Five factors, namely, the preponderance of subaltern demography, remnants of feudal culture, the centrality of upper caste-dominated Congress rule, the persistence of Lohiaite resistance to the same, and the tectonic arrival of Mandal phenomenon changed the political script of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. By 1990s, the anchors of this political shift were two Yadavs — Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad — in the two populous and politically significant Hindi-states.
Both were trained in the political culture of anti-Congressism; were the outcome of politically turbulent decades of 1970s; and emerged as the flagbearer of secularism by 1990s against BJP’s Hindutva.
Subsequently, by mid-1990s and thereafter, the logic of intra-subaltern conflict and competing assertions led to both falling out with significant sections of Dalit electorates and leaders, namely, with Jatav-Chamar Dalits under the leadership of Kanshiram and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh and Dusadh Dalits under RamvilasPaswan. Further, their electoral decline was attributed to the process of Yadvisation, leading to non-Yadav OBCs shifting to other parties.
By 2012 and 2015, both Yadav satraps passed the political baton to the heirs-apparent — Akhilesh Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav — the gen-next leaders expected to be adapted to the sensibilities of the millennial generation.
However, a closer look at the political trajectory of Akhilesh and Tejashwi would reveal that they are following different and oppositional approaches to make a defining niche for themselves.
In the case of Akhilesh Yadav, he had a decadal stint in formal politics before becoming the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Besides getting elected as MP by 2000 in a by-election for Kannauj Lok Sabha seat, which he represented till 2012, Akhilesh headed the youth wing of the Samajwadi Party and was credited with revitalizing the rank and file of the party. It was under his guidance that the party, which until 2009 had officially expressed its opposition to English and use of computers, promised laptops and computers for high-school pass-outs — a scheme implemented subsequently.
To put things in perspective, by 2012 when Akhilesh Yadav scripted a clear victory for Samajwadi Party, the main opponent was incumbent BSP.
Therefore, on the expected pattern, he adopted the political rhetoric of appealing to every section of society without going for the relatively easier mobilizational plank of using the fault line of backward vs. forward caste narrative that symbolized the decade of 1990s.
In fact, that option wasn’t alluring for Akhilesh as a thick section of subalterns, particularly from OBC castes, were aligned with BJP.
On the other hand, in the case of Tejashwi, the story is quite different. First, he is 16 years younger to Akhilesh.
Second, he didn’t have any experience in politics before being appointed deputy chief minister of Bihar at the age of 26 in November 2015.
However, what departs Akhilesh and Tejashwi isn’t the relative lack of experience of the later, but rather the differing demographic structure of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and corresponding political context when both occupied the prime political positions in their respective states.
Unlike Akhilesh, who was facing Dalit strongwoman Mayawati wherein BJP was in the state of perpetual decline, Tejashwi heralded the political scene of Bihar in 2015, when BJP, under Modi, had swept the country and until 2013, was the ruling partner in the state since 2005.
Besides, the demographic logic of the state wherein upper castes don’t cross 15% mark, made it easier for RJD to go for the old mandalite mobilizational pattern of declaring the electoral contest as the battle between feudal upper castes and the aspirational subalterns.
In fact, in the run-up to state assembly election on September 27, 2015, Lalu, while campaigning at Raghopur assembly constituency wherefrom Tejashwi was the candidate, declared the political battle as Mahabharat between backward and forward castes. The immediate context for the same was the controversy generated after the remarks of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on reservation. However, the message of the caste narrative wasn’t lost on Tejashwi Yadav when RJD-JD(U) alliance scored a spectacular victory against BJP in 2015.
In this backdrop, a comparison of the stances and approaches of both the new-generation Yadav satraps acquires pertinence as the same would have a defining bearing on the political culture and by extension, the social dynamics of their respective states.
On the parameter of political experimentation and creative plunge in the muddied electoral terrain, Akhilesh took everyone by surprise when he crafted the unbelievable alliance with arch-rival BSP. While the overboard, aggressive approach of Amit Shah-led BJP against the rival parties helped many arch rivals seek common ground across India, no one succeeded in translating the same into a reality as Akhilesh did.
Who would have thought that in post-Guest house incident of June 1995, Mayavati could be brought on the same platform with Samajwadi Party! It was Akhilesh Yadav alone who walked the extra mile to accommodate the tough bargainer Mayawati by agreeing to become the junior partner. While there was much hullaballoo around the opposition unity, neither Congress nor Trinamool or CPM cared to translate the sentiment into a formidable political reality.
In marked contrast to their position during the Mandal phase of the early 1990s, they welcomed the 10% reservation announced for economically weaker sections.
While the policy posture of Tejashwi in Bihar has the elements that marks a blend of the sensibilities of the old socialist worldview and millennial aspiration, the political rhetoric, seems to be caught in the logic of 1990s Mandal politics. Opposing the 10% EWS reservation, Tejashwi has termed the polls as the contest of Dalits and backwards against upper castes.