New Delhi: In the 1970s when Haryana’s Devi Lal was the tallest leader of the socialist block, it is said, Sharad Yadav — then an MP from Jabalpur — would often meet him with two relatively unknown people in tow — Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. Old timers remember how Lal would sometimes ask Yadav jokingly, “Kaha gaye tere changu mangu? (where are your two minions?)”, referring to the two leaders, who both went on to become Bihar chief ministers.
Life — and Bihar politics — came a full circle Sunday as Yadav Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD), founded in 2018, merged with Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). In 1997, differences with Yadav was the reason for Lalu to break away from the Janata Dal and form the RJD.
Interestingly, Yadav’s “changu mangu” both went on to outshine their one-time guide in politics.
In fact, one of the high points of Yadav’s career was defeating Lalu from the Madhepura parliamentary constituency in the 1999 general elections — in 1991, Lalu (then Bihar CM) had been the one to field Yadav from Madhepura. The 1999 victory also earned him a ministerial berth in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
A long innings in politics
“In essence, after obtaining a national leader stature in 1974, he went to Mulayam Singh Yadav. Then he moved on to Lalu Prasad. From Lalu Prasad he moved on to Nitish Kumar and now he is moving back to Lalu. He always did politics for personal gains — never for the people. That is why despite being in Bihar for a long time, he does not have a mass following,” said a former Rajya Sabha MP, who did not want to be identified.
An engineering graduate, Yadav first came into the spotlight in 1974, when Jai Prakash Narayan made him the Janata Party candidate against the Congress in a parliament by-poll in Jabalpur, in Yadav’s home state of Madhya Pradesh. Yadav won and repeated the victory in 1977, before losing in 1980.
Around this time, Yadav became a close associate of Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was a Lok Dal member at the time. Yadav became a Lok Dal Rajya Sabha member in 1986 and then won the Badaun seat (in UP) in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, with Mulayam’s help.
By this time, however, differences had cropped up between him and Mulayam Singh Yadav. But his once-follower, Lalu had grown in prominence in Bihar politics by then and become CM of the state. During the 1991 Lok Sabha polls he fielded Yadav as a Janata Dal candidate (the party was formed by merger of many socialist parties) from Madhepura — a parliamentary seat dominated by voters from the Yadav caste. Yadav held the seat right up to 2004, even defeating Lalu in the process in 1999.
Yadav held various portfolios in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government between 1999 and 2004. In 2003, He became the president of the Janata Dal United JD(U), a party that included his other former follower, Nitish Kumar. After he was defeated in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Nitish Kumar helped him get a Rajya Sabha seat.
In 2009, he was again elected to the Lok Sabha from Madhepura. But after the JD(U)’s defeat in the 2014 general elections (the party had fought in alliance with the CPI), Yadav’s relations with Nitish Kumar soured, even though the latter again helped him get a Rajya Sabha seat.
In the 2017 Bihar assembly elections, when the JD(U) under Nitish Kumar realligned with the BJP (the two parties had been partners in the 2004 and 2009 general elections), Sharad Yadav refused to follow, for which the (JDU) sought his expulsion from the Rajya Sabha.
Sharad Yadav’s long political career is marked by an equally long list of controversies.
In 2009, when the Women’s Reservation Bill was introduced by the UPA government at the Centre, Yadav opposed it, declaring that the reservation would benefit only “parkati'(short haired)” women and even threatened to commit suicide if the bill was passed.
In 2015, Yadav again stirred controversy by his sexist remarks against women from a certain party of the country and commented on their complexion. When Union Minister Smriti Irani protested, he had remained unapologetic and said, “I know what kind of woman you are”, a comment for which he later apologised.
In 2018, while campaigning in Rajasthan, Yadav asked people to give then CM Vasundhara Raje rest as “she has become fat”. “Vasundhra ko aaram do, bahut thak gayi hain, bahut moti ho gayi hain, pehle patli thi. Humare Madhya Pradesh ki beti hai (Please give Vasundhara some rest, she is tired, she has grown fat, she was thinner earlier. She is Madhya Pradesh’s daughter).”
In yet another controversy, he once said in Patna in 2016, “Honour of vote comes above honour of daughter”. The National Women Commission had slammed a notice agsint him and he declared that he had been misquoted.
Women have not been the only target of his thoughtless comments. In 2011, he denounced anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare for mocking politicians. “You keep your language civil. We will keep ours,” he had warned Hazare and his followers.
The George-Yadav equation
In the 1990s Nitish, Lalu, former Union Minister George Fernandes and Yadav were all members of the Janata Dal. Fernandes and Yadav were not very close in those days, however, because Yadav was too much Lalu’s man and Fernandes considered himself a senior socialist leader, said a socialist leader of the time.
