Editor's note: This is part of a multi-article series on the jobs crisis in the three states crucial to Lok Sabha election 2019: Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
About five kilometres from the bustling ghats of Varanasi, stands a solitary, forlorn, under construction building. A meticulous walk through the sand-strewn path around the building leads to an entrance that is yet to be armed with a door. Dozens of red plastic chairs occupy the dimly lit ground floor, along with three noisy table fans operating with an electricity connection that seems to be temporary. It is the base of Tej Bahadur Yadav and his team, who have been campaigning in Varanasi since 5 April.
Before Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav backed his candidature from Varanasi, Tej spent about two years out of a job. With the country currently grappling with a 45-year high unemployment rate, Yadav has been one of the high profile ones to be out of work.
Dismissed as a BSF jawan in April 2017, he kept himself busy by toiling in his 2.5-acre farmland in Haryana. “We could not eat on time, we could not pay rent on time,” says Tej, 43. “We even struggled to pay my son’s college fees. Our house used to survive on the salaries of my wife and me. Suddenly, I had no income.”
After 21 years of service, Yej hit headlines in 2016 after he uploaded a video exposing the rotten food served to the jawans in the mountains. “I made the video because I thought Narendra Modi genuinely cared for jawans,” he says. “I thought if I showed the reality, he would act on it and make our lives better. He broke that trust.”
The video went viral, embarrassed the ruling party, and he was subsequently dismissed. After the dismissal, Tej says, he protested, approached the court, but he did not get justice. “I had to pay the lawyer’s fees, and I did not have money for that either,” he says. “My wife works as an operator in a private company. We managed to survive on her salary. If not for her, we would have been on the road.”
Eventually, he decided to take the political plunge, and contest from Varanasi, directly taking on Modi. “If you want to create history, there is no better place than Varanasi to do that,” he says. “I did not want to join politics. The country’s jawans told me until I get into Parliament, we cannot fight them. It is the best way to get heard.”
Tej says he wrote to all the political parties for support, and Akhilesh backed him to contest on the Samajwadi Party symbol. “I had no infrastructure. No money. Nothing,” he says. “Akhilesh ji said your problems are our problems. I was impressed that a poor man like me was given this opportunity.”
Wearing a military jacket and bottle-green trousers, Yadav is drenched in sweat at 10 in the night when he sits for an interview at the under-construction building near the Manduadih railway station. He begins the day at 8 in the morning, campaigns mostly on foot, goes door-to-door with his team in the scorching summer. His team includes former security personnel as well as the ones dismissed from service for one reason or another.
Except there is a problem. The Election Commission has cancelled his candidature for his failure to prove that “he was not sacked for either corruption or disloyalty”. “I will be approaching the Supreme Court,” he says. “This is foul play.”
But irrespective of whether the electoral game goes in his favour, Tej says, he is in it for the long haul. “I will be travelling across the country, campaigning against Modi even after the elections,” he says. “Look at the agrarian crisis in India. I farmed for two years when I was unemployed. I realised how difficult it is for farmers to stay afloat.”
In two cropping seasons, Tej says, after toiling day in and day out, he ended up making only Rs 10,000 as profit. “My district of Mahendragarh in Haryana has an acute water shortage,” he says. “I cultivated bajra and the harvest languished in the mandi (wholesale market) for 15 days in the rain. Half of it was ruined. The government didn’t procure on time.”
Tej’s tryst with farming had more to do with keeping himself busy. He had nothing that kept him occupied, apart from the case he had been fighting. “My family suffered a lot during that period,” he says.
In January this year, his only son, Rohit, aged 22, was found dead in their family home in Haryana’s Rewari with a gun in his hand. Yadav was not around when it happened. “The police have not been able to determine anything,” he says. “But they did not rule out the possibility of suicide. I know he was disturbed after my dismissal and the spotlight that followed.”
Before his son died, Tej’s father suffered a heart attack. “I did not have the money to treat him,” he says. “My brother made the arrangements for the surgery.”
Tej’s brother is also in the BSF. He has another brother in the police force. His nephew serves in the army. And his grandfather was a freedom fighter, who was later honoured by Indira Gandhi. “Yet, I am anti-national,” grins Yadav. “The biggest threat to national security is the politics over armed forces. They know they will get sympathy votes only when jawans die.”
He knows he would be targeted for the things he says. His 21 years of service in the BSF would count for zilch. “There is a video going viral now, where I am seen drinking,” he says. “They are now trying to malign me by suggesting I am a drunkard. The video is from June or July 2017. We had made an organisation after I was sacked. A police officer, who was victimised by the Delhi Police was also part of the organisation. One day he invited me over for a drink after we had had a long day. And he made the video that night. When I decided to contest against Modi, he called me and asked for Rs 10 lakh in return for the video. I said if I had Rs 10 lakh, I would not be in Banaras.”
Yadav reminds himself of his grandfather’s lesson whenever he is subjected to such attacks. “He used to tell us that the same people who celebrated freedom had earlier sided with the Brits,” he says. “Those who call us anti-nationals today are similar to them.”
Down but not out, battered but not broken. At 11.30 pm, he calls it a day. A rectangular room attached to the basement of the under-construction building is where he spends his nights. Bed sheets spread on the floor, clothes hung on the wall, and a table fan circulating the warm air and the dusty smell. Yadav, before concluding the interview, says he would continue to fight until he is alive, and unwittingly invokes Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind. “Kal naya din hai, (Tomorrow is a new day)” he says.
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Updated Date: May 07, 2019 10:39:27 IST