Patna, May 14: In a busy poll season in politically charged Bihar, the powerful Yadav community appears to have dumped its decades-old trusted but jailed leader Lalu Prasad in a desperate bid to find a new dynamic figure who could guide the community politically.
Yadavs, who make up over 14 per cent of Bihar's population, are - for the first time in over three decades - looking beyond the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief who played out his entire political career on the Yadavs plus Muslims (MY) equation to keep his rivals on the back foot.
Muslims comprise 16.9 percent of the state's population and they largely voted en bloc with Yadavs in favour of Lalu Prasad in past but analysts now say that Yadavs, mainly the youths, have decided to move beyond the veteran politician in the 2019 polls as he languishes in jail after being convicted in fodder scam cases.
The 71-year-old Lalu Prasad is also seriously struggling with poor health.
In the ongoing seven-phase polls for Bihar's 40 Lok Sabha seats, the Yadav votes are widely split as the community faces a leadership guidance crisis at the top level.
Anil Vibhakar, a leading political analyst in Patna, said: "There are three emerging Yadav leaders in the state in race of replacing former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad and on top is Nityanand Rai, the state BJP chief."
The 53-year-old Rai, who represented Hajipur seat in the Assembly four times, is a product of the BJP's student wing politics and has been a flag-bearer of the RSS in Bihar since childhood.
Political analysts are of view that that he is leading the pack of Yadav community leaders in caste-driven Bihar politics because of his "mature political brain, fighting ability and easy access to public".
Rai, who won Ujiarpur Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and is reported to be well-placed to retain it in 2019 too, is fast emerging as a powerful OBC leader who enjoys the strong backing of upper castes as well.
The other two leaders who are vying to claim the Yadav community's leadership are Tejashwi Yadav and Pappu Yadav.
The 29-year-old Tejashwi Yadav is the younger son of Lalu Prasad while Pappu Yadav, 51, notorious for flexing his political muscle, has largely been confined to a limited area, mainly of Madhepura Lok Sabha seat.
Asked to comment on ongoing tussle in the state in the serious political game of replacing Lalu Prasad as Yadavs' undisputed leader, Rai told IANS: "I don't believe in caste-based politics and have never indulged into it but unfortunately, caste equations drive politics in Bihar and the Yadav community is in a serious mood now to look beyond Lalu as he is a spent force."
Pappu Yadav, who is in active politics for about three decades and was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1991, also claimed that Lalu Prasad has become irrelevant in politics and his main backer, the powerful Yadav youth, are desperately looking for a new face outside his family to lead them.
A known face in Bihar, he had defeated senior leader Sharad Yadav in Madhepura in 2014 to become a Lok Sabha member for the fifth time. He rejected Tejashwi Yadav's leadership quality and said he had been spending much of his time and energy in containing rising "family feud", in a reference to the activities of Lalu Prasad's elder son, Tej Pratap Yadav.
"The Lalu era is over in Bihar, Yadav youths are certainly looking for a new face to lead them and I am obviously the natural choice," Pappu Yadav told IANS.