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Who leads Opposition front immaterial, says Sharad Yadav on political landscape after Karnataka

Veteran politician Sharad Yadav has been an 11-term Member of Parliament, Union minister, and convener of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) speaks about the national political landscape after the assembly elections in Karnataka

india Updated: May 28, 2018 11:08 IST
Prashant Jha and Kumar Uttam
Prashant Jha and Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Sharad Yadav,BJP,NDA
Rebel Janata Dal (United) leader and former party president Sharad Yadav addressing a press conference in Ranchi.(HT File Photo)

Veteran politician Sharad Yadav has been an 11-term Member of Parliament, Union minister, and convener of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Now an active player in forging Opposition unity against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Yadav spoke to Prashant Jha and Kumar Uttam about the national political landscape after the assembly elections in Karnataka. Edited excerpts:

You were in Bengaluru along with other Opposition leaders. What was its significance?

In Karnataka, the BJP won 104 seats; the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance won 117 seats. In Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya, despite the Congress being the largest party, it did not get an opportunity to take oath. With a common Constitution, double standards were applied and the single-largest party was invited in Karnataka rather than the coalition with the majority. There was anger across the country on this and we in the Opposition were also disturbed. This was an oath-taking ceremony; even parties with differences amongst themselves were there. But there is no doubt that the anger of the country was reflected. We are working towards unity.

You were in Bengaluru along with other Opposition leaders. What was its significance?

In Karnataka, the BJP won 104 seats; the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance won 117 seats. In Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya, despite the Congress being the largest party, it did not get an opportunity to take oath. With a common Constitution, double standards were applied and the single-largest party was invited in Karnataka rather than the coalition with the majority. There was anger across the country on this and we in the Opposition were also disturbed. This was an oath-taking ceremony; even parties with differences amongst themselves were there. But there is no doubt that the anger of the country was reflected. We are working towards unity.

What is the role of the Congress in this proposed Opposition front? Rahul Gandhi recently said if it emerges as the single largest party, he is willing to be prime minister. Is that acceptable to regional parties?

If there is one party in the Opposition with a pan-India presence, it is the Congress. The Congress has strived for Opposition unity. Sonia Gandhi has called meetings thrice. The most important priority is battling the undeclared emergency in the country. This country got partitioned; but we maintained a composite culture in this country, despite religious, regional and caste divisions. The need of the hour is unity of all forces. All parties have an important role. But the Congress, because it is an all-India party, has a special role.

Rahul Gandhi said this in response to some question. But I am in touch with them, and I can tell you the Congress’s worry is also in getting all forces together.

Everyone can come together and resolve the question on leadership – either in advance or later. Let me give you an example. Who had projected Morarji Desai after Emergency? He became PM later, in two-three days. VP Singh became PM in 1989; he was not projected. Devi Lal was elected, and he proposed VP Singh’s name. In 1996, too, there was no projection. When (HD) Deve Gowda was proposed as in 1996, many people got to know his name for the first time.

The Opposition’s aim is to oust the BJP. That is the common aim. It has not fulfilled its promises, and instead raised non-issues — Taj Mahal, Tipu Sultan, Jinnah, cow. We need to protect the Constitution first.

In 2014, we saw an almost presidential-type election. Narendra Modi will remain the BJP’s face. Can the Opposition, without a face, take him on?

You named one person. Was there a man bigger than Jawaharlal (Nehru)? Was there a bigger mass leader than Indira Gandhi? If anyone got the maximum seats in Parliament, it was Rajiv Gandhi. This country and its people will not accept this presidential kind of system.

But the question is, how will you challenge Modi without a leader?

We did that in 1977. We did that in 1989. We did that in 1996. What is the need for a face? What is needed is a programme. The programme is the leader. The principle will be the leader. And that principle is sustaining and protecting the Constitution. Leadership can be decided in three-four hours. The country need not worry about this.

You were active in all three experiments — of 1977, 1989, and 1996 — but they did not last and collapsed in a few years.

