RJD will pitch the Modi of 2014 against the Modi of 2019: Tejashwi Yadav’s advisor Sanjay Yadav

25 February, 2019

Formerly an employee of a multinational corporation, Sanjay Yadav is now a poll strategist for the Rashtriya Janta Dal, or RJD. He is also a political advisor to its vice president, Tejashwi Yadav, the son of veteran politician Lalu Prasad Yadav. Sanjay, who grew up in Haryana’s Mahendragarh district, met Tejashwi in 2012, and became his advisor soon after. He is widely credited with the RJD’s performance in the assembly election in Bihar in 2015—after having won 22 seats in the 2010 election, the RJD won in 80 seats in 2015, emerging as the single largest party in Bihar. He was also involved in designing the campaign for the recent mahagatbandhan, or grand alliance in the state, ahead of the general elections. The alliance includes the Congress and the RJD, among other parties in Bihar.

Sagar, a staff writer at The Caravan, interviewed Sanjay about his work with the RJD and the party’s strategy for the upcoming Lok Sabha election. Sanjay said he realised early in his life that “politics is the only solution” for any of society’s problems. “Even when one has to get a naala”—drain—“built in one’s area, one has to approach a politician.” Sanjay also discussed the RJD’s recent stances on reservation—during visits to different parts of the state, Tejashwi has demanded that 90 percent of government jobs be reserved; the RJD opposed the manner in which the union government recently implemented 10-percent reservation for economically weaker sections excluding the reserved category; and the party has promised that, if elected, it will ensure reservation in proportion to the population of Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Class communities. Sanjay further spoke about the RJD’s approach to seat-sharing in Bihar and how it plans to counter the BJP’s attempts to attract OBC voters.

Sagar: How did you become a poll strategist for the RJD?
Sanjay Yadav: When [Tejashwi Yadav] was playing cricket, I was working in an MNC [the RJD politician was formerly a cricketer]. We met a couple of times through mutual friends. After the meetings, we decided that he will give up cricket and get into politics full-fledged and simultaneously, he asked me to quit my job and join the party, in 2012. When we started interacting, there was no website of RJD, forget about getting experts for social media. We got the RJD website done; Tejashwi and I became active on Facebook and Twitter. Later on, Laluji came on Twitter. We collectively started revamping the party, learning, growing and devising strategies with the grass-roots and the youth cadre of the RJD. I have been instrumental in [Tejashwi’s] political programming orientation, placing and positioning.

S: What is your election strategy for the 2019 general elections? Tell us about the party’s machinery that will be responsible for implementing it.
SY: Our poll strategy is to pit the Narendra Modi of 2014 against the Narendra Modi of 2019. In 2014, with no experience of delivering or working at the centre, he was almost an unknown entity except for [the 2002] Godhra riots. The Narendra Modi of 2014 was full of dreams and tall promises, which the nation saw that he failed miserably to live up to. As a result, people suffered badly. In 2019, we know that the Gujarat model was nothing but a castle of sand created on a base of lies, half-truths and animosity by the state—against a minority, in the minds of the majority. But having said that, it doesn’t mean that opposition has no novelty to offer in this election. While [the BJP] is saying that there is no alternative, we have a long track record to prove that the nation was a steady ship till 2014, growing briskly and harmoniously.

As far as our machinery is concerned, we don’t have unlimited resources or access to huge funds, like the NDA [the National Democratic Alliance], to have a glitzy and glamorous campaign. But we have an ideology that positively impacts the daily life of our citizens. We have dedicated party-men who are equipped enough to have small, but well knit teams at the local level to work as an effective counter against BJP’s IT cells or paid workers-cum-professionals. We meet our dedicated cadres on a regular basis and provide them with inputs.

S: Unlike in the past, when the RJD was seen as a party of the Yadavs and Muslims, it now appears to be pitching itself as a Bahujan party with an agenda to demolish not just the BJP but also Manuvad, the ideology of the Manusmriti—or so its Twitter handle suggests. What is the thinking behind this? What is the party hoping to gain?
SY: The Rashtriya Janata Dal was never a party of just Muslims or Yadavs. Confining RJD to M–Y [Muslims and Yadavs] is the negative propaganda of BJP to keep other social groups away from us. We always had a strong voter base with people from all sections [of society]. As long as we were in power, we easily commanded around 40–45 percent of the votes, which is not possible only with Yadav or Muslims as only voters. RJD is not a party of M–Y but A to Z. Recently, due to the 10-percent reservations and 13-point roster issue, [a new method to appoint teaching faculty in central and state colleges, which will significantly reduce seats for candidates from reserved categories], we had to become more vocal for the interests of the SC, ST and OBCs and had to get our act together in order to safeguard the future of the most downtrodden and weaker sections of the society. We do the politics of the people who had no voice or representation in the country for ages. We don’t do the politics of the strong, the well-resourced and over-represented.

S: Will this new avatar of the RJD, reflecting more of BR Ambedkar’s politics, not make its main coalition partner, the Congress, uncomfortable? For instance, a difference of opinion between the two parties is already visible on the 10-percent EWS quota.
SY: As far as the difference of opinion with the Congress over savarna reservations is concerned, I think the Congress is a national party so they see things in that perspective.

Rashtriya Janata Dal made clear the concerns we had with this so-called EWS reservation. We were not only against the provisions in this law but also the hasty manner in which it was implemented to fool upper-castes as well as Bahujans. By providing reservation in the name of economic status, they [the government] made a mockery of the very narrative of reservations. Moreover, the constitution was amended in the name of reservation without any report of any commission, research paper or survey. It was just a political gimmick, like demonetisation.

