“Only change is constant. With change, we change… finally on twitter. Stay connected” – the first tweet from the man who shunned technology a few years back with his infamous comment that translated into asking the nation what is all this fuss about IT. This had caused a furor at the time and landed him in another controversy. But controversies have never deterred our man from speaking his mind. After all, it takes quite a lot to be a political wizard. But it takes something else, to be Lalu Prasad Yadav.
So, what’s all the fuss really about? Yadav joined Twitter on January 14, and in less than a month, has 74 tweets to his credit and 11,900 followers, which does not come as much of a surprise for a man of his fame. Equally interesting are the people he follows – four journalists, seven publications, the Prime Minister of the nation and his own son. Yadav’s presence on Twitter and its impact is yet to be seen, but the ripples are there all right.
Nonetheless, it is clear that he’s taken cue from his political friends (now strained) and foes alike to make an – what now seems aggressive -- foray into social media.
Yadav has always been a political phenomenon – from ruling Bihar for almost 15 years (both as Chief Minister and his surrogate rule during Rabri Devi’s tenure) to his extremely controversial involvement in the fodder scam (for which he was convicted last year) to his stint as the Railway Minister and changing the history of the White Elephant body into a profitable business; this stunt-man has been one of the most colourful politicians in the history of Indian politics. And it gets better (or worse – that’s a matter of conjecture). His Wikipedia page describes him as a “convicted politician and actor” in the very first line.
The attempt to connect to the youth via Twitter is a brave one and has multiple readings to it. With every politician joining the bandwagon, reprising the role of a contributor to social media, which is now the zeitgeist, frankly we shouldn’t be too surprised with Yadav’s move. But let us not forget where he comes from. One of the youngest members of Parliament at that time, this 29-year old from Phulwaria, Bihar rose to stardom in the 70s after his involvement in the Bihar Movement and Janta Party. A decade of being in the Opposition after he joined mainstream politics, he established himself as the ‘Leader of lower classes’, representing the single largest caste in Bihar – the Yadavs. The 90s saw him serve as Chief Minister of Bihar, enjoying vote bank from the lower classes, both Yadavs and the Muslims, whose confidence he garnered post the Bhagalpur violence. He thrived on caste-based politics and claimed to be a “messiah” for the lower rung of the society. The founder of the Rashtriya Janta Dal, the orator with a flair for the colloquial language, a mass entertainer of sorts, Yadav has been the quintessential face of Bihar, representing the ‘milkman’ brigade. And that is exactly where the discordance lies – his presence on Twitter breaks that myth. It takes him away from that hardcore common-man persona he has built over decades. In a state, which gives prime importance to agriculture, and infrastructure and development are by-products, Yadav’s presence on twitter changes everything. Or does it?
Ironically, social media epitomises transparency through communication. Yadav’s son Tejasvi, who is 25 years old and touted as heir apparent, and handles Yadav’s Twitter account, had a tea party with his Facebook friends sometime back, where he openly discussed his father’s scams and even had fitting replies regarding the need of the hour and social justice being done. Some might say he is brave. Others might say that’s ludicrous on the junior’s part. But RJD’s renewed alliance with the Congress makes it a strong contender for the impending Lok Sabha Elections. Therefore, Lalu and Co have come to understand the need of the hour to connect to the young people, understand them, and change with them. And, the trick of the hour is to reconnect with the people who form the core of the vote bank – the old and the backward, understand them, and reminisce with them.
What we need to understand here is simple -- Lalu’s active presence on Twitter is not a mere aftermath of the social epoch. Social media is a very dangerous platform because of the liberty and the transparency and the mode of engagement it empowers people with. Right from Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi, from Mamata Banerjee to Bala Thackery, from Robert Vadra to the more recent Shashi Tharoor, social media has not spared anyone. These politicians have had their share of trial by the social media and have faced the wrath of the masses in the virtual world. The Twitter generation does not go easy on anyone. The watchdogs are always observing, always responding, always active, like a true-blue vigilante. The nature of social media is almost Sicilian -- they might forgive, but they will never forget.
Lalu’s coming to this platform at this juncture does send out the message loud and clear – that RJD’s is a party ready to embrace change, ready to overhaul the political sentiment and turn the tide in their favour, and most importantly, ready to respond. Lalu, who tweets about his upcoming autobiography, the need for infrastructural change, the fact that he knows he can’t contest the election following his debarred status post the conviction are all too overwhelming. There are always various possibilities – opening up such frank, strong communication channels can work in his favour. At the same time there’s also the danger that the new venture backfires and alienates him from the class of people he is seen to be representing and belonging to. His greatest challenge would be to create that balance and address these issue. And history has been kind to him, he has been known to create unique situations and change the game altogether. The miraculous turning around of the Indian Railway is debatable for sure, but testimonial of his almost-surreal capabilities. Maybe some day, Harvard would consider including him as a case study as well in their curriculum.
However, the moot question remains – Is Lalu Prasad Yadav the Dark Knight of Bihar? Is he the true hero that Bihar deserves, but doesn’t need at the moment? Can he connect to the youth in the most relevant manner possible and be instrumental in persuading them to not leave their home towns? The state and its formidable glory can only be restored with its huge brain drain coming to an end. Young, bright, guns of Bihar leave the state after high school to pursue further studies. Known for their flair for administrative services, law, etc., these young Biharis rarely return home. How can a state survive and prosper with such an affair? It is almost disheartening to see the state that housed the first scholars from India’s oldest University in such a shambles. Can Lalu engage with these strata of the society that has no confidence in its own legacy and actually revolutionise the state of affairs that is at the helm of ruin? Maybe 74 tweets is too soon to tell. For Lalu. And Bihar.