Lalu and his wife Rabri Devi have nine children, of which seven are girls. Apart from Tejashwi, his elder brother Tej Pratap (29) and sister Misa (43) are also active politically. Yet when it came to choosing a deputy CM from his party, Lalu favoured Tejashwi above all the others. He had clearly identified his heir apparent.
While Misa has been fielded at the national level as a Rajya Sabha MP, Tej Pratap is a state MLA and was the health minister in the same government where his younger brother became deputy CM. This was not a decision he accepted with grace for the state rumour mill is abuzz with stories as to how he locked up his father in the bathroom when he heard that he was being bypassed as the deputy CM. The health ministry was a consolation prize, and one that was given at the behest of his mother Rabri Devi who is clearly his chief supporter.
Unlike the charismatic Tejashwi, the older brother is more of an introvert, deeply religious and ritualistic. He is also known as Kanhaiya, after a snapshot of him dressed as Lord Krishna went viral. It is also clear that he is not content to playing second fiddle to his younger brother as is apparent by the “I Am Lalu” poster he has splashed on his social media sites.
A fiery orator – both of Lalu’s sons have inherited his eloquence – Tej Pratap has taken to blowing a conch before speaking at a public rally and tries to imitate Lalu’s rustic appeal. The catch is that while Lalu is rustic, he is not inelegant; and though a fiery speaker, Tej Pratap sometimes comes across as aggressive and unpolished. The difference between him and Tejashwi is that while the latter can modulate his voice to suit the occasion, the former comes across as either sullen or aggressive. Both have their own appeal when addressing rallies in the cow-belt, but in one-on-one interactions, the younger son comes across as more savvy.
Signs of sibling rivalry came to the fore as soon as the limelight shifted to Tejashwi with Tej Pratap commenting wryly that he had no issues if his younger brother got married first since he was any way more popular with the girls, being the deputy chief minister.
Ironically, it was after Tej Pratap’s own marriage that the sibling rivalry became public with Tej Pratap tweeting that he was feeling side-lined within the party as “certain party people don’t listen to me”.
While ostensibly this was in reference to some of his candidates being ignored for party posts, it was also clear that he was demanding a greater play within the party. His mother Rabri Devi hastily managed the optics by getting both brothers to feed each other mithai at a public event but there are those who have noted that Tej Pratap’s little revolt happened soon after his marriage to Aishwarya Rai, the daughter of a RJD MLA, who harbours political ambitions herself and plans to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “There is no issue between us, I think the media is getting affected by saas-bahu serials to increase their TRP by playing such stories,” said Tejashwi, clearly eager to scotch such speculation.
I’d first met the brothers during the November 2015 state polls where both were contesting their first election. Initially the interview was scheduled to be a joint one, but Tej Pratap bare-chested with ash smeared on his forehead, demurred saying he had to complete his prayers. Tejashwi too was impatient to be off on the day’s campaign but, clearly the more affable of the two, he allowed himself to be bullied into an interview which lasted 15 minutes, during which he denied that he was being shortlisted as his father’s heir apparent; reiterating that it didn’t really matter whom Lalu chose, whether it was Tej Bhai or Misa Didi as “we are all popular”.
He then distributed green lanterns to my crew – since these happen to be the party’s symbol – along with cups of some rather milky tea before he left. Halfway through the interview we’d heard the sounds of the conch blowing from Tej Pratap’s prayer room, so hoping that we could also catch him we hung around the courtyard but in vain. In the meanwhile, we got a sneak peek at the family’s garage that had a gleaming BMW and a Honda Fireblade superbike. Both, I was told, were Tej Pratap’s rides.
When I was interviewing Tejashwi for this book, I recalled my earlier meeting with the two brothers. Especially when I asked Tejashwi about his religious beliefs, for I noticed the absence of any religious threads on his wrists and certainly his forehead was not ash-smeared. He replied saying, “I am very practical, the way to god is through acche karam [good work] and not daily mandir ki ghanti [ringing bells in temples]. Bhagwaan bhi kehte hain worry about your work and not dekhawati stuff [Even god says worry about your work and don’t do all this to impress me].”
Before I could slip in the next obvious question, he quickly added, “My brother is very religious. That’s okay too. I am not into day to day rituals like him, if you pray in your mind that’s ok. It depends on person to person. There is a God but I believe that ghanti bajane se sab kuch theek nahin hota [solutions don’t lie in ringing temple bells]. You have to work also.”
Unlike other dynasts, most of whom have an elite foreign university education to spiff up their credentials, Tejashwi is a Class 9 drop out.
Always a back-bencher he preferred the playing fields to the classroom and dropped out of school to play national cricket. That this is still his first love was evident when I asked him: “Tell me how it all began.” And he began with his cricket career not political one. And though he didn’t notch up any remarkable milestones, his cricketing stint is something he is proud of.
His Wikipedia page (the modern day backgrounder) has a section dedicated to his cricketing achievements. “My parents never forced me to do anything whether it was studies or cricket, all they said was jo karo mann se karo, dil laga ke karo [whatever you do give it your best]. I wanted to represent the Indian cricket team which is what every player wants to do. I was the Delhi Captain for the Under-15 and Under-17 national teams and played in the Under-19 team when Virat Kohli was the captain.” He was also part of the Delhi Daredevils Team during the first four seasons of IPL.
Once, when debating the controversies surrounding the IPL, Lalu commented wryly: “My son Tejashwi is part of the Delhi team. But all he has done is to carry water to the field. They don’t give him a chance to play.” He also played a couple of Ranji Trophy matches when he had to give up the game due to “ligament problems in both my ankles”. It’s because of cricket that he spent most of his teens travelling out of Bihar, but in 2010 he was in Patna during the state assembly polls.
The way Tejashwi tells it is that one morning as his father was on his way to the party office to address a press conference, he decided to accompany him. “I thought dekhte hain kya hota hai Papa ke press conference mein – bahut kum mauka milta tha [let’s go and see the press conference]. In any case, I got little time to spend with dad as I used to be in Delhi and travelled a lot, so I went with him. The media was there obviously and Dad introduced me. But the media presented it as if Laluji has launched his son.”
However, according to a journalist present at the time the launch looked more planned than accidental “for there was Tejashwi smartly dressed in a pant and shirt, quite unfazed with our questions”. Then again, that is also how Tejashwi usually is, at any given point in time. Soon after Tejashwi began campaigning for the party.
He says, “Where Papa could not go, the candidates called me because it was presented to them that I had been launched into politics. So I thought chale jaate hain [let me go], the Ranji Trophy season had just finished so I thought if I can be of help then why not.”
Does he now have any regrets that he did not complete his education? “At the time I felt that now is my chance to play cricket, for I can continue my studies any time later. But see, I could have easily got a farzi certificate like Smirti Iraniji or Modiji but I am accepting that I didn’t complete my school, I was a true cricketer,” he says with a mischievous smile, taking a dig at the controversies surrounding the educational qualifications of both Smirti Irani and the PM.
He adds, “Later on I realised you need a basic qualification. However, a degree doesn’t mean aapke paas puri qualification hai [that you have all the qualifications], theek hai [it’s all right], that was my mistake and I admit it and if I get any opportunity or chance then I will try and study further also.” I think the last bit was added to assuage my middle class sensibility which has a problem with the idea drop-out becoming a deputy chief minister in 21st century India.
Excerpted with permission from The Contenders: Who Will Lead India Tomorrow?, Priya Sahgal, Simon & Schuster India.