S: Will Tejashwi Yadav’s slogan,“Berojgari hatao, aarakshan badhao”—remove unemployment, increase reservation—be the election plank for the RJD for the 2019 general election? If the Mahagathbandhan comes to power, will it be able to deliver 90-percent reservation in jobs and education?
SY: You can go through any department ministry or any government office in any state, and you will find a huge mismatch between the promised reservations and the delivered reservations. If you go by an Indian Express report from 16 January, you will be shocked to know that there is not even a single OBC professor in all central universities. Isn’t this the height of under-representation or casteism? With the demand of “Berozgari hatao, aarakshan badhao” we are mobilising the youth, cutting across all caste and creed, as governments in Delhi and Patna haven’t delivered on their promise of 10 crore jobs in five years. Rather, as per the [ 2018 Center for Monitoring Indian Economy] report, the Modi government snatched 11 million jobs. With this slogan, we are making people aware that the government has not delivered on job promises. Since they have raised the bar of 50-percent reservation [the ceiling for reservation under the Indian constitution] now they must raise the reservation bar for SC, ST and OBCs in proportion to their population.

A caste census [the central government has not yet released the caste data collected under the latest socio-economic caste census] and reservation in proportion to population have been our old demands. When we will be in power, we will implement reservations in conformity with the caste-wise composition of our country’s population.

S: What will be the form of seat-sharing arrangement with the Congress?
SY: Everyone is aware that the Rashtriya Janata Dal is the biggest political party of Bihar with the biggest voter-base. It is our strength that has ensured that two political parties of completely different ideologies [referring to the BJP and the JDU] are together for last 20 years, only to tackle RJD. So without any doubt, the RJD is going to be seen as the most formidable partner of the mahagathbandhan coalition in Bihar. But having said that, we want to have a rainbow coalition. All the political parties against BJP will be given representation in mahagathbandhan. What is necessary is that the candidate [who is contesting] should be strong enough to successfully defeat the BJP and the JDU.

S: The BJP appears to be targeting the OBC vote. For instance, it recently passed a bill according constitutional status to the national commission for backward classes. How will the RJD counter this?
SY: The OBCs are not fools. The BJP must tell how many OBC chief ministers they have in the country wherein they are ruling [16 states and 50 percent] of India. The backward groups are aware that the BJP wants to create divisions among backward castes, only to make sure that they don’t vote as one force. OBCs could see that despite so many OBC or Dalit leaders in the BJP, they [the leaders] could not stop them from implementing 10-percent reservation for so-called EWS savarnas. They know that this 10-percent reservation is only a means to change the narrative of reservations from social upliftment to a so-called poverty-eradication programme. Moreover, without any caste census or exact representations records of OBCs, how can the BJP help OBCs?

S: In 2017, Yadavs burnt at least 80 houses of Musahars in Chhamasia, in Bihar’s Khagaria district. The RJD had maintained a silence on the incident. In the past as well, the RJD remained silent whenever OBC caste groups committed atrocities against Dalits. Do you think the RJD’s current stance on reservation will be enough to bring Dalits to the RJD?
SY: It is wrong on the part of media to project violence perpetrated by someone to our party simply because he belongs to a certain caste. We don’t hold any copyright on any caste. All I can say that we cannot say that all persons of a certain caste are our supporters, or we can be held responsible for any action of any person of any caste.

It is common practice of the BJP and the JDU to [attribute] violence committed by any person from a certain caste to us. The JDU and the BJP are in power and they should investigate the matter impartially, instead of trying to score political brownie points. If a certain caste is found indulging in atrocities give it rigorous punishment as per law. If the government is unable to stop it, that means they are promoters of such atrocities. Why to drag RJD into this?

S: Recently, Tejashwi Yadav was seen holding a press conference with Waman Meshram, the national president of the All India Backward (SC, ST, OBC) And Minority Communities Employees Federation, or BAMCEF, in Delhi, on the 13-point roster. Will the BAMCEF support the RJD or the mahagathbandhan in the elections? Did you approach the BAMCEF president? [The BAMCEF was founded by the Dalit leader and ideologue Kanshi Ram, who also founded the Bahujan Samaj Party.]
SY: It wasn’t a press conference. It was a summit called by independent SC, ST and OBC organisations against the casteist policies of the current establishment. Neither did we approach BAMCEF, nor did they invite us to the conference you are talking about. BAMCEF is a social organisation and we are a political outfit. On certain issues we share common ideas. At the same time, we will be happy if BAMCEF manages to make people socially and politically aware of reality of manuvad, casteism, Brahminical mindset, the rabid patriarchal ideology of the RSS, communalism and right-wing politics. We want to bring about social upliftment of the deprived and dejected sections of society. And the BAMCEF wants exactly the same.

S: After Tejashwi Yadav met the BSP chief Mayawati, media reports claimed that he visited her to bring Bihar’s SC and ST voters into the RJD fold. Do you see a gap in Dalit leadership in Bihar?
SY: Does the media think that by simply meeting great leaders from the Dalit community one can get Dalit votes? We don’t believe in the politics of photo-ops or using media to project ourselves as the saviours of the downtrodden class. Dalits have been voting for us for many years and still there is no trust deficit between them and us, and it is always going to remain the same. Dalits of Bihar know who was marching along with them on 2 April 2018, against the dilution of the [Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act]. Paswanji [referring to the Bihar cabinet minister Ram Vilas Paswan] and family were resting in AC rooms in Lutyens’ Delhi when Tejashwi Yadav was on the road along with his 80 MLAs [members of the legislative assembly], fighting for the cause of Dalits.

This interview has been edited and condensed.