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Why Mulayam Singh Yadav is no longer part of the UP poll campaign 

The Samajwadi Party patriarch dominated the state politics for decades but for the second state election in a row, is missing from the campaign. 

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Saifai, Lucknow: As electioneering intensifies ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, one political giant is conspicuous by his absence on the road, rallies and other poll regalia — 82-year-old former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. 

The Samajwadi Party patriarch dominated the state politics for decades, but a combination of poor health, the Covid pandemic and the ascent of son Akhilesh Yadav have all meant that the veteran is now confined to his home in Lucknow. 

The only token presence is on the SP election billboards that have sprung up across the state. 

Those close to the former CM, fondly called Netaji by his party workers and leaders, say  that while his health had deteriorated in April, it has improved in the recent months.   

A family loyalist told ThePrint that his memory has been fading.

“He was famous for his memory,” the aide said. “Ek baar aap ka chehra dekh liya toh 30 saal baad bhi pehchan lenge. Gaon ke voters tak ke naam yaad rahte the (He can recognise the names and faces of people he met 30 years ago. He, in fact, would remember voters in the villages too).” 

Mulayam’s brother, Shivpal Yadav, told ThePrint that his poor health has not dimmed the former CM’s enthusiasm for politicking. 

According to Shivpal, Mulayam often asks him to arrange a rally so that he could address party workers. 

Main puch leta hun kai baar kis liye rally karun? Toh wo kahenge ki party karyakarta on se baat karni hai. Fir main puch leta hun ki meri party ke kaaryakartaaon se ya Akhilesh ki party se? Wo pooch baithte hai ki tumne party bana li? Fir main kah deta hun kai saal ho gye (I have asked him many times why he wants to hold a rally. He would say that he wants to address party workers. I would then ask again if he wanted to address my party workers or Akhilesh’s? He would wonder when I floated my own party? I would tell him that it’s been many years.”

Once Mulayam’s right-hand man, Shivpal fell out with Akhilesh Yadav and now has his own party, the Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia). He, however, lives only a few feet from Mulayam’s home in Lucknow. 

Shivpal told ThePrint that the former CM is keen on the family reuniting. 

Netaji ko is halat mein dekh kar kharab to lagta hai. Bahar ke logon ko ab pahchanna band kar diya hai. Jo cheezen yaad rahti hain, wo pooch lete hain. Party ke purane dino ki bahut yaad karte hain. Unka to dil hai ki ek baar firse parivar jud jaye (It feels awful to see Netaji in this situation. He has stopped recognising people and keeps repeating sentences. Whatever he can remember, he asks about. He is nostalgic about the party’s old days. His heart wants the family to reunite),” Shivpal said. 

This is seconded by Abhay Ram Yadav, another of Mulayam’s brothers, but one who has stayed away from politics and instead farms at the family village of Saifai. 

Bhaiyon mein toh prem rahega hi. Nayi peedhi hai apne hisab se karegi. Humen aur Netaji ne bahoot samjhaya (Brothers will always have love and affection for each other. The new generation thinks from a different perspective, but Netaji and I tried our best at convincing the warring duo,” Abhay Ram Yadav told ThePrint. 

Another close aide said he has been trying to reunite the family. “He always looks forward to meeting Akhilesh bhaiyya and Shivpalji,” the aide said. “Both of them frequently visit him. Sometimes, they land up at the same time. This makes him the happiest.”

Mulayam's brothers Abhay Ram Yadav (right) and Attar Yadav | Photo: Jyoti Yadav/ThePrint
Mulayam’s brothers Abhay Ram Yadav (right) and Attar Yadav | Photo: Jyoti Yadav/ThePrint

Nostalgia for a veteran 

This is the second assembly election that the former CM has been absent from the campaign — the first “Mulayam-less” election came in 2017.

By then, Akhilesh had consolidated his hold on the party, having served as the CM from 2012. 

The change in power is evident in Lucknow. 

There are no crowds at Mulayam’s new home, opposite the SP headquarters in Lucknow — a far cry from the bustling days outside Bungalow Number 5, which had been his residence for decades before a Supreme Court order forced him to shift in 2018.  

In the few years, Mulayam’s visits to the party office have also become a monthly affair. 

“He used to get up early in the morning and was more than enthusiastic to meet party workers. Now, he feels drowsy on most days as he is on medication,” said a close family member who did not want to be named. 

