Sharad Yadav says the Janata Parivar merger is crucial to put a check on BJP policies that are “increasing social, economic disparity”, and says no one who knows him can call him anti-women. This Idea Exchange was moderated by Assistant Editor Pradeep Kaushal.
Why Sharad Yadav?
Almost two decades after the then Janata Dal split in the 1990s, six parties have come together under the umbrella of the Janata Parivar, a move spearheaded by, among others, JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav.
If this alliance works out, the Janata grouping could be the first real challenge to a rising BJP ahead of the Bihar polls. Yadav stepped aside for SP chief Mulayam Singh to take over as the Janata president, but he will be the face of the new party in the Rajya Sabha, a House in which the JD(U) leader has consistently made his presence felt. Within the Janata Parivar, he is also said to have been the catalyst for the Lalu-Nitish union, having persuaded the RJD chief to embrace his fiercest opponent.
Maneesh Chhibber: Different parties have come together under the Janata Parivar. How successful will this be in taking the political discourse of the country ahead?
Let me remind you that the second largest party in the NDA was the JD(U).
These parties have come together now not just to form a government — we have all been in power. Since this government has been formed, instances (of communal violence) have been reported in the media. Some incidents are reported by the media, but it’s (communal disruption) happening on a very large scale.
The government says something which is within the Constitutional limits, but there are people within the government who say things which are beyond the limits of the Constitution.
Regarding the the splintering of the Janata Dal, when it came to opposing the Congress policies, we took the lead. We countered the Congress party so much that it failed miserably. The Janata Dal that used to be a party of farmers was split. There was a vacuum created by this.
Our imagination, any party’s for that matter, is within the Constitutional framework. No minister of the Central government, from any party, ever spoke outside the Constitutional limits. At a time like this, if we don’t unite people, there is a risk.
This government is also increasing economic disparity. That will increase social disparity. Look at land acquisition… The Delhi-Mumbai Corridor, smart cities… I assume they will acquire 5 lakh hectares land. Why take this kind of a decision about one-fourth of the country’s available land? These are big challenges and the main reason behind the Janata Parivar is forming a union of the public.
Maneesh Chhibber: How do you explain the contradiction in the formation of your new party with both Lalu Prasad and and Nitish Kumar on board when Nitish won elections by criticizing Lalu?
There is corruption in our country. Nitish or I never said that there was jungle raj (in Bihar during Lalu’s rule). Nitish has spoken about corruption. People in our party have worked with them for years and vice-a-versa. There might have been differences between us, but the people who support them are hard-working people. For now our aim is to bring people together. People should not be segregated because of our differences.
Rakesh Sinha: What according to you is the solution to the stalemate over the land acquisition Bill?
Is there any part of the country where there is no land acquisition? Since we are sitting in Noida right now, has there been any impediment in developing this place using the old land acquisition law?
I have already spoken about the Delhi-Mumbai corridor. That’s one-fourth of India’s land. India’s civilisation has existed for centuries and agriculture is its axis. Good cities have come up only in places that had good agricultural land. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is saying, “give up your livelihood, then you will get another source of living”. But what you do in between? Thirty crore people will be ruined.
You talk of bullet trains? Why not fix the existing trains in use? To make lotuses bloom, will you reduce the country to mud? Development should take place keeping in mind humanity, to strengthen the country. Farmers are facing very tough conditions. All the government is saying is we will give insurance. They are still showing pipedreams. Farmers need immediate relief.
Coomi Kapoor: You have an anti-women image. First, you opposed the women’s reservation Bill. Second, you made some sexist remarks in Parliament. Are you anti-women?
No one can make this charge against me given my social background for the past 40 years. You have all heard me say that the social reality of India should be incorporated in these demands. One is Sukkhorani and another is Maharani – they are not equal. Factor in the social disparity in our country. I did not support the Women’s Bill in Parliament because it is unfair.
