A bright red SUV with posters of Yogendra Yadav waits outside a bungalow in Sushant Lok, Gurgaon. The bungalow, which belongs to Yadav’s sister, a doctor at nearby Rewari, has become the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) headquarters in Gurgaon. There is a small lawn in front. The ground-floor rooms are bare but for a couch and some mattresses. Young volunteers — one of whom has taken a break from her job at the Philippines — walk in and out. Some pore over laptops; others plan the day’s schedule. It’s 9.15 am and Yadav is supposed to soon travel to the nearby Metro station to meet commuters. Later in the day, he is supposed to head to the malls, which are aplenty in Gurgaon. But Yadav, the 50-year-old chief strategist of the Aam Aadmi Party who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Gurgaon, is asleep. “He is not well,” says a young man.
The tour of Gurgaon city eventually gets cancelled. Though barely 10 days are left for campaigning, Yadav, the psephologist-turned-politician, knows that this one miss is not going to cost him much. Modern Gurgaon, which boasts the third highest per capita income in the country, constitutes less than 10 per cent of the constituency. “Of the remaining, 20 per cent is urban and 70 per cent is rural,” Yadav says later in the day. It is the rural parts of the constituency — Mewat and its visibly poor towns and villages — that Yadav is focused on. That’s where the winner will be decided.
“He knows rural India very well,” says Ashutosh Kumar, professor of political science at Panjab University, Chandigarh. Yadav too taught political science at Panjab University before he got associated with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi. While in Chandigarh, he shunned the city’s well-planned sectors and instead opted to live in one of its villages, Dadu Majra. “He wanted to be with the poor and the marginalised. He’s always had that socialist bent,” says Kumar who is also associated with CSDS.
In Gurgaon too, Yadav has an army of educated, young volunteers, many of whom have taken a break from their jobs, fanning out in the rural areas to connect with the poor. Every morning, teams of AAP’s young women volunteers — officially called ‘AAP Progressive Women-Gurgaon’ — head out to the Mewat region, dominated by the Meo Muslims, to win over the village women who would seldom attend rallies meetings, let along speak up. Postcards with Yadav’s Sushant Lok address are distributed and the women and men are encouraged to write in with their problems. How many write back? The “hit rate” is not known, though Sheilza Bhatia, the coordinator for the women’s teams, says people are using the postcards to convey their problems.
Teams are also at work in downtown Gurgaon, which houses the country’s top corporations. “The team working in Suncity (an upscale residential area), for example, is very different from the team heading out to the villages,” says Yadav. “But the agenda of both is common — that we can have cities that are not built at the cost of the nearby villages.”
The Aam Aadmi Party’s brief and choppy rule in Delhi has made several people view it as a party of anarchists; Yadav’s friends say that at least one party leader and ‘anarchy’ don’t go hand in hand. “It is practically impossible to provoke him. He has tremendous control over his temperament,” says Kumar. “He is argumentative and has a way with words. He reminds me of [Congress leader] Shashi Tharoor, only he has more substance.” The canny political scientist switches from English to Hindi with ease. And, with equal ease he navigates the spectrum of urban elite to rural. Those who have observed Yadav closely marvel at his ability to hold together a large group of people, though many of them might have huge egos. So, if there is anybody who can hold AAP together, it is Yadav. This is his USP.
This was leveraged by the party to increase its footprint across the country. After the party gave up power in Delhi, Yadav renewed his efforts to bring grassroots organisations — farmers’, tribal and fishermen’s movements — within the party’s folds. “In the first phase, he (Yadav) attended several meetings with members of these movements,” says Ajit Jha, Delhi University professor who is now coordinating with these organisations for AAP from Delhi. “But now we are in intense campaign mode. For the next month or so, Yadav is himself a candidate.”
Subhash Ware, whose Rashtra Seva Dal is connected with about 15 movements of fishermen, farmers, landless workers and tribes across Maharashtra, says the dialogue, initiated by Yadav, has increased. “He, along with some core members, is trying to work out how to get ideologically different movements associated with AAP, while retaining their individuality.” As a result, Medha Patkar, earlier an AAP sympathiser, is now an active member of the party. So is social activist Subhash Lomate, the president of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad, a non-political organisation working particularly for unorganised workers. Lomte brought along 3,000 of his supporters when he joined AAP. There are other names too, such as anti-graft and RTI activist B Ramakrishna Raju from Andhra Pradesh.
Yadav comes from a family of academicians. His father retired as a professor of economics. His paternal grandfather was also a teacher. But the ease with which Yadav has succeeded in making the transformation from academics to politics isn’t surprising. “The seed for politics was planted during his days at Jawaharlal Nehru University,” says his father who lives in the family’s ancestral, over-a-century-old haveli in the Saharanwas village of Rewari. He got influenced by socialist leader Kishan Patnaik who had been a member of the Socialist Party under Ram Manohar Lohia. “And on January 1, 1995, the day Patnaik floated his political party called Samajwadi Jan Parishad, he joined it,” says Devendra Singh.
Yadav’s father is a tall man, with long limbs. At 83, he is sharp and physically fit. Yadav clearly takes after him. And not just in appearance. AAP was still in power in Delhi when Business Standard visited Devendra Singh in his haveli. “My ‘uninvited’ suggestion is: ‘Go for the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats instead of limiting yourself to Delhi. That way you can reach maximum number of people’,” he had said. That’s precisely what AAP is doing.
And what are Yadav’s chances in Gurgaon? Former Ranbaxy CEO Atul Sobti, the editor of the city’s first weekly newspaper, Friday Gurgaon, says, “I really believe he is the kind of person you want and need. There’s no double in my mind about this.”