Nitish Kumar’s decision to walk out of the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar and form a government with the BJP left former JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav out in the cold. Yadav, who claims to be the real JD(U), is now working to forge a larger Opposition unity ahead of the 2019 polls with the ‘Save Composite Culture’ campaign. The 16-member committee has been holding conventions across the country and taking on the NDA’s programmes and schemes. A veteran politician, Yadav has been elected to the Lok Sabha seven times and to the Rajya Sabha twice
SHARAD YADAV: This BJP-led NDA government promised ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’ , ‘acche din’… But farmers have suffered a lot during demonetisation, they are committing suicide. Three crore people lost their employment because of demonetisation. Small-scale industries have lost 40 per cent of their employees. Was this the promise made to us? Look at the things being done in the name of the cow. Also, (they talk of) love jihad and ghar wapsi. What is this jihad? All these are non-issues. The PM had talked about elevating the life of the citizens but the reverse is happening. The country is facing a lot of challenges.
COOMI KAPOOR: For the last few years, Nitish Kumar seemed to be running the JD(U) as a one-man show. There was no democracy. Why didn’t you raise your concerns earlier?
That is only partially true. There was always consensus. But for many years… he (Nitish Kumar) would say that he had decided on something and that was it. But you cannot say that it was unilateral. If you ask me about democracy in the party, I would say it was there but it was a bit constrained.
PRADEEP KAUSHAL: What are your plans for the future? Will you launch a new party?
Some people are planning… I don’t want to talk about it in detail. I am just involved with what is happening currently in the country.
I have taken up a role for myself. It is to ensure that the Indian Constitution percolates down to the masses in towns, villages, rural areas and also reaches the younger generation. To assert our point, we have already conducted three programmes across the country. The fourth will happen in Jaipur. (Yadav has been made convenor of a 16-member Opposition committee that is holding conventions on the theme of ‘Save Composite Culture [Sanjha Virasat Bachao]’ in all states).
We need to impart knowledge of our Constitution to the new generation. I want to bring together the Opposition on issues that matter. I will work in the background, educate people on the topics at hand.
RAVISH TIWARI: Your political career has been based on the plank of social justice. Why then are you trying to dethrone a Prime Minister who has worked his way up from an unprivileged position?
The post of the Prime Minister is the biggest institution in the country, and he is responsible for running the government. The BJP has governments in so many states. The Prime Minister says that there should be no violence in the name of religion and faith. But look at what is happening on the ground. People are being killed. A young student (Najeeb Ahmed) disappears from Jawaharlal Nehru University… There were problems earlier too, there were fights, but it has never happened that a person disappears. The country has been divided because of the circumstances that have been created.
Go anywhere in the country, it has become difficult to travel with any kind of animal. When a buffalo ages, where will it go? It is in our culture to show respect to the cow. But what about the buffaloes around us? What happened in Aligarh? Men were thrashed for allegedly slaughtering a buffalo.
Why are such incidents happening under the government of a Prime Minister who says that there should be no violence in the name of religion?
PRADEEP KAUSHAL: You have been associated with both the BJP and the Congress. How has the experience been?
We have been associated with the BJP for nearly 40 years. With the Congress, it is a new association. And I have said this about Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that his working style was like that of Congressmen. Vajpayeeji and L K Advaniji worked within the limits of the Constitution. Today, (in the BJP) that is not the case.
It’s a new association with the Congress. However, I can say that they were mature in running the government, but not while in Opposition. They were experts when they were in power. But in Opposition, I see matters that should be examined and reviewed… the BJP was more successful in doing that (in being in Opposition). They (the Congress) have a problem with it.
SANTOSH SINGH: You have known Nitish Kumar for such a long time. What led to his decision to rejoin the NDA?
In politics, you should remember the good times you have spent with your old friends and colleagues. One should not worry about the bad things. He (Nitish Kumar) was my friend and colleague and he has now left.
LIZ MATHEW: You were in the Opposition during the UPA tenure. Now, with the NDA in power, you are back in the same position. What was the difference in approach of the two dispensations in dealing with the Opposition?
I have seen many PMs, there were some great people… The Congress party’s position worsened in UPA-2. However, they were better than the present (NDA) dispensation in running the government. They had more experience. The NDA was a master at being in the Opposition but they haven’t mastered governance yet.
