Patna: Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad’s estranged daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, who accused the family of domestic violence, Wednesday joined the Bihar assembly election campaign to pitch for Lalu’s rival, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Aishwarya, whose divorce from Lalu’s eldest son Tej Pratap Yadav is currently pending in court, comes from a political family herself. She is the daughter of veteran MLA Chandrika Rai, who is the son of former Bihar Chief Minister Daroga Prasad Rai. Chandrika was a member of the RJD but switched to the JD(U) this year as the families’ relationship soured over the bitter divorce battle.
“I will appeal to you to ensure the victory of my father Chandrika Rai and ensure Nitish Kumar continues as chief minister,” she said as she addressed a rally Wednesday with Nitish at Parsa in Saran district, from where her father is contesting. “I will reach out to the people of Parsa,” she added in her short speech.
When she arrived on stage, she touched the Bihar CM’s feet.
Aishwarya’s speech triggered a few slogans from the crowd in favour of Lalu, which led Nitish to hit back. “Your activities will not help the person at whose behest you have come. What has happened is shameful — insult of a woman by a family,” Nitish said, adding that she had the legacy of late Daroga Prasad Rai behind her.
He also praised Chandrika Rai, recalling that the two had made their debut as MLAs at the same time in 1985.
A family stronghold
Dominated by the Yadav community, Parsa is a family stronghold of the Rais. Daroga Prasad Rai won the seat on a Congress ticket five times, which was followed by one term for his wife.
Chandrika Rai has won the constituency seven times, losing twice to Chote Lal Yadav — then in the JD(U) but now in the RJD — in 2005 and 2010.
It’s against Yadav that Chandrika Rai is once again contesting the election. Chandrika Rai was also the RJD’s candidate from Saran in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but lost to the BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy. He even trailed in Parsa in that election.
The 2020 election in Parsa is being seen as a test for the sway the RJD holds over the Yadav community, which comprises its core voter base.
When two political families came together
Tej Pratap, who has not studied beyond Class 12, and Aishwarya, a postgraduate, got married in 2018, and the union marked the coming together of two political families.
However, Tej Pratap filed for divorce within six months, claiming that he was forced into marriage by his family. In December 2019, Aishwarya alleged that she had been physically and mentally tortured, adding that the family had dragged her by her hair and threw her out of 10 Circular Road — the official residence of Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi in Patna.
She even lodged a police complaint against Rabri Devi and Tej’s sister Misa Bharati, a former MP.
Aishwarya has also said Tej Pratap is mentally unstable and a drug addict. As the bitterness between the families grew, Tej Pratap campaigned against his father-in-law — as well as other RJD candidates — in the last Lok Sabha polls, claiming he had been sidelined by the party. Chandrika resigned from the RJD in February, saying he was finding it difficult to work with Tej Pratap and Tejashwi Yadav, the mahagathbandhan’s chief ministerial candidate.
He also said he was upset the RJD hadn’t acted against Tej Pratap for his rebellion.
In the run-up to the assembly polls, there was speculation that Aishwarya may be pitted against her estranged husband from the Mahua assembly segment in Vaishali — the seat he currently represents. However, Tej Pratap is now contesting the election from Hasanpur in Samastipur district.
Asked about his daughter’s participation at Wednesday’s rally, Chandrika told ThePrint, “The people should know that my daughter was tortured by the family, when it was Lalu who approached me with the marriage proposal.”
Why Nitish is raising the issue now
CM Nitish Kumar also appeared to have referred to Aishwarya’s allegations during a web meeting with supporters in the first week of October, where he spoke about a “woman being tortured by a family”, without naming anyone.
Former Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, who is leading the party in the absence of Lalu — in jail in connection with the fodder scam — criticised Nitish for raising family issues in politics. Tejashwi, who courted the image of a reluctant politician until recently, has been drawing big crowds at his rallies.
Asked about Nitish’s intention behind raising the issue, a JD(U) leader acknowledged it was uncharacteristic, but said, “A fissure in the Yadav community will help and what better issue can there be than the Aishwarya episode?”