This is a mischievous logic. There was Emergency in the country. But we protected India’s Constitution. Wasn’t that aim achieved? Now you cannot declare Emergency. Didn’t the Morarji government ensure that? How long the government survived is an important question. But the more important issue is that people came together to respond to the Emergency, and we ensured a constitutional amendment to ensure this cannot happen again. Protecting the Constitution is the first priority. Stability comes next. Yes, I admit that the governments on all three occasions could not remain stable. We have to ensure stability too.

But how will you assure the people that this Opposition front can provide stability now?

Our past experience will show us the light. We have to learn lessons and give a government for five years.

The BJP has built a broad social coalition. From being seen as a Brahmin-Bania party, it has both substantial OBC (other backward class) and Dalit support. How do you see this shift?

Our Janata Dal was a party of farmers and peasants. Chaudhary Charan Singh left us with the second-largest party. It got fragmented in 11-12 parts – Chimanbhai Patel, Devi Lal, Ajit Singh, Mulayam Singh, Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Navin Patnaik, HD Deve Gowda slowly left. The UPA (United Progressive Alliance)-2 was tainted with scams, it could not respond effectively. We all campaigned against it, and the Congress slipped to its worst. So in 2014, there was a vacuum. The BJP benefited from this vacuum.

When Mulayam and Mayawati came together in UP, see what happened. When the Mahagatbandhan was formed in Bihar, see what happened. The class you are referring to came back as soon as it saw that the old Janata Dal is one, with Congress on its side. Our fragmentation led to our supporters moving away. But they have now understood very clearly that the BJP is not their party. I can guarantee you that they will return as soon as fragmentation diminishes.

See, despite our fragmentation, non-BJP parties got 69% votes last time. Assume that 15% of that vote is minority vote, including Muslims, Christians and others. That still leaves the Opposition with 54% Hindu votes; it includes caste Hindus, backward classes, Dalits, and Adivasis. Assume all 31% of the BJP votes are Hindu votes. So the Opposition still got 23% more Hindu votes than the BJP. It is a misconception that Hindus are with them. There is no one Hindu. It is a social order. They will fail in their attempts to unite it.

To unite Hindus?

Yes. They will be completely unsuccessful. I have already given you the data. 54% Hindus are with us. If there is possible unity, not even complete unity, they will consolidate. The BJP will be cleaned up from the Ganga (Gangetic) belt. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are together in UP; we will see them (in Bihar); Mamata (Banerjee) will take care of them in Bengal.

Count the number of seats here. They came from the Ganga and they will disappear from the Ganga.

But this Ganga belt has also seen serious Hindu-Muslim conflicts, from the Jat-Muslim tensions to Dalit-Muslim violence. How will you manage that?

Their (the BJP’s) election speeches are geared towards religious tensions. Their aim is to trigger caste conflict. All that they do is act against the Constitution and composite culture. There are so many religions, castes, subcastes. There are so many contradictions here.

Even if one was to agree that the BJP benefits from a Hindu-Muslim rift, isn’t it the case that you benefit from intra-caste tensions within Hindus?

This is a big lie. Caste is an institution that goes back thousands of years. It is a reality, a reality recognised by the Constitution. To blame us for it is deeply unjust. The constitution has provisions for the disadvantaged. What the BJP and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) go around doing is inter-dining. But the institution of marriage keeps the caste system alive. The caste system is in this country’s soil. Resolving it is a long-term issue.

How will you cement the religious divide?

It is healed. See what happened in (bypolls in) Ajmer, Alwar, Gorakhpur, Phulpur, Araria. In Opposition unity, people from different communities can see their faces.

You split from Nitish Kumar on the question of understanding with the BJP. How do you assess his politics now?

He caused great damage to the nation, betrayed the faith of the millions who voted for the Mahagathbandhan. I had told him, I will never accept this. He did not listen to someone like me who made this party. He had promised to fight for Sangh-mukt Bharat. By going back on your commitment, you weaken democracy. He will be consigned to the dustbin of history.

There are some indications he has differences with the BJP. Is your door open, the Opposition’s door open, for him?

This is a hypothetical question. What he has committed is a big crime. He was giving me all kinds of greed. He collaborated with the BJP to take away my party and symbol. They have been vindictive. They have gone to court. They want me evicted. He has shown what depths a person can plunge to. What is the point of him return.

First Published: May 28, 2018 06:55 IST