Days before the JD(U) decided to support NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, party veteran Sharad Yadav had made a strong pitch for a joint Opposition challenger. On Wednesday, he attributed the party’s decision to sthaniya paristhiti, or local circumstances.
It is not the first time that Sharad Yadav has been overruled in the party he once headed. He has had to take back a number of decisions in the last seven years, including some when he was JD(U) president. Every time there has been a disagreement with Nitish Kumar, it is the Bihar chief minister who has had his way. In March 2010, when Nitish Kumar was heading a JD(U)-BJP coalition in Bihar and the women’s reservation bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha, Nitish announced his support for it though Sharad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad were opposing the bill in the way it had been framed.
“It is my personal opinion that the bill ought to be passed now, especially as the issue has been dragging for 14 years. It is not advisable to block it now,” Nitish said then. When journalists pointed out that Sharad Yadav was against it, Nitish said he would appeal to Sharadji to reconsider. Sharad Yadav, then JD(U) president, did reconsider. The bill was passed in Rajya Sabha with all JD(U) members supporting it. Sharad Yadav was then in Lok Sabha; the bill did not come there.
Another major disagreement reportedly came when the JD(U) broke up with the BJP after an alliance of 17 years. Sources familiar with party affairs say that Sharad Yadav, in 2013, was not in favour of pulling out of the NDA until at least the results of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Then in April 2016, Nitish became JD(U) president, bringing to an end the uninterrupted 10-year tenure of Sharad Yadav for a series of terms. Months later, four state unit presidents were expelled when they opposed Nitish taking over as being “against the party constitution”.
Last year, Sharad Yadav was negotiating with Opposition party leaders in opposing the government’s decision to demonetise high-value currency notes. While he kept attacking the government, Nitish praised Modi’s move. Days before Opposition parties were planning to organise a Jan Akrosh rally, Nitish decided that his party would not be part of the rally. Sharad Yadav left for Pune to attend a conference and was not in Delhi on the day of the agitation. He later said that there was “not even an iota” of disagreement between him and Nitish on demonestisation.
This time, incidentally, it was Nitish himself who had initiated moves for a joint Opposition candidate for President. After meeting a number of Opposition leaders between February and April, Nitish had a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi on April 20, after which the effort gained momentum. Later, however, it was Sharad Yadav, who was representing the party in the national capital on the issue, holding meetings with other Opposition leaders.
Soon after a meeting of Opposition leaders on June 14 to discuss the presidential election, Sharad Yadav left Delhi on a parliamentary committee tour. On June 19, after the BJP announced the name of Kovind, then Bihar governor, Nitish praised Kovind — an immediate indication that the party would eventually back his candidature. Sharad Yadav, meanwhile, was admitted to a hospital and returned only on the night of June 20.
On the morning of June 21, he left for Patna where, after a meeting with him and other leaders, Nitish announced his support for Kovind. On Thursday, when the JD(U) skipped a meeting of the Opposition to choose a presidential candidate, Sharad Yadav left on a weeklong tour of Madhepura. JD(U) leaders, meanwhile, insist there is no difference of opinion between Sharad and Nitish on the presidential candidate.