJD'' and “Tejashwi” written on his torso.

In between drawing loud cheers by waving the Rashtriya Janata Dal flag on the stage at the rally, Kumar told Scroll: “Tejashwi is like god to me. I am in love with him.”

Why so? “Who else is there for the youth?” Kumar said. “Tejashwi is giving jobs.”

The response from Kumar, 24, a resident of Belaganj town in Gaya district encapsulates a major reason behind the rising popularity of Yadav among Biharis. Yadav’s focus on making employment the mainstay of his politics, has earned him young supporters like Kumar, many of whom are disenchanted with the failure of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the state and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre in providing jobs.

The fact that Rahul Kumar belongs to the Kushwaha community shows that Yadav’s appeal has spread beyond the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s traditional voter base of Muslims and Yadavs.

His appeal among youth

Rahul Kumar himself is still unemployed, but like him, several jobless young Biharis told Scroll that they were hopeful that Yadav will be able to provide jobs if he came to power. Their hopes stem from the recruitment of nearly two lakh teachers in Bihar between November and January when an RJD-Janata Dal (United) alliance was in power in the state. Later in January, Nitish Kumar severed the alliance and formed the government with support from the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Sitting in his room in a lodge in Musallahapur Haat, a hub of government job aspirants in Patna, 28-year-old Prabhat Raj, who has been taking exams for government jobs since 2018, said he felt betrayed by Kumar’s decision. He highlighted that weeks after Kumar formed the new government, another round of teacher recruitment had to be cancelled after the question paper got leaked.

“Nitish says that Tejashwi has taken undue credit for providing employment,” Raj said. “But then why could not he give jobs before and after Tejashwi was in the government?”

Raj, who had voted for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, said that Modi’s performance in providing jobs was even worse than Kumar’s. “Look at the railways,” he argued. “More than one crore aspirants applied for 35,000 jobs and even then the recruitment was not done in a fair manner.”

Prabhat Raj feels betrayed by Nitish Kumar's decision of severing ties with the RJD and allying with the BJP.

Raj was referring to the recruitments announced in 2019 for 35,281 vacancies in the Indian Railways. The recruitment process was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and when the results were announced in 2022, there were widespread protests – mainly in Bihar – as students alleged that the criteria for shortlisting candidates had been arbitrarily changed.

The railways claimed that the shortlisting had been done according to the rules, but millions of aspirants like Raj were not convinced. It is this discontent among unemployed youth that Yadav has tapped into. In the lead up to the 2020 Assembly elections in Bihar, he had promised 10 lakh government jobs if he came to power. Even as the Rashtriya Janata Dal faced a narrow defeat in the elections, Yadav kept targeting the BJP and its allies for failing to provide jobs.

Ravi Kumar, who was present at the election rally in Gaya, told Scroll that he viewed Yadav speaking repeatedly on the unemployment issue as a sign of a leader who cared for the youth. Kumar had also voted for the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 general elections, but said he will not do so this time because of the Centre’s decision to introduce the Agnipath scheme for recruitment in armed forces. Agnipath, the short-term recruitment scheme introduced in June 2022, had resulted in violent protests.

At the rally, Yadav made sure to address the sentiments of aspirants like Kumar. To the crowd of thousands, he asked in his speech: “Do we need jobs for the youth or not?” As he received a resounding affirmation, Yadav then went on to list steps taken by the Modi government, which he claimed, were against the interests of job seekers. He did not miss mentioning Agnipath.


In making employment his most prominent campaign plank, Yadav has managed to bring to focus an issue that impacts a large section of the state. The state’s economic survey of 2022-’23 found that the unemployment rate among Biharis aged 15-29 stood at 20.1%, significantly higher than the national level.

DM Diwakar, former director of the AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies in Patna, told Scroll that this could help expand the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s footprint beyond its traditional voter base of Muslims and Yadavs as unemployment was an issue that cuts across caste.

Besides the issue of employment, Yadav has made efforts to expand his party’s base by giving greater prominence to non-Yadav Other Backward Class communities in its candidate list for the Lok Sabha polls. The Rashtriya Janata Dal and its allies have given seven tickets to Kushwahacandidates.

In his public speeches too, Yadav has been saying that his was not a party of just MY – Muslims and Yadavs – but of “MY-BAAP”. He expands the acronym BAAP to bahujan (dalits and backward castes), agda (upper castes), aadhi aabaadi (women) and poor.

Diwakar said that the ongoing Lok Sabha polls as well as the Assembly elections in Bihar next year were “litmus tests” for the Rashtriya Janata Dal. “The party still bears Lalu Yadav’s [Tejashwi’s father] legacy of uplifting the Yadavs,” Diwakar said. “But the situation has changed. If Tejashwi wants to defeat the BJP, he needs the support of other caste groups.”

