As the voting in the final phase of the previous Lok Sabha elections ended on May 19, 2019, and exit polls started pouring in, predicting a landslide by the Narendra Modi-led BJP, Yogendra Yadav created a stir by declaring, “Congress must die“. “If it could not stop the BJP in this election to save the idea of India, this party (Congress) has no positive role in Indian history. Today it represents the single biggest obstacle to creation of an alternative,” Yadav had then tweeted.
Four days later, the election results saw the BJP returning to power with a resounding victory, with PM Modi retaining power with a bigger mandate than the 2014 polls, when he had spearheaded the party to triumph by defeating the incumbent Congress-led UPA that had been tottering since 2011 in the wake of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement.
Cut to September 8, 2022 morning, when Yadav went live on Facebook, as sea waves crashed onto a rocky shore behind him in Kanyakumari. Moments later, he would join the Congress’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra” launched by Rahul Gandhi from there, who will undertake along with his party Yatris a 3,570-km countrywide foot march over five months.
Clubbing these two episodes, Yadav’s critics have sought to project a “contradiction” between his words and deeds. And Yadav seems to be fully conscious of such a stinging critique of his move. “You will see the name of the Congress and see Rahul Gandhi’s pictures being splashed all over. But make no mistake, this Yatra does not belong to one party, or one individual. People from many mass movements have joined it. It is about the reclaiming of the Indian Republic. They will dismantle, we will build,” he said.
Days before joining the Yatra, Yadav stepped down from the coordination panel of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), which led the year-long farmer protests against the three controversial central agricultural laws, forcing the Modi government to finally repeal them in November 2021. Yadav has also asserted that while he will remain an SKM “foot soldier”, “energies of all movements and Opposition political parties should be joined to fight against the anti-farmer Modi government”.
In October last year, the SKM had suspended Yadav for a month for visiting the family of a BJP worker who was killed in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in Uttar Pradesh. Yadav had refused to apologise for having done so, saying one could not be partisan in grief.
Steeped in the socialist politics and traditions, Yadav considers Lohiaite Kishen Pattnayak, who represented Odisha’s Sambalpur constituency during 1962-1967, as his political guru. The two met at the Jawaharlal Nehru University from where Yadav obtained an MA in Political Science. Later, he got an M Phil in Political Science from Panjab University and taught there as an assistant professor during 1985-1993. Subsequently, he joined the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), where he worked as a senior fellow till 2009 and gained prominence as the country’s leading psephologist.
Days before Arvind Kejriwal founded the AAP in November 2012, Yadav formally joined hands with Kejriwal. Yadav’s move surprised many as he had not provided unqualified support to the Anna Hazare-led IAC movement conceived by Kejriwal, criticising regularly its anti-political system undertones and its espousal of “narrow nationalism”.
The then UPA government responded by removing him as a member of the University Grants Commission (UGC). In 2012, Yadav also resigned as an advisor of the NCERT (where he was supervising the development of new political science textbooks) over the government’s move to remove a political cartoon from a Class XI textbook.
Yadav’s stint with the AAP was smooth in the initial years. He contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election from the Gurgaon constituency, and lost even his deposit. Thereafter, cracks started developing within the AAP, but such rifts remained largely under wraps till the AAP’s sweep in the 2015 Delhi Assembly polls.
Few could foresee the AAP’s internal turmoil as Yadav continued to brief reporters, accurately predicting an AAP landslide, in the run-up to the Delhi elections. Soon after the poll verdict, however, Kejriwal jettisoned Yadav along with activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, with the AAP expelling them for alleged “anti-party activities”.
Yadav rejected Kejriwal’s charges, accusing him of allegedly deviating from the path of principled politics. He then went on to launch Swaraj Abhiyan and later turned it into a political party, Swaraj India, which also fought elections, including the 2017 Delhi municipal polls. Although Swaraj India has not got any electoral success so far, but with Yadav in the lead the party has continued to participate in various significant movements, especially those organised over issues like farm distress and youth unemployment.
The academic-turned-politician has written in the past that movements can become a springhead for the Congress’s revival. He would also explain his rationale for the use of his “metaphor of death” for the grand old party.
Writing for The Indian Express on May 22, 2019, Yadav said the Congress can either “die” by attrition, where it keeps getting marginalised and gradually loses traction with the voters, or by submergence. “…Where the remaining energy of the party (Congress) gets subsumed in a new, larger coalition. There is still a lot of energy in the country to take on the challenge to our republic. The ideal ‘death’ for the Congress would be for this energy, inside and outside the Congress, to merge into a new alternative,” he stated.