Skip to main content
xYOU DESERVE INDEPENDENT, CRITICAL MEDIA. We want readers like you. Support independent critical media.

Remembering Sharad Yadav, who Led Mandal Movement From the Front

Backward class leaders across political outfits owe their status to Sharad Yadav, the great fighter who is no more.
Sharad Yadav

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The death of Sharad Yadav on January 12, perhaps after a heart attack, has shocked his followers and admirers across the country. He was 75 years old. As a young anti-Emergency student leader from Madhya Pradesh, he became a national leader who won a Parliament seat at just 27 years of age in 1974, against the backdrop of the JP movement. He emerged as a socialist ideologue and representative of the shudra-backward class social forces much before the concept and category of Other Backward Classes or OBCs entered the national dictionary.

Though part of the youthful shudra-backward class team that emerged in North India from the socialist ideological network led by figures such as Ram Manohar Lohia and Karpoori Thakur, Yadav became its national face while others remained confined to their states. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar went back and forth from national to state politics, whereas Yadav remained in Parliament; seven times as a Lok Sabha member and thrice as a Rajya Sabha Member. A fine orator in Hindi, and a logical thinker, he was a political strategist who fought pro-poor battles in Parliament.

It is his political strategy that forced former prime minister, the late VP Singh, to implement the Mandal Commission Report despite strong opposition from Devi Lal, the deputy prime minister and leader of the jat community. Let me cite in detail from the chapter Yadav wrote in the book I co-edited with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy, Shudras: Vision For a New Path. In their chapter on “The Importance of Shudra Politics in India,” Yadav and Karuppusamy describe the concern among socialist leaders over the restlessness among the backward classes about the Janata Dal government’s manifesto promise to implement the Mandal Commission recommendation for 27% reservations in jobs to the socially and educationally backward classes. “We started mobilising all socialist leaders and putting pressure on the[government],” they write, adding, “We strongly believed that without this [reservation], no true justice would be served to Shudras.”

But, write Yadav and Karuppusamy, VP Singh’s entourage “vehemently opposed the Mandal Commission recommendations”. To overcome their reluctance, Singh established a committee headed by Devi Lal, as he knew Chaudhary Charan Singh’s intervention had stopped Mandal from including the Jat community in the list of backward classes despite local Jat leaders and groups favouring inclusion.

At this point, Yadav and Karuppusamy write about how Singh “delivered a master stroke”. Singh was convinced that though Devi Lal did not want jats in the reserved category, he would not implement the Mandal report unless his community featured in the reserved list. Meanwhile, Chaudhary Ajit Singh, the general secretary of the Janata Dal and industries minister, was campaigning for jat inclusion in the list of OBCs. Devi Lal was therefore caught in a political dilemma. “...he did not want Ajit Singh to take credit for the inclusion of Jats….[but he also] could not risk the ire of his community by not including them.” This, Singh had thought, “would be the end of the discussion on the Mandal Commission”.

Yadav then explains how he intervened in this complex situation. “On 3 August 1990, VP Singh called me in the morning and said, ‘Brother Sharad, I can’t tolerate Chaudhary Devi Lal any more.’” Yadav assured Singh he would speak to Devi Lal and settle the matter and requested Singh not to drop Devi Lal from the Cabinet. But Singh had already sent such an order to the President, at which point Yadav discontinued the conversation.

Here is how he describes what happened next: “The next morning at 7 a.m., the prime minister sent one of his close aides to my [Yadav’s] 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.” This was because the Lok Dal had over seventy parliamentarians and had supported the Janata Dal government, but its Members of Parliament had received a disproportionate share in the Cabinet, from the prime ministership to home affairs, external affairs, defence, and others.

“Taking advantage of the situation,” Yadav writes, he urged the prime minister to “announce the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations immediately”. Singh first agreed to announce on August 15, 1990 from the Red Fort. But Yadav “had to tell him clearly that if he wanted to implement the recommendations, he had to do it before 9 August 1990,” or he would have no choice but to join Devi Lal’s rally in Delhi. Yadav writes about the significance of the Mandal recommendations to him. He felt they would “fulfil the dreams of BR Ambedkar, Karpoori Thakur, Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan, who believed and dreamt of an equitable society”.

That is how, to save his government, on August 6, 1990, Singh called a Cabinet meeting at his home at 6 p.m. to discuss implementing the Mandal recommendations. The authors continue, “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… And finally, on 13 August 1990, it notified the implementation of OBC reservation.”

The Janata Dal government Singh was leading, Yadav reminds hisreaders, had emerged from socialist struggles. The backward classes, which helped him get elected as prime minister, and who had been marginalised for thousands of years, had been looking at him with just expectation to implement the Mandal report.

If young Sharad Yadav had not pushed the VP Singh government to implement the Mandal Commission, the shudra-OBCs of India would not have reached the position they have today.

Members of dwija castes started protesting against reservation on August 10, 1990. For about a month, students, bureaucrats and teachers participated in protests all over the country, public property was destroyed, and roads were blocked. Hence, if not for the pro- and anti-Mandal struggles on the streets, there would be no reservation for the OBCs.

And if not for the massive pro-Mandal mobilisation of backward social groups, the dwija-controlled RSS-BJP, which opposed these reservations, would not have allowed Narendra Modi, from a backward class, to lead them and become Prime Minister. All shudra-backward class leaders, whichever political party they are in, owe their political status to Sharad Yadav, the great fighter who is no more.

The author is a political theorist, social activist and author, including of From Shepherd Boy to an Intellectual—My Memoirs. The views are personal.

Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.

Subscribe Newsclick On Telegram