The death of Sharad Yaday at 75 on January 12, 2023, has affected many of his followers and admirers across the country.
As a young anti-Emergency student leader from Madhya Pradesh he became a national leader after winning a parliament seat when he was just 27. From the 1974 Jayprakash Narayan movement, Yadav emerged as a socialist ideologue and a representative of the the Shudra and Other Backward Class social forces much before the concept and the category of ‘OBC’ became part of the national dictionary.
Though he was part of the young Shudra and OBC leadership that emerged in north India – chiefly from the socialist camps of Rammanohar Lohia and Karpuri Thakur – he went on to become a national face while others remained confined to their own states.
As Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar went back and forth from national politics to state politics, Sharad Yadav remained in the parliament, as a seven-time Lok Sabha PM and three-time Rajya Sabha MP, often fighting pro-poor battles there. A fine speaker in Hindi and logical thinker, he was a political strategist.
It was his political strategy that forced V.P. Singh to implement the Mandal Report in the face of opposition from Devi Lal, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Jat leader.
Let me quote Sharad Yadav himself said from my book The Shudras: Vision For a New Path. Once the Janata Dal government was formed, Yadav says:
“We started mobilizing all socialist leaders and putting pressure on the Janata Dal government to fulfil its manifesto promise of implementing the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. We strongly believed that without this, no true justice would be served to Shudras. V.P. Singh’s entourage vehemently opposed the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. To overcome this, he established a committee under the chairmanship of Chaudhary Devi Lal, the deputy prime minister and a prominent Jat leader. He knew it was due to Chaudhary Charan Singh’s intervention that Mandal did not include Jats in the list of backward classes.
“However, many local Jat leaders and groups were putting pressure on their political leaders to be included in the reservation category. Taking advantage of the situation, V.P. Singh played a master stroke. He was sure that being the most prominent Jat leader, Devi Lal would not implement the Mandal recommendations without including Jats, despite the fact that he was against it. Chaudhary Ajit Singh, general secretary of the Janata Dal and minister of industry, also started campaigning for the rights of backward classes and asserted that Jats be included in the OBC list.
“Devi Lal was caught in a political dilemma: On the one hand, he did not want Ajit Singh to take credit for the inclusion of Jats as a backward class, and on the other, he could not risk the ire of his own Jat community by not including them. Therefore, V.P. Singh thought this would be the end of the discussion on the Mandal Commission.
“On 3 August 1990, V.P Singh called me in the morning and said, ‘Brother Sharad, I can’t tolerate Chaudhary Devi Lal any more.’ I assured him that I would speak to Devi Lal and close this chapter once and for all. But I requested him not to drop Devi Lal from the cabinet. To this, Singh replied that he had already sent the order to the president. This made me discontinue the conversation.
“The next morning at 7 a.m., the prime minister sent one of his close aides to my residence to request me to come over to his office. For three long hours, we discussed Devi Lal and his political stand. He wanted to take me into confidence so that I did not jump ship with Devi Lal, which would have meant that he would not have remained prime minister any more.
“Taking advantage of the situation, I urged him to announce the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations immediately. He first agreed to make an announcement on 15 August 1990 from Red Fort. I had to tell him clearly that if he wanted to implement the recommendations, he had to do it before 9 August 1990; otherwise I would have no choice but to join Devi Lal’s rally in Delhi. As I saw it, the implementation of these recommendations would fulfil the dreams of Ambedkar, Karpoori Thakur, Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan, who believed and dreamt of an equitable society. The Janata Dal government he was leading and had emerged from socialist struggles.
“The backward classes who helped him get elected as prime minister, who were marginalized for more than thousands of years, were looking at him with just expectation to implement the recommendations submitted by the Mandal Commission. To save his government, Singh, after discussing it with a a few of his close political aides agreed to do so. On 6 August 1990, he called a cabinet meeting at his house at 6 p.m. with the main agenda of discussing the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations. Despite a warning from his close aides, the very next day, on 7 August 1990, the government accepted the Mandal Commission’s recommendations and announced that it would implement the reservation scheme under which 27 per cent jobs would be earmarked for OBCs.
“And finally, on 13 August 1990, it notified the implementation of OBC reservation. On 10 August 1990, the Dwija castes had started to protest against reservation. For about a month, students, bureaucrats and teachers participated in protests all over the country, public property was destroyed, and roads were blocked”.
But for young Sharad Yadav’s role in pushing the V.P. Singh government to implement the Mandal Commission Recommendation of 27% reservations and the pro- and anti-Mandal struggles on the streets, the Shudras and OBCs of India would not have had a crucial means to come where they have today.
But for the massive pro-Mandal social mobilisation of the Shudra and OBC population, even the Dwija-controlled Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party forces that opposed the Mandal reservations would not have allowed Narendra Modi, OBC leader, to lead them and become the prime minister of India.
All Shudra and OBC leaders, in whichever political party they are, owe their political status to this great fighter.
Kanca Ilaiah Shepherd is political theorist, social activist and writer. His books include God As Political Philosopher: Buddha’s Challenge Brahminism, Why I am Not a Hindu and Buffalo Nationalism.