Popularly known as Pappu Yadav, former Madhepura MP and Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) head Rajesh Ranjan has always been up against three limitations — having Lalu Prasad as the bigger Yadav leader (since the late 1980s), the 1998 CPI(M) leader Ajit Sarkar’s murder case in which he was acquitted, and his limited influence beyond the Kosi region of Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura, and the adjoining Seemanchal belt of Purnea.
For the coming Assembly polls, Ranjan, who formed the JAP in 2015, has forged a front called the Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA) with Chandrashekhar Azad’s Azad Samaj Party and him as the CM candidate. This was just a few days after Upendra Kushwaha was declared CM nominee of another recently-formed alliance, the Grand Democratic Secular Front (comprising the RLSP, AIMIM, BSP and two other smaller parties).
Ranjan has been very visible on the ground, including distributing food packets during the floods when other leaders were accused of missing in action. He and wife Ranjeet Ranjan, a Congress leader, also made an interesting couple in Parliament, hitting the streets often and Ranjeet especially impressing with her interventions in the House. However, Ranjan’s stated ambitions, including stopping migration out of Bihar if chosen CM, notwithstanding, the JAP is not expected to achieve much apart from eating into votes of some parties, including the RJD.
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Ranjan, 52, traces his roots to Bharko, Banka, from where his grandfather shifted to Kumarkhand, Madhepura, where Ranjan was born. His grandfather would lovingly call him Pappu – a name that would stick and become bigger than the person in the years to come as he cultivated the image of a maverick. He would go on to do graduation in political science, and over the years, pick up a ‘diploma in disaster management’ and one in ‘human rights’.
Ranjan won for the first time in 1990 as an Independent candidate (after the Janata Dal didn’t give him a ticket) from Singheshwar Assembly seat of Madhepura. After the elections, Ranjan supported Lalu, who came to power for the first time.
However, the two fell out later. Ranjan recounted later how Lalu did not like the fact that he visited a massacre site in Naugachia (Bhagalpur) in 1990, telling him not to try and emerge as a Yadav leader. In 1991, Ranjan won from Purnea Lok Sabha seat as an Independent but the election was countermanded amidst allegations of poll rigging.
In that election, Ranjan was picked by Madhepura candidate Sharad Yadav as his political manager, and helped the latter defeat the influential Rajput leader Anand Mohan. However, Ranjan also eventually came in conflict with Sharad Yadav over regional supremacy and leadership of the community. Their supporters attacked each other over implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations.
In 1993, Ranjan floated Bihar Vikas Party, which later merged with the Samajwadi Party and won two seats in the 1995 Assembly elections. Ranjan won as an RJD nominee thrice from Madhepura.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he defeated Sharad Yadav from the seat. However, in the 2019 polls, he trailed behind him, in the third position. Last year’s elections also saw his wife Ranjeet, a three-time MP, lose from Supaul contesting on Congress ticket.
Their story is well-known in Bihar, with Ranjan falling in love with Ranjeet, a Sikh, seeing her play lawn tennis in Patna. Their son Sarthak is in the Twenty20 Delhi cricket team.
While behind bars over the CPI leader murder case, Ranjan wrote a book called Drohkaal Ka Pathik (A traveller during a time of rebellion). As things stand, he has a long way to go.