But when Nitish and Lalu parted ways in 1994, by forming the Samata Party, Fernandes and Nitish met Yadav in Delhi, asking him to join them.
“Sharad told them to go ahead and split the party (Janata Dal), but said that for the time being he would remain with Lalu,” said a JD(U) leader, who had been witness to the meeting.
Finally, in 2003, Yadav joined George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar to become one of the founders of JD(U) — a merger of the Sharad Yadav-led faction of the Janata Dal and Nitish’s Samata Party.
However, after the 2005 Bihar assembly polls, relationship between Fernandes and Nitish strained, over fund related issues. Fernandes was then removed by Nitish as JD(U)’s national president, and the position went to Yadav.
Yadav’s fall-out with Lalu, Nitish
In 1996, when the fodder scam was beginning to create difficulties for Lalu, the former Bihar CM hoped to get a second tenure as Janata Dal national president. But Yadav, whom Lalu had made working president at the time, threw his cap in the ring.
Lalu no longer wanted Yadav in the party, as he believed that his former ‘guide’ was becoming a parallel force in the Janata Dal. An angry Lalu is said to have sworn that he would never trust an “outsider” (someone not from Bihar) again.
The difference ultimately made Lalu leave the Janata Dal and establish the RJD in 1997, said the senior socialist leader mentioned above.
Meanwhile, Yadav soon joined hands again with his other former disciple, Nitish. Though Sharad had no mass following, he had a series of followers within the erstwhile Janata Dal, whom he convinced to join JD(U) and was successful in projecting JD(U )as an alternative social justice force.
His resentment against Nitish started brewing when the Bihar CM started taking many party decisions without consulting him, said a former JD(U) leader. In 2013, Nitish Kumar broke off with the JD(U)’s alliance with the BJP, without informing Sharad Yadav, the leader added.
Again, in 2017, when Nitish Kumar left the Grand Alliance with RJD, Yadav was kept in the dark, said the above mentioned former JD(U) leader.
Yadav later went on record to say that he did not approve of the breaking of the Grand Alliance.
The distrust between Nitish and Yadav date back to 2015, when Nitish was trying to convince fellow JD(U) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi to resign as Bihar CM, to make way for him. He entrusted Yadav with the task of convincing Manjhi, said a former JD(U) MP.. But after Manjhi resigned, due to lack of numbers, he claimed that Yadav had asked him not to quit, no matter how many feelers he was sent for the same.
“After Manjhi’s statement Nitish felt that he had been stabbed in the back by Sharad Yadav and there was no future for Sharad Yadav in JD(U),” added the former JD(U) MP.
After Yadav parted ways with Nitish in 2017 — setting up the LJD in 2018 — he found his way back to his other former friend, Lalu, whom he met in 2019 in Ranchi, where the former Bihar CM was in jail then, in relation to the fodder scam.
According to an RJD leader, it was with Lalu’s help, that Yadav helped his daughter, Subhashni Raj Rao, fight the 2020 Bihar assembly polls on a Congress ticket. Rao lost, however.
Once a friend…
Yadav hasn’t only gained from his friendship with Lalu. He had also helped the former Bihar CM in the past.
In 1990, when the Janata Dal won a convincing victory in the Bihar assembly polls Lalu had not been then PM V.P. Singh’s first choice as state CM. Singh preferred former CM Ram Sundar Das for the post. But Yadav convinced Devi Lal to field Lalu for the post, recalled the socialist leader quoted above.
Meanwhile, former PM Chandrashekhar fielded his own candidate, Raghunath Jha, for the post. In the crucial election for CM by Janata Dal MLAs, Jha help in dividing votes in favour of Ram Sundar Das, but winning 23 votes himself, enabling Lalu to win by just three votes.
It was Yadav, who had helped Lalu win by asking Chandrashekhar to field his own candidate, added the socialist leader.
It is perhaps because of this that Lalu continues to be indebted to Yadav, despite the two parting ways in 1997, the reason that is helping them come together again now.
“Sharad Yadav was the best known face of backward caste politics nationally. After the Mandal Commission era he was most vocal. However, there were personal differences which emerged with Lalu and navigated his political direction. The differences were never ideological,” ex-MP Shivanand Tiwari told ThePrint.
Last month, Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav went to Yadav’s house in Delhi to seek the senior leader’s blessings. Sharad said that his blessings to lead the RJD was for Tejashwi only.
“It was a symbolic gesture of a once leader accepting the leadership of his one-time follower, in the very end of his long political career,” remarked a former RJD MP.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)