Will compulsions force Sharad Yadav to strike out a bold new line at age 70?

He may have made it to the Lok Sabha much before his peers in 1974 but Sharad Yadav’s former comrades got better bargains in the post-Indira India.

ByAtul Chaurasia
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Will compulsions force Sharad Yadav to strike out a bold new line at age 70?
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Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav has been known to tell his close circle of friends and acquaintances that to protect his house is also part of his politics. The house in question is the government bungalow allotted to him on Tughlak Road in Lutyens’ Delhi.

Known to be a man of his own will, Sharad Yadav’s politics is a combination of such compulsions and situations. Be they his controversial remarks on women (parkati auraten- women with bob cut hair) over the women’s quota or his comment on Union Minister Smriti Irani which fueled a huge row, Yadav’s persona and politics make a unique mix. This has also fostered an image of Sharad Yadav as a politician who may not be uber sophisticated but one who stays closely connected to the ground.

With the support of a few Rajya Sabha MPs of the Janata Dal (United) and legislators (according to one JD (U) MP, there are 20 legislators from Muslim and Yadav communities in touch with him), Sharad Yadav seems ready to take on his old comrade-in-arms Nitish Kumar. JD (U) leaders who have been shocked by the most recent political somersault by Nitish Kumar are now rallying around Sharad Yadav.

His past is not one that has been burnished in long struggle or marked by pitched battles. His entry into Parliament in 1974 is itself anecdotal. In the Jabalpur by-elections, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) was looking for a face to test the opposition’s strength against the then mighty Indira Gandhi. JP entrusted George Fernandes with the task of finding the candidate. Fernandes chose Sharad Yadav, who was earlier an engineering student. He was elected and entered Parliament. But a year after he entered electoral politics, Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975.

Unlike Sharad Yadav, his contemporaries Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ramvilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad Yadav spent a considerable time in organising grassroots-level politics before moving on to the electoral version. They were also jailed for longer periods during the Emergency. Then as the country’s politics moved on beyond the Indira era, Sharad Yadav ended up being increasingly dependent on the others.

One of the major constraints of Sharad Yadav’s political career was also his domicile. He hails from Madhya Pradesh’s Hoshangabad, where the politics of social justice was never as strong as in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh hardly had any Yadavs for Sharad Yadav to count them in as his constituency or vote-bank. So he moved his politics to Bihar in the 1980s. He was always struggled with the tag of the ‘outsider’.

During the Mandal era of the 1990s, Lalu, Mulayam, Nitish, Paswan, Mayawati and many others founded their own parties to establish their own politics but Sharad Yadav was hopping from one party to the other. He was never seen as a mass leader, nor does he have a sense of the pulse of the common man.

He stayed with the Janata Dal, Samata Party and JD (U) and headed these parties but was never a decision maker, the key decision making powers were either with Lalu or Nitish.

Though he has always been in the loose socialist fold, he has been keen to establish an understanding with the rightwing BJP since 1996. He was a minister in the BJP-led NDA government, holding several portfolios, under the premiership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Thus, if he is blowing the trumpet of ‘battle against communalism’ right now within his own party, it has less to do with his principles and more to do with his struggle to retain his relevance and satisfy his ego.

It is not the first time that Nitish Kumar has created an uncomfortable situation for Sharad Yadav, who turned 70 a month ago. When Nitish had replaced him as JD (U) president, he didn’t raise a squeak even though he was the senior-most party leader and the party constitution allowed him a third term at the helm.

During the last year, Nitish took several decisions that were not discussed with anyone in the JD (U) such as his support to demonetisation, supporting Ram Nath Kovind’s candidature for President, his silence on mob lynching, supporting the GST or forming the government with the support of the BJP.  Many saw these repeated instances as insults being heaped upon Sharad Yadav.

According to a senior JD (U) leader, ‘Nitish Kumar, in recent times has repeatedly ignored Sharad Yadav on all important issues. Despite this, Sharad Yadav stayed in the party and kept quiet. This is typical of Nitish also.’ One may recall how he had put a full stop to George Fernandez’ political career by denying him a ticket. It is clear that Sharad Yadav can sense what is going to happen to him now.

According to an MP and close aide of Sharad Yadav, several small political and cultural groups from Bihar are coming together to hold a programme “Sanjhi Virasat” (Shared Legacy) at Constitution Club  in Delhi on August 17. Those who would attend the programme include Sharad Yadav, JD (U)’s Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar and many other JD (U) leaders including Virendra Kumar. If we go by an MP close to him, Sharad Yadav could announce the formation of a new party on the same day.

At present, Sharad Yadav is not sure about his own position within the JD (U).  He has already said that he did not agree with Nitish’s decision to go with the BJP.  Sharad Yadav, Ali Anwar and Virendra Kumar have reached a point of no return, says a JD (U) MP. All 71 legislators of JD (U) had supported Nitish Kumar in a confidence motion recently.

The question now is what all options does Sharad Yadav have and will he have it in him to form a new political party, and will he stick to his position till August 17? The answer lies in how much politics remains in Sharad Yadav.

His term in the Rajya Sabha expires in 2020 and with the kind of relationship he has had with Nitish, it is unlikely that he would get another term in the Upper House. One can safely say he may be headed for the same treatment meted out to George Fernandes. The way Nitish had sidelined Sharad Yadav and took decisions single-handedly over a period of time has made things quite evident. In such a situation, Sharad Yadav will have to break away from Nitish and choose a new path if he wants to be relevant in politics after 2020.

Thus, in a way, the septuagenarian Sharad Yadav has got an opportunity, courtesy Nitish’s political about-turn. He has an option of joining Lalu, who has already given him an open invitation. But if he joins hands with Lalu, he will have to pay the price which Nitish has already paid – of enduring a witch-hunt and defaming from the governing BJP at the Centre. Hence, a post-election understanding with Lalu is a better option for Sharad Yadav. His close aide has also hinted that right now, he will not ally with Lalu and continue on his own.

In the last leg of his political career, Sharad Yadav, who has mostly been in the politics of compulsion, has finally got an opportunity to seal his place in history. In the times of an almost ‘Vipaksh Mukt Bharat’, if he takes a stand against Nitish and the BJP and challenges them, he can be a martyr without shedding even a single drop of blood!

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