Sharad Yadav’s 1974 win signalled efficacy of united anti-Congressism.
NEW DELHI: The Janata experiment, of a united opposition pitching itself against Congress, was incubated by Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan in a Lok Sabha byelection in Jabalpur in 1974. A 27-year-old Engineering gold medallist, Sharad Yadav, who had links with Ram Manohar Lohia’s Socialist stream of politics, was chosen as the face of the united opposition in a seat which had been a Congress bastion (the bypoll was necessitated by the death of stalwart Seth Govind Das). Chakra-haldhar—a kisan bearing a plough encased in a ring, representing industry—which had been used by various breakaway Congress regional outfits in 1967, was the symbol chosen for this defiance. (Chakra-haldhar became the symbol of united opposition, which became Janata Party post the election victory in March; on 1 May 1977, it was the symbol of Bharatiya Lok Dal led by Charan Singh—it had been the symbol used in 1967 by breakaway Congress factions led by Charan Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Mahamaya Prasad Sinha in Bihar, Bangla Congress of Ajoy Mukherjee, Kumbharam Arya in Rajasthan etc., to decimate the Congress for the first time in 1967. Following the split in the Janata Party in 1979, the symbol was frozen.)
Perhaps inspired by the 1968 Paris uprising, in which youth power was showcased, the youth in India were in turmoil in the late 1960s, early 1970s. The Navnirmaan Movement in Gujarat led to the resignation of Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel. The youth in Bihar started a movement which has historically been called the JP Movement—Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), a veteran freedom fighter, who many say Jawaharlal Nehru wanted as his deputy in the 1950s, had become a critic of Indira Gandhi and he became the icon of anti-Congress unity. Effort to unite the Opposition had been tried by Ram Manohar Lohia (Socialist icon) and Deendayal Upadhyayay (Jan Sangh icon) a month prior to Nehru’s death in April 1964 when they had a pact in Kanpur. The reverses of Congress in 1967 were negated by Indira Gandhi’s triumph in the 1971 elections and her subsequent emergence as “Durga” (that’s how Atal Bihari Vajpayee described her after the December 1971 Bangladesh triumph). The effort in Jabalpur in 1974 was made in an atmosphere when Congress under Indira Gandhi looked infallible. Sharad Yadav’s win was followed in later months by successive developments which saw the Opposition unite and oust Congress in New Delhi in 1977.
Sharad Yadav became the face of the united Opposition once again in May 1981, when Rajiv Gandhi contested from Amethi after Sanjay Gandhi’s death. This time he lost poorly. He was the senior most Yadav: senior to Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh; the man who had introduced Nitish Kumar to Karpoori Thakur; the reason for V.P. Singh giving up his preference for Ram Sundar Das and choosing Lalu Prasad as CM of Bihar in 1990. He was a fulcrum of the Mandal movement. Ironically, he was defeated in a Lok Sabha poll by Lalu Prasad once and Nitish Kumar not only removed him from the presidentship of JD(U) but also got him expelled from Parliament for “anti-party activity”. A seven-term Lok Sabha and three-term Rajya Sabha member, he served as minister in V.P. Singh and Vajpayee regimes. While Janata Party was brought down by Socialist leaders like Raj Narain and Madhu Limaye on the RSS membership of erstwhile Jan Sangh members (who thereafter founded the BJP), along with George Fernandes, Sharad Yadav, in the spirit of the Lohia-Deendayal pact, supported alliance with the BJP. Though in the last days of his life he drifted towards admiring Congress, his daughter is a Congress member. Rahul Gandhi went to his home to condole him and recalling Yadav’s opposition to Indira Gandhi, said, “He used to say that he and my grandmother may have been political rivals but the two shared a relationship of love and respect.” Words to remember, at a time when acerbic relations seem to dominate India’s political discourse.
With Sharad Yadav’s death, the last of the Socialist Mohicans, who provided spice to India’s politics, has been extinguished.