On ground, at least among the youth, the optimism about Yadav was consistent across the complex caste web of Bihar. An example of this could be seen on the steps of the NIT Ghat, a riverfront in Patna where scores of aspirants convene to study. Scroll spoke to a group of four men – a Kushwaha, a Paswan, a Chamar and an Yadav – who are in the first year of their preparation for government jobs. While Yadavs and Kushwahas are backward castes, Paswans and Chamars are Dalits.

Sachin Kumar, who belongs to the Kushwaha community, said he had voted for the BJP in 2019, but was thinking about changing his loyalties to the Rashtriya Janata Dal the next time he votes. “It is not about caste, we are students and we should vote for whoever looks into the interests of students,” he said. “Tejashwi has shown that he is willing to work for students.”

Sitting next to him, Mithilesh Kumar, a Dalit from the Chamar community, agreed. “In the 17 months that Tejashwi was in power, he worked at a faster pace than what Nitish Kumar did in his 17 years,” he said.

Mithilesh Kumar (extreme left) and Sachin Kumar (next to him) are hopeful that Tejashwi Yadav will provide them with jobs.

Kumar’s comments were more testimony that the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader had been able to connect with voters outside its traditional support base of Muslims and Yadavs. “17 months versus 17 years” is a phrase often used by Yadav in his public meetings and social media posts to compare the performance of governments run by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with his two alliance partners – the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the BJP.

Across five Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar that Scroll reported from, several voters used the phrase when asked to evaluate the performance of Yadav when he was deputy to Nitish Kumar between August 2022 and January 2024.

Lalu legacy – the Kryptonite?

Much like “17 months versus 17 years”, another phrase that was commonly used by people in Bihar while speaking about Yadav was “jungle raj”. The term has long been used by the opponents of the Rashtriya Janata Dal to describe the alleged misrule in Bihar during the tenure of Tejashwi’s father, Lalu Yadav, between 1990 and 2005.

These allegations of Lalu’s so-called Jungle Raj could still be the biggest stumbling block in his son’s ascent. Many non-Yadavs in Bihar are fearful that if the Rashtriya Janata Dal were to come to power, Yadavs would exert dominance. This fear exists even among some supporters of the party.

At the Gaya rally, Tariq Anwar, a functionary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, an ally of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, expressed disappointment at a song that was performed on stage. To loud cheers, a local YouTuber had sung a number about asserting Yadav supremacy by thumping bullets into the opponents’ chests. “Is this a song that should be performed at an event that Tejashwi will attend?” questioned Anwar. “People from all castes are present here, what message are we giving? These people are still not over the power they once enjoyed.”

In Yadav’s Assembly constituency, Raghopur, too, his political opponents targeted him on the conduct of the party cadre. Pintu Singh, a functionary of the Lok Janshakti Party, currently an ally of the BJP, was candid in saying that an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal would have reaped more electoral benefits for his party. “The problem is power goes to the Yadavs’ heads,” Singh said.

Pintu Singh (extreme right) and Rakesh Kumar (next to him) are not happy with Yadav's performance in his Assembly constituency of Raghopur.

And while unemployment might be a big draw for young Biharis, the problem of lack of economic development is much larger in India’s poorest state. A political worker with political consultant Prashant Kishor’s fledgling Jan Suraaj Party in Rustampur village of Raghopur, Rakesh Kumar, cited the lack of development to oppose Yadav. “This seat has been held by the Yadav family since 1995, first by Lalu ji, then by Rabri ji [Tejashwi’s mother] and now Tejashwi and yet you see that a proper bridge has not been to connect Raghopur with Patna,” Kumar said. “We have to take our patients to Patna as there is no medical facility here.”

Kumar is the nephew of former Rashtriya Janata Dal MLA Bhola Rai, who represented Raghopur till 1995, before vacating the seat for Lalu Yadav. His claims of lack of development are not unfounded. The only direct way to reach Raghopur, located just across the Ganga river from Patna, is by crossing a rickety pontoon bridge. Locals told Scroll that during monsoons, even this bridge gets submerged and the only way to cross the Ganga is on boats.

Diwakar of the AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies said that these factors showed that the RJD cannot hope to garner support from outside its traditional voter base by focusing only on employment. “The youth is a very big segment to cater to but that is not the only segment,” he explained. “A job seeker might vote for Tejashwi in some hope, but unless he gets a job, his family will still vote along caste lines and bread and butter issues.”