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A young Yogendra Yadav, then in his third year of law school, was back home in rural Jharkhand for a vacation. As he made his way to a game of cricket with old friends, he noticed that a house abutting the field was being torn down. He approached the despondent owner, who said that an influential local had told him that since he did not hold a title to the property, the house was being demolished so that the land could be sold. The budding lawyer immediately arranged transportation for the entire family that had been living in the house, took them to the nearest police station, and ensured that a First Information Report was filed.
Once the process was completed, the Station House Officer (SHO) offered him some advice.
“Zyada neta mat bano , padhai pe dhyan do”. (Don’t try and be too much of a leader, focus on your studies).
It was then that Yogendra Yadav, now all of 26, decided that he would enter politics at some stage. Hailing from the remote Chatra parliamentary constituency in Jharkhand, Yogi, as he is known to his friends, has taken the plunge sooner rather than later.
He worked as a domestic servant and was soundly thrashed for breaking some crockery while still a child, and herded goats and supplied newspapers to a few stores in his village. These were just some of the things Yogi did to put himself through higher secondary school. He completed his law from the National University for Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), thanks to a chance meeting with an IDIA volunteer, who evangelised the law and legal education to him. Soon he was an IDIA scholar and his college fees paid by one of IDIA’s biggest donors Somasekhar Sundaresan.
Why then, after landing a law degree against the odds from a reputed law school, did Yogi decide to enter the murky waters of politics, and that too barely a year after graduating? I asked the unassuming, soft-spoken young man this question.
The answer was simple.
“I became involved with some social causes while still in law school, and every time I tried to get justice for aggrieved parties, it re-enforced the feeling within me that the only way local authorities would take you seriously was if you had political clout.”
But why so soon? Why not give the law a little longer?
“IDIA always encouraged me to take up community causes and help as best as I could, They were training me to become a CHAMP and this is all part of that. Upon IDIA’s recommendation, Som Sir (Sundaresan) agreed to pay me a stipend even after I graduated from law school so I could pursue litigation at the Jharkhand High Court. When I met him recently and told him that I wanted to contest parliamentary elections this year, he asked me if the desire came from my heart. When I said yes, he simply said, ‘Go ahead then. What is the worst that can happen? You may lose and can then go back to practicing law.’” I also received encouragement from IDIA’s trustees to pursue this line, if I was passionate about it. They are all now trying to help me raise funds for the campaign.’”
Sundaresan’s words and a bicycle tour of the constituency undertaken over two and a half months strengthened Yogi’s conviction. He met over 30,000 people and traveled over 800 kilometers, by his own estimation. His primary objective was to conduct what he dubs a socio-political survey, to understand the primary needs of the people, as well as what they expect from their representative in Parliament. The overwhelming feedback, he said, was that apart from basic expectations, people wanted a representative who would be available to meet them and hear their grievances for at least four or five days every month. Not just sit around in Ranchi or Delhi and enjoy the benefits that come with power.
When I asked Yogi what he thought his chances were, the fearlessness and optimism of youth shone through.
“I got encouragement wherever I went, but I also got some advice. Many people told me that getting the organisational and financial support that comes with contesting on a national party ticket would boost my chances, which I feel are still good at the moment.”
Given the grand coalition that the opposition has entered into to counter the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it is unclear who Chatra will go to. So how is he funding his campaign, and how does he plan to take on the might of experienced players?
“I have received funding from Som sir, former professors, and alumni and former classmates at NUSRL and support and encouragement from IDIA. I must also acknowledge the contribution of my former professor Nimesh Das Guru, who has advised me on strategy and given me a lot of encouragement and instilled a sense of confidence within me.
I don’t intend to address massive rallies, my strategy is to interact with as many people in the constituency that I can and tell them what I think I can bring to the table. I think the funding that I have will be sufficient for this, and basic publicity in the form of pamphlets and banners.”
What is it that he intends to bring to the table?
“My primary focus will be on education, as I have experienced firsthand how it can break the shackles.”
He told me that Chatra, which is educationally very backward, had a fairly large number of students who completed their higher secondary education. But after that, their horizons were limited. They tried to secure jobs either with the police or with the Army, and those that were slightly more aware looked at the Railways as an option.
“I want to eventually establish an organization similar to IDIA which educates youngsters on the options they have as far as higher education is concerned and how to go about pursuing them”, he added.
He added that he would work on ensuring that government schools, which in some instances have teacher-student ratios in excess of 1:100, stop existing purely as buildings where a midday meal is dished out. Yogi’s father, who is a labourer, has some concerns about the dangers his son faces in his pursuit. His mother has told him to do what makes him happy. Should this young man defeat the overwhelming odds one more time in his life, he will have set a unique record. He will become the first Member of Parliament for Chatra, who is actually a resident of the district, and that will be quite something.
He feels that a local’s understanding of the hearts, minds, social equations, executive machinery, and most importantly, empathy towards constituents, would be vital in dragging Chatra out of the darkness.