The Times and Politics of Sharad Yadav: Notes from my interaction

Sharad Yadav

Amongst the tallest leaders of the post-independence India, Sharad Yadav certainly deserves a place, not the least for his relentless pursuit of social justice for the backward classes. He was one of the strongest soldier during the turbulent times of Mandal Commission implementation battle back in the 90s. He started his political journey at a very early stage and was witness to political turmoil that took place in Indian politics during 70s. As a student of Indian politics, I feel Sharadji’s demise marks an end of an era. An era which is marked by democratic upsurge of backward class politics. It was in February 2020, I had an opportunity to closely interact with Sharad Yadav for co-authoring a book chapter titled, “The Importance of Shudra Politics in India” for an edited volume, “The Shudras: Vision for a new path”. As a researcher, my initial aim was to gather information about his involvement and participation in the process of Mandal implementation. We did collect information, which we thought were essential for the chapter, but a few visits extending only for a couple of hours proved to be too less to get an idea of the depth of the experiences Sharadji has gathered through the years. In the article, we see a few glimpses of his thought process as well as his perspective on the current political crisis within the socialist parties, who were once associated with ‘Janta Dal/Janta Pariwar.

Sharadji shared about his youth days with much enthusiasm. He narrated how he initially was brought into student politics. Further, elaborating on the situation in Jabalpur University, he cited there was hardly any Backward Class students in the college campus back in the days. He confessed that he was one of the few backward class students who pursued engineering. During University education, he found that political parties present in University protected people involved in leaking question papers. He won University election and fought against the prevalent corruption for which his teachers supported him. His popularity increased and he was accepted as a prominent leader whose influence created major impact in the Jabalpur municipality election. Due to continuous involvement in student movements, he was offered to contest on Jabalpur Lok Sabha constituency by J.P Narayan. In 1974, he won the election by defeating siting Congress MP, Seth Govind Das.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Sharad Yadav did not confine himself to leader his caste/jati. With a hint of lament in his voice, he told us that, at present, many politicians have reduced themselves to be merely the leaders of their own caste. They don’t feel the necessity to be a mass leader. (koi kurmi jati ka neta bane baitha hai, koi ahir ka, koi kushwaha jati ka neta hai, koi paswan samudai ka neta bana hai… Sab apne apne jati ka dukan khokar baithe huwe hai.  Jo log dukan nahi khole, wo yaha akele baithe huwe hai). Some of them have made themselves as leader of ‘kurmi’ caste, some of them are leaders of ‘ahir’ caste, some are leaders of kushwaha caste, some have become leaders of paswan community…  Each one of them have opened their caste shops. Those who have not opened their shops are sitting here lonely. He was referring to the regional parties such as JDU, RJD, RLSP, SP. He further narrated that this has not been the case during 1970s, 80s and in the early 90s. In 1970s Karpoori Thakur gathered mass support across the sections of society because he fought for all the oppressed sections of societies. He was nostalgic about leaders like Ram Manahar Lohia and Jayprakash Narayan as they were able to lead masses beyond the shades of castes and were able to connect themselves with the sufferings of the masses. Whereas, in contemporary times parties have preferred offering MLA, MP tickets to their own caste. He further added that J.P Narayan thought of distributing Janta Dal tickets to members of his own community, it would not have been possible for us including Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ramvilas Paswan, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar to govern a state. The benefits of Mandal movement cannot go on and on and politicians have to revisit their strategy. Issues needs to be brought in rather than confining oneself to leader of particular caste or community. This is because these leaders tend to create two-fold damage by portraying or accepting invitations as an icon of their caste/community. At one hand, in the process, they deliberately or accidently exclude other caste/communities from larger unity and more importantly they create internal hierarchy, a hierarchy which results to fragmentation within the communities. An internal fragmentation which current backward class politics is going through in many part of the northern states in India.

He knew the importance of identity, the caste he belonged at the same time he did not wanted to get confine to it. Having an early age experience of stigma attached to his ‘ahir’ identity, he wanted to fights joining in hands with other identities who were more vulnerable. Sharadji was of the vision to unite all the socialist forces who were earlier part of the Janta Pariwar under a common banner. He wanted to be the leader of the masses and confining his achievement to his immediate identity would add a serious injury to the work he carried for the emancipation of the masses.

Omprakash Mahato is a senior research scholar at Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and co-author of a book chapter with Sharad Yadav, The Importance of Shudra Politics in India in an edited book titled The Shudras: Vision for a New Path.

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