Sharad Yadav was a module of the triumvirate which brought about basic vicissitudes in the Indian politics and transformed it for ever. He designed the thesis of social justice, a key component of the Mandal philosophy. But unfortunately he could not attain the status of an icon for social justice. This has been the biggest tragedy for him.
Yadav was born to a Yadav farmer parent in a small village near Hoshangabad, in Madhya Pradesh. Obviously for him, with a degree in electrical engineering, Ram Manohar Lohia’s caste philosophy bore more importance than anything else. His political actions and electoral strategy make it explicit that instead of precisely focusing on Lohia’s socialist concept and orientation, he practiced real caste politick. He was conscious of the fact that unless the backward castes broke the barriers of the caste exploitation and assert their supremacy in the existing political institution of the country, they could not be get their rights.
His nursing a practical approach towards the BJP is testimony to the fact that he was not so willing to pursue the core philosophy of socialism. Though he started his electoral innings with defeating Congress candidate in 1974 by election from Madhya Pradesh, as a Bharatiya Lok Dal nominee, soon he emerged as the fulcrum of the opposition unity. In 1974, he was chosen by Jayaprakash Narayan as the first candidate to contest an election under the Haldar Kisan symbol. It was the peak of the JP movement and Yadav won Jabalpur’s Lok Sabha seat. He was member of Lok Sabha for seven consecutive terms. He however got elected to Rajya Sabha in 1986 and 2004.
His quest for real politick got reflected in 1999. At that time he was the president of the Janata Dal but he did not prefer to change his mode of politics to prevent a split in the party on the issue of making JD a component of the Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA coalition government. A faction led by H.D. Deve Gowda strongly opposed that move and left the JD to form a new party that became known as Janata Dal (Secular). Yadav christened his residual party as Janata Dal (united). He served in the NDA cabinet as the minister of civil aviation (1999–2001), labour (2001–02), and consumer affairs, food, and public distribution (2002–04).
The JD(U) was reconstituted in 2003 after smaller parties like Samata (Equality) Party, led by George Fernandes, merged with it. Retaining the name JD(U), the party selected Fernandes as its president, and Yadav became its parliamentary leader. In 2006, however, Yadav was elected party president. He was nevertheless had to move out after a rule change that a person can be president only for two-term limit.
His endeavour to practice caste politics nonetheless witnessed watering down to some extent JD(U)’s commitment to socialism, secularism, and democracy and of being a champion of lower-caste Hindus and the minority Muslim population in Bihar. It was due to this weakening of the ideological stance that led Nitish Kumar, an ardent follower of Sharad, to ally with the BJP. He was eventually replaced as president of the JD(U). The move set off a power struggle within the party, and in 2018 Yadav and his supporters formed Loktantrik Janata Dal.
Nitish had a full control on the party. Sharad Yadav’s statement against Nitish was at that time interpreted by observers as an indication he wanted to distance himself from the Bihar CM’s group and probably nudge the BJP as seeing him as a possible Modi ally. In this backdrop it is worth recalling his election speech in Muzaffarpur wherein he had said that both Nitish and Lalu grew up in politics under his shadow. But he was pained to see they could not rise above caste politics. “Lalu destroyed Bihar due to his caste politics and now Nitish is also following him. I take the responsibility for the pathetic condition of the state (because I groomed these leaders)”.
No doubt Sharad disliked crude form of practicing caste politics, he unfortunately could not offer an alternative mechanism to his successors and followers to build up and provide an eege to his thesis. Following the footsteps of his political mentor Ram Manohar Lohia’s political philosophy, Sharad too advocated his line,‘sudhaaroyatodo’ (reform or break it), a trait that has resulted in numerous splits, when ideological differences reached a critical level. A number of incidents which could have been salvaged were allowed to drift resulting in damage to the socialist ideology and content.
Sharad Yadav was the next generation leader after Madhu Limaye, Madhu and Pramila Dandavate and Surendra Mohan. He could have emerged as the modern face of socialism in India. He could have been portrayed as the architect of new socialistic ideological order. Undeniably he was not a mass leader like Lalu and Mulayam Singh, the two modules of the triumvirate, as a strategist he was much sought after amongst the opposition leaders, somewhat akin to CPI(M) stalwart Harkishen Singh Surajeet. His desire to be acknowledged as the principal architect of anti-Kamandal or anti-Mandir front could not be satisfied as his contemporaries were reluctant to make space for him.
Sharad choosing Bihar as his work place, was conjured more by the political compulsions. At that time his association with Lalu proved to be productive. But alleged involvement of Lalu in fodder scam did not cement this relations.. In 1999 Lok Sabha election, he decided to contest against Lalu. Working on the design that defeating Lalu would project him to greater heights in the state’s politics, he contested against Lalu for the Madhepura seat. Sharad was portrayed by the media as ‘the intellectual leader’ of Yadavs. He was certain his victory from a Yadav dominated constituency would provide him much larger space to operate and project him as the tallest backward caste leader. But unfortunately he lost the battle to Lalu. With this win, Lalu became the UPA Government’s Railway minister.
It was after this he shifted to Nitish Kumar’s camp. Incidentally by this time Nitish and Fernandes have moved to NDA. Sharad too joined them. Ironically he became an ally of BJP. Incidentally he vehemently opposed Nitish’s decision to part ways with the NDA over the BJP’s choice of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate.
Lalu Yadav, who enjoyed sweet and acerbic relations with Sharad issued a video statement from his hospital bed in Singapore describing him as “bade bhai” (big brother). He said “On many an occasion, Sharad Yadav and I fought with each other. But our disagreements never led to any bitterness”. (IPA Service)