Sunday, June 16, 2024

Mulayam Singh Yadav: A crafty leader who knew how to hedge his bets

Two things straightaway come to mind on Mulayam Singh Yadav, the patriarch of Samajwadi Party, lately ignored, who passed away on October 10, today. 

One, of course is known to most: He ordering firing on kar sevaks as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh who had marched towards the Babri mosque in 1991, an act which earned him the sobriquet Mullah Mulayam. 

The second was the emergence of his party in 1989 which displaced Congress and thereafter took hold of latter’s vote banks to the extent the Grand Old Party hasn’t made a comeback in the politically most important state of India, Uttar Pradesh. 

In a way, the rise of Mulayam Singh Yadav and his party was due to Mandal politics of 1990s which changed the landscape of upper-caste dominated Uttar Pradesh. He brought together the OBCs and Muslims to forge a winning hand. 

It’s interesting how he broke into the political arena from a poor family in Safai. Yadav, who became a wrestler early in his life, was watched in one of his bout by Nathan Singh, an influential leader of the Praja Socialist Party who took him under his wings. 

It was Nathu who introduced Mulayam to socialist Ram Manohar Lohia of the Samyukt Socialist Party. He caught eye when Lohia called for a UP band on August 15, 1966; later he struck up with Lohai when the latter came to his hometown Etawah for a public rally. 

Mulayam, a Lohiaite by now, was given a ticket to contest the Jaswant Nagar seat in 1967. So well did Mulayam campaigned he emerged victorious by 1.03 lakh votes over the Congress candidate Lakhan Singh.

Mulayam Singh Yadav climbed further up the political leader when he put his allegiance to Choudhary Charan Singh and his party Lok Dal in the 1970s. The party was taken over by Hemwati Nanda Bahuguna in 1986 after Charan Singh fell ill. It was the time when Ajit Singh, son of the patriarch, entered politics and joined the party as its general secretary.

Viewing it as a threat, Mulayam joined hands with Bahuguna He was removed by the Ajit Singh faction as leader of opposition in the UP assembly. The party split into Ajit and Bahuguna “Lok Dal” after Charan Singh’s death in 1987.  

Mulayam was to change his mentor again. When Bahuguna and Devilal, the Haryana strongman in Lok Dal, squared up to each other, Mulayam cosied up to Devilal and took part in his conclave against the wishes of Bahuguna. 

By 1989, Janata Dal had become a united force of opposition parties. Mulayam, as its UP chief, was reading for his next big move. 

That move came during the Shah Bano case when prime minister Rajiv Gandhi side with Muslim clergy who opposed the move by the Supreme Court in favour of the old lady. He opposed the permission given to BJP’s affiliate VHP to perform shilanyas close to the disputed Babri mosque on November 9, 1989. He now had in his mind to go for the Muslim votes. 

In 1989, Mulayam Singh Yadav became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The Congress, under Narain Dutt Tiwari, lost 175 seats compared to last poll. 

Then came 1990 which changed the face of Indian politics: the Mandal moment. It promised 27% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the OBC. As expected, the Upper Caste exploded in rage. Mulayam, as said, was in pursuit of Muslim votes. 

This was the moment when BJP launched the Ram janmabhoomi movement to gather the forces in angst against what they believed was injustice to them. LK Advani, backed by the RSS, began the Ram janmabhoomi Rath Yatra from Somnath in Gujarat. The yatra began on September 25, 1990. 

BJP wasn’t staying put on its laurels. On October 21, 1989, a large number of kar sevaks began gathering at Ayodhya on the appeals of Advani and VHP’s Ashok Singhal. Mulayam, as the chief minister, ordered a cordon to block their access. Kar Sevaks now swam across the Saryu river. Some kar sevak climbed up the top of the Babri mosque and hoisted a saffron flag. It was then that Mulayam ordered police to open fire on the kar sevaks. In two separate incidents, separated by days, many kar sevaks succumbed to police firing. 

BJP withdrew support to VP Singh government. In UP, Mualayak, with the support of Chandrashekhar’s Janata Dal (socialist) and the Congress, made sure he continued as the chief minister.

But then Congress left Chandrashekhar in Delhi in April 1991; Mulayam also lost his chair. The Samajwadi satrap was the retain this grudge against the Congress in coming years and decades.  

It was the time when Kanshi Ram of BSP was emerging on the political landscape. Mulayam tried to join hands with him, in the hope of OBC, Dalit and Muslim vote bank. 

But that was not to be. Mulayam fought alone the 1991 assembly polls and lost. BJP, riding on the rath yatra, came to power in UP for the first time; only to lose it after its Kalyan Singh government was sacked on its inability to stop the demolition of Babri mosque on December 6, 1992. Only two months before, Mulayam had formed the Samajwadi Party on October 4, 1992. 

In 1993, Mulayam and Kanshi Ram did come together. In the assembly polls, BJP could secure only 177 seats. The BSP (67) and SP (109) joined hands to grab the power. 

Mulayam was chief minister again. 

But the two—BSP and SP—began falling out and BJP, sensing their moment, got closer to the BSP. Mayawati was ready to break free of the SP’s shackles. But then that infamous incident of guest house in Lucknow happened in which “SP goons” attacked Mayawati. It was the moment which led to the sacking of the Mulayam Singh government by the Centre. Of course, it was Congress at helm in New Delhi. 

Things moved very quickly. Within 24 hours of the attack in the guest house, BSP and BJP had joined hands for Mayawati to become the chief minister: The first one from the Dalit community. But Mulayam had a silver lining in the form of his party winning 17 Lok Sabha seats in the 1996 polls. He had an outside chance to become the prime minister but settled to be the defence minister of India. Later, Mulayam managed to split the BSP in UP to become the chief minister of UP again. 

From being a Lohiate and socialist, Mulayam turned a chum to Bollywood stars and corporates thanks to Amar Singh who was the general secretary of the party. 

In 1999, Sonia wanted to form the government with the support of 272 MPs, including Mulayam Singh’s 32. But the latter didn’t take the bait for he knew Congress’ support would hurt him in Uttar Pradesh. 

The state then became a yo-yo game between the SP and BSP who took to power by rote. It was also the time when Mulayam thrust his son Akhilesh Yadav at the centre-stage. Both SP and BSP were at loggerheads but had to come together when Narendra Modi became the polestar of Indian politics. The Mandal effect was wearing off and the BJP was on rise again. SP even joined hands with Congress but to no effect. BJP was unstoppable. 

Mulayam was gradually sidelined in his own party. Some of it was old age, a lot more due to irrepressible Akhilesh. Amar Singh lost his clout in the party, as did Ram Gopal Yadav who had played a major role in Mulayam’s rise and his consolidation of power. 

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