Sharad Yadav (75), who died on Thursday, began his political journey as a giant killer and went on to become a socialist stalwart and Mandal messiah. But the engineer by training wore many more hats.
Former Union minister Sharad Yadav died at Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurugram on Thursday.
By India Today Web Desk: How does one describe Sharad Yadav? As a seasoned Parliamentarian who was elected to the Lok Sabha seven times (and thrice to the Upper House) from as many as three states? Or as an MP who resigned from Parliament three times on moral grounds? Or as an efficient Union minister? Or as NDA’s convener?
How does one want to remember Sharad Yadav? As a socialist stalwart? Or as Mandal messiah who also bloomed in the saffron camp?
An engineer by training, Sharad Yadav was the founder president of the JDU, a party that’s been ruling Bihar under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for 17 years. But Sharad Yadav suffered an unceremonious exit after years of service for questioning Nitish Kumar’s decision to break the pre-poll alliance with the RJD and go with the BJP in 2017.
Sharad Yadav was the man who fought elections against political giants, from Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi to Lalu Yadav in Madhepura and, in his final days, had to merge himself into the RJD.
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Sharad Yadav (75), who died at a Gurugram hospital on Thursday, was all this and much more. He was one of a kind politician who wore many hats, weaving quota-centric social justice into hardcore secularism, among many other things.
Sharad Yadav, who remained at the centre of Janata politics for years, was seen to have forced then Prime Minister VP Singh’s hand in 1990 in implementing the Mandal Commission report granting reservation to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) that changed the course of Indian politics.
Sharad Yadav’s demand for a caste-based quota within the Women’s Reservation Bill was seen to have caused the UPA II government to hold back on the law. In 2011, Sharad Yadav was one of those who pushed the Congress-led government into initiating a socio-economic caste census, but its findings were never published.
A product of the JP movement of the 1970s, which took on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Sharad Yadav, was greatly influenced by socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia’s ideals. Sharad Yadav had a role in shaping India’s politics in the 1980s and 1990s. He played an important part in the formation of the Janata Dal whose victory unseated Rajiv Gandhi.
But Sharad Yadav also bloomed in the saffron camp. After serving in Prime Minister VP Singh’s Janata Dal Cabinet, he held various portfolios, including that of the civil aviation minister, in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government between 1999 and 2004.
Sharad Yadav’s presence in Parliament was reassuring, many would admit. His oratory skill, which often reminded some of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s, was a highlight. Not many will forget the messages he delivered while talking about the role of the media and government during the Anna movement or when highlighting the struggle and rise of politicians from marginalised backgrounds like Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. All this was already being missed.
Last summer, when Sharad Yadav vacated the 7 Tughlak Road Bungalow after spending 22 years there, many were nostalgic and sad. He had come to Delhi after emerging as a giant killer by winning the bypoll from the Jabalpur Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh in 1974. He was the joint opposition candidate as the country witnessed widespread protests against the Congress government at the Centre.
It was an embarrassment for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It was a boost for JP’s efforts to bring together opposition parties against the grand old party. It was a precursor to the things to come, from the imposition of Emergency to the unseating of Indira Gandhi through Janata politics that later led to Mandal versus Kamandal politics, the Congress’s decline and the BJP’s emergence.
Today, it’s difficult to define socialism in the Indian context. Many of the so-called socialists are busy talking about caste and making capital, both political and otherwise. The ruling BJP runs massive programmes to provide free food and housing to the poor, among other things, resembling the philosophy of the Congress in its mai-baap era of politics that was, however, not without the taint of crony capitalism even then. But today, the saffron party also brandishes Hindutva as its potent election weapon and is seen to be functioning as a pro-market party.
In his twilight days, Sharad Yadav was increasingly becoming alone. He had to move to Delhi’s Chhatarpur as the RJD didn’t nominate him to the Rajya Sabha again. It was the same RJD for which he had suffered his unceremonious exit from the JDU. The void created by his death in India’s political and social life will be felt much beyond Lutyens’ Delhi, across vast swathes of the hinterland.