There is a huge difference in both the governments. Running the government was in their (Congress’s) sanskar and being in Opposition was in the BJP’s. Also, BJP leaders who served in the Opposition are all sitting at home now.
RAVISH TIWARI: Do you think your project can be a success without BSP chief Mayawati’s support? She did not attend the Patna rally where leaders of 18 opposition parties came together. Without the support of Dalits, can you succeed at the ground level?
I think it is difficult. Even when we were working against the Congress, it was difficult. Whether it is Mayawatiji or anyone else, there will always be someone in the Opposition who will want to go his own way. That will always be a problem. But it is this challenge that will make us push ourselves… I have faith in my friends in the BJP, they will be successful in uniting us.
The Congress used to show us files, these people show us the jail straightaway.
RAVISH TIWARI: Before the Patna rally, Mayawati had made a specific demand: that she would consider becoming a part of the united Opposition only if the division of seats (for the 2019 elections) is decided beforehand. Do you have the same demand? If yes, will you discuss it with the Congress party?
I think she is right. A split happens when problems arise in the division of the seats. What she has said is 100 per cent correct.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: During the 2014 general election campaign, Narendra Modi had said that he would give Dalits and OBCs what they haven’t got in 70 years. How do you think he is faring on that promise?
So far, he hasn’t done anything. If he does anything in the future, we will see.
ANAND MISHRA: At the national level, there seems to be a lack of organisation, system and discipline in the Opposition. Isn’t this a challenge for you, given that the BJP has the Sangh, an organised outfit. With the Prime Minister, they also have a strong candidate to represent the party. The Opposition doesn’t seem to have a strong leader or a counter-narrative to the BJP at the moment.
When you speak about organisation… it should be about the country. All organisations are only 60-70 years old. The only organisation that has existed for over 1,000 years in the country is the caste system. Our politics is about the unity of the entire Indian society.
It is tough. There are challenges facing the nation and within the Opposition too. We are looking into all the issues and working on them. I have a long relationship with Mulayam Singhji. We will pull him along with us. Even if he is not satisfied, we will drag him with us.
VANDITA MISHRA: Why couldn’t you drag Nitish Kumar along?
We were together for 13 years. I was not successful at explaining myself to him. Nevertheless, I had spoken to him, tried my best. If people have left, they have left. If we look within, we will find the reasons behind it (Nitish Kumar joining the NDA).
COOMI KAPOOR: What is your opinion on reservation for women in Parliament now?
We need to look at the reality of India. Between a Dalit woman and a privileged woman, who do you think should get the benefit of reservation? Who should be uplifted first? The mother in India is a slave to the caste system. When that ends, we can ask for 100 per cent reservation… The ground realities should be incorporated (in the women’s reservation Bill), there should be justice.
There is no one who knows more about maatr sanskriti (a mother’s spirit) than me. I am sitting here because of my mother. I don’t want 33 per cent reservation, I want 50 per cent. The education standards and environment in which a Dalit woman stays, as compared to a woman of the upper caste, should be uplifted.
I belong to a village. What is our capability? People in cities go to a good school; I went to a village school. So, 80 per cent population of India which has been left out, let them be uplifted. Our mothers, daughters, sisters should be liberated. I think of reservation in terms of liberation… The caste system is the reality of our country and it should be eradicated. There are many people now who have worked hard and managed to escape their caste. Slowly and steadily things are changing.
ANAND MISHRA: You parted ways with Nitish Kumar on a bitter note. However, you haven’t made any strong remark against him. Do you hope that Nitish Kumar will work with you again in the future?
Given the situation that I am in now, it would not be apt for me to answer that question.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: You have worked with both the Jan Sangh and the BJP. You have said that leaders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani worked within the ambit of the Constitution. Those holding the reins of the BJP right now, do you think they have stepped outside the ambit of the Constitution? Also, what kind of a future do you see for the BJP under the current leadership?
Why do you think we started the ‘Sanjha Virasat Bachao’ campaign? Things that have been happening now haven’t happened in 70 years. Why are we stressing on the need to be within the ambit of the Constitution and the Preamble? We have done so because things are different now. Before we look into the future, we should stand up to this challenge. After that, we will plan for the future.