Mahagathbandhan's prime ministerial candidate will be decided unanimously post elections: Sharad Yadav

Sharad Yadav, a leader of the Loktantrik Janata Dal, has been a part of attempts to bring together a coalition of anti-BJP parties in the run-up to the 2019 general election. Pradeep Gaur/Mint/Getty Images
10 March, 2019

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.”

Sagar and Tushar Dhara: You have talked about two kinds of alliances“sambhav ekta aur sampurn ekta” —possible unity and total unity—across states to defeat Narendra Modi and the BJP in the upcoming general election. Could you elaborate?
Sharad Yadav: They had 31 percent [referring to the BJP’s approximate vote share in the 2014 general election] and 69 percent were out. So, our attempt should be to forge a total unity among the 69 percent. Suppose if that [total unity] did not happen, then there would be at least a possible unity.

Let me explain this: in Bengal, either Mamata [Banerjee, the chief minister of the state and Trinamool Congress leader] would win or the Left would or the Indian National Congress would win—all of them are against the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh, whoever is contesting, they are all against the BJP and they are all committed. So, I said a possible unity would be formed [before the general election,] and then after the election a total unity would eventually be formed.

S and TD: Does that mean that if the supposed alliance partners register big gains in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal in the elections, a non-Congress candidate may become the prime minister?
SY: No prime ministerial candidate was announced beforehand in the 1977 general election. [The Janata alliance, which won the election, was a coalition of the Janata Morcha and the Left parties. The Janata Morcha was itself a coalition of the Congress (O), the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the Samyukta Socialist Party and the Bharatiya Lok Dal.] Morarjibhai became the prime minister. The other party, the Lok Dal [as the Bharatiya Lok Dal came to be known,] had more number of MPs though, compared to Morarjibhai’s party. Then, in the 1989 [election,] the Jan Morcha hardly had five to ten MPs. [The 1989 general election was won by the National Front – a coalition of the BJP, the Left front and the Janata Dal, a party formed in 1988 through the merger of various factions of the Janata alliance, including VP Singh’s Jan Morcha.] Chaudhary Devi Lal was selected—it was agreed that Lal would become the prime minister. [But after the elections, Lal proposed VP Singh’s name, who became the prime minister, while Lal became the deputy prime minster.] Then in 1996, the United Front coalition was there [and again, the prime ministerial candidate] was decided after the election. Deve Gowda [a leader of the Janata Dal then] became the prime minister. So, it’s the characteristic of an opposition alliance that there is no leader declared in advance. Post election, a unanimous consensus emerges.

S and TD: Do you think the prime minister should be from other grand alliance partners or the Congress?
SY: At this point, I do not consider it right to say anything on this. But the Congress will get the largest number [of seats], right?

S and TD: What is your view on how many seats the Congress will win?
SY: There is no calculation on this. Let us say they will get some in Uttar Pradesh and then across states they will get some seats there too, right?

S and TD: How many seats will the grand alliance give your party, the Loktantrik Janata Dal, in Bihar?
SY: There is no consensus on seat sharing yet—the talks are still going on. The question is not about the seats, we have stood up together to save the Constitution and India’s democracy. Of the JD(U), I was its founder. [The JD(U) was formed in 2003 when a faction of Janata Dal leaders, led by Sharad Yadav, merged with Ramkrishna Hegde’s Lok Shakti party and George Fernandes’ Samata Party.] Then, in 2015 the [Bihar] mahagathbandhan won a two-third majority. The result gave the Bharatiya Janata Party an opportunity to function as opposition. But our colleagues broke from the grand alliance and had coalition with the BJP. So they [JD(U)] betrayed their agreement made to the voters and such an agreement means you have to be faithful. How can you break that faith? So we protested.

S and TD: Will your party contest on the election symbol of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, as is being reported, by some media publications?
SY: It has not been decided yet.

S and TD: In his election rallies, Narendra Modi has claimed that the BJP would deliver a majboot sarkar, or strong government, whereas the grand alliance will make for a majboor, or helpless, government. What is your response?
SY: He himself is running a coalition government. They have been a part of a grand alliance so many times: in 1977, 1989 and 1998. What was Atal ji’s government? It was a coalition government. So when Modi has been in a coalition government himself, what is the meaning of his claim?

S and TD: Will you be contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha election from Bihar’s constituency of Madhepura?
SY: Yes, I will contest from Madhepura.

S and TD: Madhepura is represented by an independent member of parliament and former RJD leader Rajesh Ranjan, popularly known as Pappu Yadav. You lost the last general election to him from the same seat. Are you going to negotiate with him?
SY: What do you mean? I am going to contest from there. Why do I care who is fighting from where?

S and TD: What is going to be your election strategy against the NDA?
SY: We already had Sajha Virasat organised five times so far. Sajha Virasat means safe composite culture, safe Constitution. It happened in Indore, then in Jaipur, in Bombay and then in Delhi. And then we had Mamata’s rally. A number of such rallies are happening. Recently, we all had meeting at Chandrababu Naidu’s. [Since Yadav’s Sajhi Virasat Bachao rally in August 2017, political leaders have organised similar rallies and meetings to unite the opposition leaders, including those led by Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party; Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party; and Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party.]

S and TD: What strategy has been chalked out at these meetings?
SY: When we are all together before the people, what is the need for a strategy?

S and TD: If the grand alliance comes to power at the centre, will it increase the reservation quota of 50 percent for the reserved category? Your ally, the RJD, has been very vocal about this demand.
SY: We will consider this.

S and TD: What is your opinion about it?
SY: No, it is such a big issue that I cannot give you my comment in two minutes.

S and TD: What do you think of the 10-percent quota on economic grounds implemented by the NDA government?
SY: There is only one guiding principle [for reservations] in the Constitution—social disparity. Reservation is a small step to bridge the disparity caused by the caste system. In that [constitutional scheme], they inserted Article 16(4) for economic backwardness. They [the BJP] had promised to give ten crore jobs. But since they could not keep it, they gave people a jhunjhuna instead [referring to a rattle]. But the toy is empty, it will not play.

S and TD: What is your assessment of Nitish Kumar’s politics?
SY: The voters gave a mandate to his politics and the grand alliance a two-third majority. He had said that he would drown himself but will not go with the BJP again. This was the agreement he had made with the people. And he broke it. I had protested, so he offered me several ministerial posts. I was also an MP [in the Rajya Sabha] until 2022, but I left everything.

S and TD: In the 1998 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections to the Madhepura constituency, the RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav defeated you. Have you been able to reconcile your relationship with him now?
SY: What kind of a question is that? We have been walking together. We are all in favour of the mahagathbandhan. Who has been forced to join it?

S and TD: Is there a unified vision of the mahagathbandhan?
SY: All parties are working on it. There is no need to reveal the agenda at this moment.

This interview has been edited and condensed.