This reservation (in Parliament) is not for simply women, but for women from the creamy layer who have a European mindset. I opposed it. Who is controlling the system? Adivasis, Dalits or farmers? Those who are controlling the system for thousands of years are still here. I am not saying they are bad people. But why pretend that they are doing justice (by demanding reservation for women?)
How can an upper caste woman who has seen privilege for thousands of years, be equal to a Dalit woman who has borne the scourge of her caste for thousands of years? How can there be a unity of motive among these two women? Women from the creamy layer run NGOs from three-four-storey buildings in Delhi. I object to reservation for these women. I don’t oppose reservation for women per se, but take stock of the ground reality of Indian women.
Pradeep Kaushal: Private companies have been told to appoint women on their board of directors. What do you have to say on this?
It is pakhand (charade). Who are these women? These are not the sisters and daughters of farmers or those from down-trodden sections. These are women who are fluent in English. So how is this a quota for women?
Appu Esthose Suresh: Main opposition parties have seen a lot of changes in leadership. There is no consolidated Opposition at present.
The real Opposition is in Rajya Sabha. It is the only place in the country where there is any resistance to the bulldozing (by the government) over changes in laws. The resistance was there in the march that took place in front of Parliament. There were 14 parties that participated in the march. That march was of the 69 per cent people of this country. After all the BJP has got only 31 per cent of the polled vote. All these parties were from outside Delhi. The message went across the country that the BJP government is anti-farmer. Your original question, about change of leadership, that won’t make any difference.
Pradeep Kaushal: A number of parties that are part of Janata Parivar are dynastic, such as the Samajwadi Party and INLD. How will you reconcile their demands?
Our party is the only one in this country that is not dynastic. Indian culture is dynastic. What is the Ramayana about? The story of a family’s relations. What is Mahabharata about? Our centuries old mythologies are about families. We have come together to stop the way the BJP is operating. Maybe we won’t be able to prevent them (from spreading communalism), but we have to try. In our party no one is more senior than me in the Rajya Sabha. This faith in dynasties is thousands of years old. We have to deal with it patiently. People believe in it (dynasties). But people are not bad. There are times when people forge ahead of political parties.
Ajay Shanker: Now that former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi is an independent entity, what role do you think he will play in the Bihar elections?
We had given him a responsibility and tried to explain things for a long time. A chief minister is chosen within the Constitutional framework and not because of his caste. But in our country, this is a very important factor. Manjhi was not a leader from the beginning. He was put on a pedestal, but he has stepped down. Now he won’t be able to get back up. Manjhi is not such a great factor in Bihar polls.
Ajay Shanker: Could you have handled the situation better?
We tried a lot. He didn’t realise that the CMship is a Constitutional post in India. He didn’t realise what the financial situation of the government was. The moment he reached public gatherings, he made certain statements. Mauj mein bol dete thhe. Nau mahine reh jaate, to hamari to badi aafat ho jaati (He got excited and said something. Had he stayed for another nine months, he would have created trouble for the party).
Rakesh Sinha: What is the difference between NDA I and NDA II? And when you were in the NDA, what kind of interactions did you have with Narendra Modi?
When I was in the NDA, it was led by Atalji (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) and Advaniji (Lal Krishna Advani). The Opposition had more people than the NDA. There’s a huge difference (between NDA I and II) in following Constitutional values. I did not have much interaction with Narendra Modi then. I had a very deep connection with Brajesh Mishra. When Jawaharlal Nehru expelled D P Mishra from the Congress, only my father, who was also a freedom fighter, left with him. D P Mishra’s son is Brajesh Mishra. Advaniji too operated within Constitutional limits.
Then West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu once told me that there was no problem working with Advani. But that was a different era and this is a different time.
According to me, we have an undeclared Emergency in our country. There is nothing we can trust the government with on giving a final answer. Why don’t they say how much land they will take for the corridor? They called corporates and told them you will get land wherever you want. That (NDA I) was a joint effort, this is a government formed on their majority.
Pradeep Kaushal: Can you elaborate on the Emergency comment you made?
