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‘Netaji’ Mulayam Singh Yadav, Samajwadi Party founder who kept allies & rivals guessing

Three-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh breathed his last at a private hospital in Haryana's Gurugram Monday where he was under treatment since last week.

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Lucknow: In an akhada (a traditional wrestling ground) of Etawah’s Rajpur village in the early 1960s, a youngster from Saifai took on a well-known wrestler, Saryuddin Tripathi, and tamed him in a bout that lasted half an hour.

Years passed, the youngster, Mulayam Singh Yadav, rose to become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh but his passion for wrestling remained undiminished. An apocryphal story goes that when a young bahubali (strong man) neta arrived at ‘Pancham Tal’ — the CM’s office on the fifth floor of Annexe Bhawan —  in the summer of 1990, Mulayam, then 50, folded his dhoti and wrestled down his rival.

Netaji [Mulayam] was well-known for his ‘charkha daav’. It was said that if Mulayam used his move on someone in politics, his opponent would have to submit,” BJP MLC Narendra Bhati, who was previously with the Samajwadi Party (SP), told ThePrint reminiscing the exploits of three-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister who died Monday at a private hospital in Gurugram.

The political ‘daav-pech’  (strategies) of the wily Yadav could catch both his adversaries and friends off guard. Chandra Shekhar, the late former prime minister who once shared cordial ties with Mulayam, had a taste of it firsthand. 

The Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP) chief’s plans were first foiled when he attempted to send his supporter Mohan Singh to the Rajya Sabha in 1992 but Mulayam ensured his younger brother Ram Gopal Yadav entered the Upper House of Parliament. It was followed by an astute move. The one-time school master parted ways with Chandra Shekhar and announced the formation of the Samajwadi Party in September 1992. 

Journey to becoming Lohiaite

Born on 22 November 1939 at Saifai village in Etawah district, Mulayam did his schooling in his village school and graduated from K.K. College. He became an assistant teacher at Jain Inter College, Karhal in 1963

In his book ‘Mulayam Singh Yadav Aur Samajwad’, author Deshbandhu Vashisht writes that during the agitation launched by (Ram Manohar) Lohia against the UP government’s decision to hike the irrigation rates of water supplied to farmers, 14-year-old Mulayam courted arrest and was lodged in Etawah jail in 1954.

It was in his college days that Mulayam came under the influence of Socialist Party giants Ram Manohar Lohia and Raj Narain. 

An effective orator, Mulayam was elected as the president of the students’ union of his college and honed skills under his political mentor Nathu Singh and socialist leader Arjun Singh Bhadauria, who introduced him to Lohia.

This was the time when Lohia’s Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP) was running campaigns against English language along with abolition of casteism and hiked prices, Vashisht writes.

Mulayam made his electoral debut from Jaswantnagar on an SSP ticket in 1967 and became an MLA from the seat “gifted to him by Nathu Singh”, senior journalist Sunita Aron wrote in her book, ‘Akhilesh Yadav: Winds of Change’.

As he became engrossed in politics, Mulayam resigned from Jain Inter College in 1984

Mass leader with tight grip on cadre

“Under the patronage of Lohia, Raj Narain and later Charan Singh whose outfits fought against the Congress, he grew as a politician and was the one behind the rout of Congress in Uttar Pradesh,” Kunwar Rewati Raman Singh, a founding member of SP, told ThePrint.

In 1977, Mulayam became a cabinet minister in UP for the first time when the Janata Party replicated its stupendous show of the Lok Sabha election earlier that year.  

“With the death of Charan Singh [in 1987] resulting in a power tussle over inheritance of  Lok Dal and his son Ajit Singh claiming his father’s legacy, the Lok Dal was split and two outfits were formed: Ajit-led Lok Dal (A) and Hemwati Bahuguna led-Lok Dal (B),” reads the book, ‘Mulayam Singh: A Political Biography’, by authors Ram Singh and Anshuman Yadav.

The real force behind the Lok Dal (B) was Mulayam, the book notes, adding that Mulayam merged the Lok Dal (B) with the Janata Dal in 1989 and went on to become the Uttar Pradesh CM for the first time that year.

But Mulayam’s politics was pragmatic, said Sukhram Singh Yadav, the son of socialist leader and Samajwadi Party founding member Harmohan Singh Yadav.

Sukhram told ThePrint that Mulayam’s work at grassroot-level helped him to retain power amid a clutch of disunited non-Congress parties during the 1980s and 1990s.

Narrating an incident, Sukhram said former PM V.P. Singh refrained from mentioning his name during his speech at Kanpur at a campaign for local body polls in the late 1980s. “…Netaji stopped him thrice and forced him to take my name. That was the respect and regard he had for his workers.” 

A similar anecdote was narrated by socialist leader Sunilam, who once had 66 cases lodged against him and farmers in the aftermath of the 1998 Multai police firing in Madhya Pradesh.

Netaji would always think about his workers. Usually, leaders of his stature don’t care for party workers. When I was facing criminal cases in connection with the [firing] incident, Netaji told me that he was worried and tried to speak to lawyers. He told me that he felt I would be convicted and helped me with legal support to get bail,” he told ThePrint.


Also Read: BJP breaches Samajwadi Party bastions Azamgarh and Rampur, Akhilesh Yadav left with three MPs


Missed PM post by a whisker

Sukhram lamented that the “only thing” that Mulayam fell short of was the Prime Minister’s chair due to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad.

