When the nation was glued to their television sets watching whether or not Prince would survive his fall in the pit, Sharad Yadav was perhaps the only person confident that the boy would. His reason? “He is a worker’s child who is brave and has the grit to battle against the odds,” said the JD(U) leader, adding, “Unlike children of affluent parents who faint and fall like men of straw.” So Yadav believes that ‘sons of soil’ are made of sterner stuff. Not his children though, who, he rues, run helter skelter in a crisis. “They are even scared of the dark.” Clearly, his rural background has not rubbed off on his kids: “They are typical Delhiites, middle-class children who study in convents and lack courage.”
Sharad’s family belies the rustic image one has of him. His wife, Rekha, holds a doctorate in botany and is a trained dancer. Sharad’s own interest in classical music is something difficult to associate with his persona. He has spent days at the feet of Ustad Allaudin Khan learning Raag Bhim Palasi and Miya ki todi. Sharad recalls his times with Khan: “When he played the atmosphere was charged.”
He was also influenced by Acharya Rajneesh, whom Sharad describes as “gyani aur khoobsurat” (learned and good-looking). The two had a bet on who would die first. Rajneesh was convinced that politics would take its toll on Sharad while Sharad believed that his disconnect with reality would kill him. “He was scared of me,” claims Sharad. The friendship ended when Rajneesh assumed the title ‘Bhagwan’, switching from the earlier ‘Acharya’.
Sharad’s initial claim to fame was his feat of jumping into a well to save a woman attempting suicide. He had tied her to a rope and carried her on his shoulder amid applause. Since then, he was declared the ‘local hero’ and honoured by the district administration. A cash reward of Rs 10 was also announced. It was here that he had his first brush with bureaucratic corruption. When he opened the envelope, the Rs 10 note was missing. “Just an empty envelope,” he recalls, stating that corruption is nothing new.
Rewind to Sharad’s college days and he has a long list of musclemen whom the Congress was allegedly backing in the university elections: Hira Pahalwan, Brinda Seth and Satu Pahalwan, who fed him the Bihari favourite of sattu and jalebi under veiled threats of ensuring en bloc voting for Hira.
Sharad savoured the jalebi but formed a youth brigade to oppose entry of criminals into the fray. It was 500 students against five criminals — with the 500 beating up the ‘pahalwans’ with mosquito net rods stolen from the college hostel.
Sharad attributes his bravery to his ancestors who, he claims, are direct descendants of the Rani of Jhansi. His great-granduncle had bagged a contract to liquidate dacoits and was awarded a village as prize money.