According to the family member, Mulayam wakes up late in the afternoon, has tea and chats for a bit. He only approves appointments whenever he is doing well. 

His time away from the limelight hasn’t, however, dimmed the nostalgia for the veteran leader, particularly in his ancestral village of Saifai, where there are no dearth of Mulayam stories. 

Once a backward village, Saifai is now a bustling town with proper medical facilities and posh kothis of the extended Yadav family. 

Ek baar maine unse request ki thi ki mere ghar bulana, Netaji bole ki chalo, humne kaha ki bhaiya ko. Unhein thoda accha nhin laga (Once I called him home. Netaji said ‘let’s go’. I interrupted him and said let’s take Akhilesh too. I think he didn’t like this),”   

Ram Narayan Bhatam, a SP loyalist from Mainpuri district, told ThePrint. 

Another SP worker from Mainpuri said Mulayam’s stature is unmatched in today’s politics. 

Bharat ke sadan do hi politicians ko netaji ki upaadhi mili hai. Ek Subhash Chandra Bose aur dusre humare Netaji (In India’s politics, only two leaders have the privilege of being addressed as Netaji. Subhash Chandra Bose and Mulayam Singh Yadav),” the worker said.  

A second SP worker sitting at Karyalay said Mulayalam would have become the Prime Minister if not for RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. “Wo to Laluji badmashi kar diye, nahin to pradhan mantri bhi ban jaate (Laluji played tricks or else Netaji would have become prime minister too),” the worker said.

Outside the Yadav family kothi in Saifai | Photo: Jyoti Yadav/ThePrint
Outside the Yadav family kothi in Saifai | Photo: Jyoti Yadav/ThePrint

The pehelwan politician

Mulayam was a pehelwan (wrestler) who broke into Indian politics in 1967 by winning the Yadav-dominated seat of Jaswantnagar on a Samyukta Socialist Party ticket. 

Brother Abhay Ram Yadav said Mulayam’s wrestling prowess earned him the ticket as it impressed the then Sociliast Party MLA from Jaswantnagar Nathu Singh Yadav.

Jahan jaato tho, jeet ke aaye toh. Nathu Singh Yadav, vidhayak the Jaswantnagar ke, unko Mulayam ki kushti itni pasand aayi ki apne seat tak chhod di (Wherever he went and wrestled, he returned home as a winner. Nathu Singh Yadav was so impressed, he gave up his MLA seat in Jaswantnagar for Mulayam),” Abhay Ram Yadav said. 

Since then, he has served as UP CM thrice and has had a stint as the country’s defence minister.

Mulayam’s rise lies in the 80s and 90s backward caste politics in UP.  The backward castes were influential in the state’s rural areas but had no real political power. 

All that changed in 1989, when Prime Minister V.P. Singh implemented the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, and ushered in reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Mulayam also managed to capitalise on the politics of Ram Manohar Lohia and Chaudhary Charan Singh. He fought elections by amalgamating Lohia’s socialist politics, Charan Singh’s kisan politics, and V.P. Singh’s backward class politics.

In 1992, Mulayam Singh Yadav launched the Samajwadi Party, making the Yadav family the biggest political dynasty in Uttar Pradesh. 

That stayed until 2016, when at a SP meeting, Mulayam roared, “Jo ladke Akhilesh bhaiya, Akhilesh bhaiya kar rahe hain, ek lathi tak nahin jhel payenge. Party ko is stra tak lane ke liye humne khoob lathiyan khayi hai. Jo aadmi bada nahi soch sakta, wo neta nahi ban sakta (Those who are chanting Akhilesh bhaiya, Akhilesh bhaiya, will not be able to bear one lathi. We have faced lathis to bring this party where it is today. You can’t become a big leader, if you can’t think about bigger things),” he said before expelling his son from the party. 

It was the peak of the SP split when Mulayam sided with Shivpal.

Akhilesh, however, managed to keep hold of the party and is now firmly in control. But the feud between him and uncle Shivpal has split the family. 

The two continue to attend family functions and share the stage together while remaining on two political fronts.

But the two power centres in the family continue to exist — one with Akhilesh and family loyalist Prof Ram Gopal Yadav, the other with Shivpal Yadav.  

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Shauk, tashan, lagaav — What drives India’s small-town stringers to take risks without pay


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