Elaborating the turn of events, Rewati Raman said when the then Congress president Sitaram Kesri pulled down the Deve Gowda government in 1997, CPM stalwart Harkishan Singh Surjeet dropped his choice of Mulayam and instead propped up I.K. Gujral after Lalu came out against the SP chief.

“Surjeet had finalised Netaji’s name for the PM candidate in Delhi but it was RJD’s Lalu who opposed it. Mulayam would have been the PM but for Lalu,” he said.

In 2014, Mulayam taunted Lalu when he mentioned that his dream of becoming the PM remained unfulfilled “because of people who later became his relative”. The occasion, although, a happy one  — the marriage of Lalu’s youngest daughter Raj Lakshmi to Mulayam’s grandnephew Tej Pratap.

Thrice he became the chief minister (1989–91, 1993–95, and 2003–07), but Mulayam failed to complete terms like most of his predecessors .  His art of making friends across party lines helped Mulayam achieve the feat despite the unpredictability of UP politics which was then directly influenced by Delhi.

Netaji had the knack of making good relations with politicians, irrespective of party lines. Even if someone was a political adversary, he would maintain friendships and never turned down a request,” Bhati said.

Mulayam sacrificed a Rajya Sabha seat on the request of V. P. Singh in 1996, he recalled. 

“SP was in a position to send three members to the Rajya Sabha. However, it was a call from an ailing V.P. Singh that changed this [result]. Singh and Mulayam were adversaries for long. However, Singh who was suffering with cancer told Mulayam that it might be his last request and asked him to help send his friend Wasim Ahmad to the Rajya Sabha. Although the nomination papers were ready, Mulayam told his aides that Singh’s request needed to be fulfilled,” the BJP MLC said.

His pragmatism and shrewdness came to the fore again when Mulayam, who grew on anti-Congressism, helped the UPA government to win the 2008 trust vote after the Left Front withdrew support over the India-US civilian nuclear agreement.  

From Dhartiputra to ‘Mulla Mulayam’

Thanks to his anti-English tirade that led to Hindi becoming the language for official communication in administration and in courts besides his work for the backward communities and peasants, Mulayam earned the tag of ‘Dhartiputra’ in the 1990s.

Arguably, the most significant event in Mulayam’s nearly five decades of political career took place on October 30, 1990 when the then UP chief minister ordered police to fire at karsevaks who were marching towards the Babri Masjid. “Let them try and enter Ayodhya. We will teach them the meaning of law,” he had remarked.

Political observers said that this decision catapulted Mulayam as the ‘sole saviour’ of the Muslims.  

“He earned the tag of Mulla Mulayam back then, but he protected the Constitution. He was a follower of the Constitution. Even today, youngsters in UP villages are familiar with the phrase — ‘Jiska jalwa kayam, uska naam Mulayam’ (He whose popularity remains undiminished is called Mulayam). Netaji could make possible what was deemed impossible,” Rewati Raman said.

Prof. Nadeem Rezavi of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) described Mulayam as “a typical politician who projected himself as the benefactor of Muslims”. “This is what politicians do for their interests. The outreach to Muslims was limited to Muslim faces in the party rather than any concrete step,” the professor of medieval history told ThePrint.

But it did not stop the Samajwadi Party from becoming the first choice of Muslims from 1990s onwards courtesy his famous Muslim-Yadav formula. 

Controversial but indispensable 

Mulayam had his share of controversies. In 2014, the country was shocked with his remark when opposing capital punishment for rape. His statement —Ladke hain, galti ho jati hai (Boys make mistakes)” — opened the floodgates for his rivals to  attack the SP as a party harbouring hooligans and goondas.

His contemporaries prefer to remember Mulayam for his foresight as seen in the veteran politician claiming way back in 2010 and 2017 that China was preparing to attack India and that New Delhi was not prepared to face aggression. The SP chief had served as defence minister from 1996 to 1998 in the United Front government.

“He raised the issue of China several times in Parliament. Look at what has happened in Galwan and Arunachal. Whatever Netaji said had a meaning,” said Rewati Raman.

Mirza Asmer Beg, a professor of political science at AMU, told ThePrint that Mulayam’s controversies stemmed from the fact that as a speaker, he would connect with the masses. “As a grassroot politician, Mulayam may have sounded as if [he was] making off the cuff remarks at times, but all remarks of the grassroot politician are not enough to judge him,” he said.

Hailing the SP patriarch and his achievements, political analyst Ramesh Dixit called the departed leader as a “man of his words”.   

“Mulayam Singh Yadav doesn’t fit into any of the traditional parameters of a typical Indian politician like modern education, refinement of personality, robust or princely family background but yet, he has been a deciding factor in UP politics since late 1970s,” the former professor of political science at Lucknow University told ThePrint.

“He fought against stalwarts like Congress’ N. D. Tiwari, BSP’s Kanshiram and several others from BJP. This was because of only two things: his immense involvement and engagement with people and undiminished determination. By the time a politician would wake up and demand his tea, Netaji would have met 1,000 people from across UP. He is a symbol of unity of peasant castes and known for being ‘zubaan ka pakka’ (a man of his words),” Dixit said.

(Edited by Tony Rai)


Also Read: Embracing Congress & BJP, doling out laptops — how Lohiaites have strayed far from his ideology


 

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