"Kripya yahaan pair na chhue" (Don't touch feet here) – this sign would stare at you in the face as soon as you entered Sharad Yadav's official residence on New Delhi's Tughlak Road. In a political culture in which politicians encouraged blind adulation, Sharad Yadav was unique in his opposition to any kind of personality cult or sycophancy.
This opposition to political bhakti was surprising given that Yadav had been a Union Minister and president of three political parties at different points in time.
Yes, his socialism and commitment to the politics of social justice defined his political ideology and are key to understanding Sharad Yadav's politics. But Sharad Yadav's political trajectory was shaped by something else – his commitment to Parliamentary politics and opposition to concentration of power in the hands of an individual. Right from the anti-Emergency protests of the 1970s till the present day, this defined Sharad Yadav's political choices.
Staunch Commitment to Parliamentary Politics
My first interaction with Sharad Yadav was during the 2011 India Against Corruption agitation, being led by Anna Hazare. Yadav, at that time was the convenor of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP.
Even though the Anna Hazare movement was helping the NDA and eroding the political capital of the then United Progressive Alliance government, Yadav was wary of it and the political impact it would have.
"The Parliament is the correct forum for making laws. Laws can't be decided in this manner," he would say. Yadav believed that the Anna movement's tendency to mock politicians and the political process was a disturbing trend and could pave the path for a more authoritarian form of politics.
Support for Atal Bihari Vajpayee But Opposition to Narendra Modi
Our second long interaction was around 2013 after the BJP chose Narendra Modi as the head of its campaign committee. While calling it BJP's prerogative, Yadav said that the NDA's PM candidate should be decided by consensus and can't be unilaterally chosen by the BJP. It was clear that he wasn't happy with Modi's rise within the BJP and was open to reconsidering his continuation in the NDA if Modi did indeed become the BJP's PM candidate.
He began opposing Modi as the PM candidate even before Nitish Kumar adopted that position. Later when Kumar too, took the same position, the alliance was over.
What explained Sharad Yadav's opposition to Modi despite having been part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government at the Centre?
"NDA was ruled by consensus under Atalji's time," Sharad Yadav would say, hinting that Modi's rise would mean a completely different ethos.
Yadav was right in hindsight, given how the NDA has developed over the years. Presently it doesn't even have a proper convenor.
Relationship With Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar
Even within the parties Sharad Yadav has been part of, his opposition to concentration of power made him fall out with Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar at different points of time.
When Sharad Yadav was president of the Janata Dal in the mid 1990s, the then Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad had become a major power centre within the party and, in some ways, considered himself larger than the Janata Dal.
Though critically dependent on Lalu Prasad for his own political base, Sharad Yadav didn't give in and this eventually led to a split in the Janata Dal with Lalu Prasad walking out along with leaders like Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Mohammad Taslimuddin and Abdul Bari Siddiqui.
Sharad Yadav lost to Lalu Yadav from the Madhepura Lok Sabha seat in 1998 but defeated him in 1999 and lost again in 2004.
The falling out with Nitish Kumar two decades later was similar. Sharad Yadav was committed to the Mahagathbandhan and played a key role in bringing the RJD, Janata Dal (United) and Congress together in Bihar for the 2015 Assembly elections.
But when Nitish Kumar decided to dump the Mahagathbandhan and join the NDA, Yadav didn't want to be part of it. He left the Janata Dal (United) and a few months later formed the Loktantrik Janata Dal, which remained with the UPA.
Sharad Yadav was not a mass leader like Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar. He wasn't even from Bihar, where he contested most of his elections. However, Sharad Yadav refused to be a pushover or a rubber stamp.
His position in national politics was similar. He has allied with and opposed both the Congress and BJP at different points of time. The common thread was that whichever leader tried to accumulate too much power - be it Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi or Narendra Modi - they would find an opponent in Sharad Yadav.
With his demise, India has lost a stellar parliamentarian and democrat. May he rest in peace.