I am saying this is in preparation of Emergency. Just look at the crackdown on everyone, including media. This happened during Indira Gandhi’s time too. Many journalists and editors opposed it.
Maneesh Chhibber: It is said that when you are in the Opposition, you should not stop talking, and when you form the government, your work should speak. But PM Modi refuses to be silent.
During elections, it is important that you speak. But after that, every day he holds some event where he gets to make long speeches. Just like Acharya Rajnish gave sermons, and just like he liked talking… Narendra Modiji loves talking and lecturing so much that in France, while speaking to an Indian audience, he said that India has a right to a seat in the UN Security Council. Now there are countries who have veto rights. What can the people do about it?
Appu Esthose Suresh: The leadership of the RJD and JD(U) might have had a reconciliation, but the two parties have been rivals. How do you plan to reconcile things at the grass-roots? Second, in rural Bihar the RJD and JDU are identified by their election symbols. Now, you will contest elections probably with a third symbol. What if someone takes one of your original symbols? It will create a lot of confusion among voters.
Now that our parties have come together, do you think it was simple? The Bihar election is full of challenges, but we have to find a way. People have spontaneously come together because of the situation in the country. You are talking of an election symbol, but there is no question of a symbol. People may not be educated but they have knowledge of skills like farming and the culture of this land. They do not have any problems in understanding election symbols.
We will speak to the Election Commission and ask them what laws have to be followed so that someone doesn’t take away our election symbol.
The merger has been announced, some responsibilities are under Mulayam Singh and a seven-member committee. They have already spoken to the Election Commission. Whatever the Election Commission says, we will do that.
Rakesh Sinha: It is very tough to distribute seats in Bihar.
It is difficult even within a party. There will be problems in seat distribution, but it’s not an issue. Take a look at the school we belong to. We started with a movement, Lohia formed the government, we brought Mandal Commission, which was such a massive step to correct social inequality. We conducted a caste census. I said conduct an X-ray of this country. One should know who is standing where. There are so many difficulties in this country that an outsider cannot fathom them. There will be difficulty, but they won’t be roadblocks.
Ajay Shanker: Earlier, it was all about connecting with the voters first hand. Now, there is the social media which spreads, immediately, every remark to millions of people. How does a politician of your seniority adapt to this new phenomenon?
There are 11 crore Advisasis in this country. What use do they have of a selfie? There are 17 crore Dalits. Ever since the BJP has won, they are saying the young have voted us to power. Aren’t there young among these communities? I don’t keep a cellphone and I do not face any problems. Now the spectrum has broadened – I don’t know what people say on Twitter and Facebook.
I raised the issue of dark complexion in Parliament. In this country, 70-80 per cent people are dark. Don’t matrimonial ads ask for smart and fair candidates. I spoke about ‘figure’. Dance is like yoga. So, I said south Indian women have good figures. And even women here who dance have good figures. Beauty has no connection with colour. I must have spoken for 5 seconds and all kinds of abuses were hurled at me.
Kaunain M Sheriff: The Modi government’s decision to allocate 42 per cent of the taxes to states has been criticised by the Nitish government. He says it is an eyewash and only the rich states will benefit from it.
Every government accepts the Finance Commission’s recommendations. This is not an exception. But a special package was given to the Bihar government which has not been disbursed yet. So, there has been a reduction in Central assistance.
Kaunain M Sheriff: And the special status to the state…
The Bengal Presidency had the largest number of poor people. The second largest source of employment was dastkari (handloom). About 60 per cent of the cloth produced in our country was made there. Half of Europe used to wear cloth produced by us. Then Lincolnshire got machines.
Bengal, Bihar, Eastern UP are backward because of certain historical and geographical reasons. And Bihar is the most backward out of these because the Ganga and most rivers of Nepal flow to Bihar. Some rivers are very swift. The Kosi was called the Sorrow of Bihar. There is a problem of floods and no industrial development can take place. When the division (of the state) happened, a large section of the mineral rich region got separated. So, this special package was announced for Bihar. Now, it is not being given.