The recently concluded Bihar Assembly elections might have far reaching political significance. It might have marked the complete dominance of the BJP in the Hindi belt. In addition, the election also signifies the emergence of a formidable young leader – Tejashwi Yadav. This election exhibited that not only could Tejashwi come out of his father’s shadow successfully, he could shed the baggage of Yadav politics also. There is little doubt that, irrespective of the outcome of this election, the 31-year-old Tejashwi could become a prominent politician of the future.
A young, tech-savvy leader such as Tejashwi might generate additional appeal to the electorate of youth dominated Bihar. But that is not enough in politics. In the backdrop of the devastating pandemic, Tejashwi nudged Bihar’s youth to look beyond identity politics during his election campaign. He certainly has a spontaneous style of interacting with the crowd. In the rallies, he asked “Naukari chahiye? (Do you want jobs?)” and then explained how he would sign off on 10 lakh government jobs in his first cabinet meeting.
However, it will be a mistake to assume that Tejashwi was born as a leader out of the fierce campaign of the pandemic-driven election. People will invariably trace Tejashwi’s rise to his family inheritance. And, of course, there is no denying that. However, inheritance alone cannot turn a politician into a mass leader – numerous examples can be cited in the Indian scenario.
As Napoleon Bonaparte is known to have said, a leader is a dealer in hope. Warren Bennis, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies, of course, went one step forward. He felt that, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” However, are leaders born or made? Or a combination of genetic components and a whole lot of hard work and persistence? It’s not easy to provide a conclusive answer.
However, a 2013 article in the journal ‘The Leadership Quarterly’ published the findings of a genetic association study of leadership role occupancy based on a twin design and estimated that leadership is 24 per cent genetic and 76 per cent learned. I wonder whether such a precise estimation can be done for a complex attribute like ‘leadership’. However, being the son of a political stalwart like Lalu Prasad, Tejashwi certainly inherited the adequate genetic component, whatever be its percentage of contribution in ‘leadership’. But what about the other part? Can that be fully ‘learned’ in a finishing school? I doubt it.
The British academic and leadership theorist John Eric Adair listed some of the qualities that make a great leader: “Enthusiasm, integrity, [being] tough or demanding but fair, warmth or humanity, and humility – no arrogance or self-importance.” A quality like ‘warmth’, for example, should be intrinsic, and is difficult to teach in a finishing school. On the other hand, some qualities and skills can be picked up and nourished over time. Adair also opined: “We now know that leadership can be learned. There is no one in – or destined for – a leadership role who cannot significantly improve his or her contribution to the common good as a leader, providing, of course, that they are prepared to invest some time and effort towards that purpose.”
However, there are also some chance factors in life, which cannot be planned, and need to be grabbed with perfection if one gets them at all. In total, I could find at least three important aspects or events, other than the genetic inheritence, which have made Tejashwi what he is now.
He is a ‘Yuvraj’ but the inheritance of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s political base is something which he also had to ‘earn’. In 2015, when the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) of JD(U), RJD and Congress came to power in Bihar, Lalu Prasad chose the 26-year-old Tejashwi, a first-time MLA, as the Deputy Chief Minister, ahead of his elder son Tej Pratap and the daughter Misa Bharti. Thus, despite being the younger son, Tejashwi’s elevation signified that in his father’s estimation, he had an xfactor, something which is not easy to explain.
Whether someone completed school education or not may not be of much importance in electoral politics. Possibly the more important thing is whether he can become a “dealer in hope” to the electorate. However, one might need a favourable situation and a ‘push’ to come out as a leader. That happened for Tejashwi in 2017 when Nitish Kumar pulled JD(U) out of the Grand Alliance and formed government along with the BJP. A completely new Tejashwi Yadav possibly emerged out of his fierce speech in the Bihar Assembly. As the leader of opposition in the Bihar Assembly, he began a ‘Janadesh Apman Yatra’ by garlanding Mahatma Gandhi’s statue at Motihari, East Champaran district headquarters, to step up RJD’s attack on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for “betraying” the people’s mandate for Grand Alliance and joining hands with the BJP.
That might have been the beginning of the real political journey of young Tejashwi. No wonder he became the de facto leader of the RJD within a few months.
There is no doubt that Tejashwi Yadav, who led the opposition campaign in the 2019 general elections in Bihar, flopped miserably, and failed to win any of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. But, in 2020, despite failing to win the election, his issue-based campaign worked nicely – RJD could get more than a 23 per cent vote share in a multi-party setup like Bihar – a formidable achievement indeed.
Electoral politics, we know, pass through ups and downs. Thus, one needs patience, dedication, leadership and vision to succeed. There is no doubt that Tejashwi Yadav, a failed cricketer who spent five years in an IPL team without making a single appearance in the playing eleven, has now moved to politics. He is here as a very important player and he is here to stay. Whether he’ll be able to “translate vision into reality” is, of course, his real test.
The writer is Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.