In August 2017, the Janata Dal (United), whose primary base is in Bihar and Jharkhand, expelled one of its founding leaders, Sharad Yadav, ostensibly for “anti-party” activities. Yadav, a seven-time Lok Sabha member, had served as the party’s president for ten years, from 2006 to 2016. Under his leadership, the JD(U) entered into an alliance with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal—another regional party from Bihar, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav—to contest the 2015 Bihar assembly elections. According to Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, a JD(U) leader, “met Lalu Prasad 25 times,” but it was Yadav’s recommendation that cemented the alliance. The alliance emerged victorious, and formed the state government that year, with Kumar as the chief minister.
Since the JD(U) had been a part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance from 2003 to 2013, its alliance with the Congress and the RJD, which was known as the mahagathbandhan, or grand alliance, marked a significant shift in the political landscape in Bihar. In fact, as a part of this NDA alliance, the JD(U) had twice helmed the government in Bihar; and Yadav had served as the NDA convenor from 2008 to 2013. In 2013, Kumar raised objections against the announcement of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s campaign committee chairman, and subsequently against his nomination as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014, which triggered the split between the decade-old alliance partners that year.
In 2017, the JD(U) snapped ties with the Congress-RJD alliance and returned to the NDA fold. Yadav’s criticism of the decision led to his ouster from the party. A few weeks after his exit from the JD(U), Yadav organised a conference of over sixteen national and regional parties in Delhi, which was attended by several leaders, including the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi, to kick-start talks to stitch together a new mahagathbandhan for the 2019 general election. The meeting was named, “Sajhi Virasat Bachao”—or Save Our Composite Culture. Subsequently, in May 2018, Yadav launched his own party—the Loktantrik Janata Dal, which has joined the Congress-RJD alliance in Bihar ahead of the elections.
On 9 March this year, amid speculation on the status of the alliance, Yadav met Lalu Prasad in Ranchi around the same time that the RJD’s parliamentary board meeting was being held in Patna. While Yadav was categorical on the unity of the alliance, he refused to divulge details on the allies’ seat-sharing formula. After the meet, the RJD announced that Lalu Prasad will call the shots on the final shape of the grand alliance.
Sharad Yadav talked with Sagar and Tushar Dhara—respectively, a staff writer and a reporting fellow with The Caravan—about the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Among other things, Yadav discussed the grand alliance, its electoral strategy, and its prime ministerial candidate. Yadav said, “It is the characteristic of an opposition alliance that there is no leader declared in advance ... Post election, a unanimous consensus emerges.”