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Sharad in caste cauldron

When Sharad Yadav came to contest Bihar’s Madhepura seat in 1991, he was an outsider. But by then he was already a key cog in the erstwhile Janata Dal’s wheels spearheaded by VP Singh and Choudhary Devi Lal at the national level. Lalu Prasad, a newly anointed chief minister, and Nitish Kumar, a first time MP from Barh — were still growing up under Sharad’s “tutelage”.

Old timers vividly recall how Lalu readily offered Sharad, then an MP from Badayun (UP), to contest the Yadav bastion of Madhepura. Nitish, a comrade in arms with Lalu and also Sharad’s affable “protégé”, happily welcomed the Yadav from Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh) in Madhepura, which never had sent an “outsider” non-Yadav to the Lok Sabha.

The Lalu-Nitish duo were still dependent on Sharad for the right elevation of their career at the national level. Sharad too backed the duo — fast emerging as strong backward class leaders on Bihar’s horizon — to strengthen his clout in what he had adopted as his base.

Twenty-three years down the line, the squares on Madhepura’s chessboard have changed drastically. Lalu, who fell out with Sharad in 1997, wrested Madhepura from him in 1998 for a brief period. Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, a fledging “don” in Kosi region who had managed Sharad’s poll campaign then, is now threatening to do what Lalu had done to Sharad’s fortunes in 1998.

Nitish had parted ways with Sharad even earlier, when he formed his Samata Party in 1994. Nitish subsequently aligned with the BJP. He returned to Sharad’s company almost after a decade by merging his Samata Party with the JD(U) in 2004. Incidentally, the only dependable asset that Sharad has in his battle against the Lalu-Pappu duo today is Nitish’s performance in Madhepura — part of the flood-ravaged Kosi region.

“The problem with Sharad is Nitish’s performance is not that potent an issue in the current polls. Also, Nitish belongs to a caste (Kurmi) that has hardly any presence in Madhepura. Had Nitish been a Yadav, his caste, coupled with his performance, might have made a winning cocktail for Sharad,” remarked Lalitesh Mishra, professor of English at a Madhepura college.

The English professor’s remarks are quite apt in the context of Madhepura — a caste cauldron that still adheres to the adage — “Jaati ki beti jaati ko, jaati ka vote jaati ko (Dine in caste and marry in caste).”

Whatever notoriety Pappu, the “don” has earned, his calling card is the dominance of his caste folk, Yadavs, who, along with the Muslims, constitute almost 4.75 lakh of Madhepura’s electorate. Moreover, he is the candidate of Lalu Prasad’s RJD, which, if reports from the ground are to be believed, is the flavour of the Yadavs and Muslims, this poll season. In spite of being fully aware that Madhepura has not sent a non-Yadav to the Lok Sabha ever since the seat came into existence in 1967, the BJP has fielded Vijay Kushwaha, a Koiri.

BJP mandarins are confident of securing most of about 2.75 lakh upper caste (Rajput and Brahmin) votes. They see a chance for Kushwaha in the event of a division of votes between the two Yadavs, Sharad and Pappu.

Whether Sharad wins or loses, he is no longer an outsider to Madhepura. He got a house built in Madhepura in the 1990s, making the constituency his home. Anointed with the “best parliamentarian award” in the outgoing Lok Sabha, Sharad is a revered and respected figure in the constituency that had sent Congress veteran BP Mandal to the Lower House in 1967.

Many of Sharad’s detractors dub him “arrogant” and “abrasive”. But unlike Lalu and Nitish, who took years to become what they are today, Sharad made a phenomenal entry in politics. He was chosen by Jayaprakash Narayan way back in 1974 as the first “people’s candidate” in a byelection for the Jabalpur seat. Sharad, a gold medallist engineer, won the seat and repeated his victory from the same seat in 1977, earning the attention of JP and other high and mighty, including Choudhary Charan Singh and Devi Lal.

A veteran of many a battle, Sharad won the Badayun seat in UP in 1989 before making Madhepura his pocket-borough that he has won four times.

Asked recently how he saw his prospects in Madhepura this time around, Sharad had told The Telegraph: “Main rajniti ka fakir hoon. Mera koi ghar Dilli mein nahin hai. Desh ke kai seaton se lada hoon. Janata jab chunti hai to Dilli mein sarkari ghar mein rahta hoon (I am a political hermit. I have no house in Delhi. I have fought elections in many states across the country. I live in a government house at Delhi only when people elect me).”

l Madhepura votes today