Mulayam Singh Yadav: A Maker Of His Time, As Also A Product Of It

Mulayam Singh Yadav: A Maker Of His Time, As Also A Product Of It

by Arush Tandon - Oct 10, 2022 02:03 PM +05:30 IST
Mulayam Singh Yadav: A Maker Of His Time, As Also A Product Of ItMulayam Singh Yadav.
  • Between the state and the Centre, highs and lows, victory and defeat, Mulayam Singh Yadav has had an irreversible impact on the politics of Uttar Pradesh.

There are four events which between them encapsulate everything that was wrong with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s politics: the killing of the kar sevaks and sadhus in Ayodhya; the firing on Uttarakhand activists; the Guest House episode; and the ruckus on the stage at the Samajwadi Party (SP) plenary in 2016.

Starting from the last of them. 

The 2016 SP Plenary

Tensions between Mulayam’s brother Shivpal and son Akhilesh were at an all-time high.

At an SP plenary in Lucknow, when Akhilesh Yadav complained about an article written about him, Shivpal walked up to the podium, snatched the mic from him, and went on to say that the “Chief Minister was lying”.

This was in front of dozens of party leaders and hundreds of workers, not to mention hundreds of cameras.

A couple of months later, the same scene was repeated. This time it was Akhilesh Yadav who snatched the mic from his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, who complained that his son was taking the party away from minorities. 

These two events betray what had become of a party that had started off in the name of Lohiaite socialism. It first became a party of a particular caste and eventually turned into a party of one family. 

At the ground level, the SP model of governance prioritised dispensing favours to groups supporting it over a model of general welfare. At the top, the control of the party got centralised in the Saifai clan. 

While Mulayam Singh Yadav fared much better than his contemporary, Kumari Mayawati, when it came to accommodating other senior leaders in the party, it will be recorded in history that it was under him that the purported political vehicle of socialism in UP got reduced to a virtual family enterprise. 

The argument that this was always going to be the eventual trajectory of the politics of Other Backward Class (OBC) consolidation in Uttar Pradesh is too shallow and too coloured by hindsight.

More importantly, it is insulting to the communities which formed the first vote-banks of the party. 

The Guest House Episode 

2 June 1995. When Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) withdrew from the SP-BSP alliance in the state, chief minster Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government was reduced to a minority in the assembly. Agitated SP workers and leaders barged into the Meerabai Guest House in central Lucknow, where Mayawati was staying. 

Some launched an assault on Mayawati while others coerced the BSP legislators present to declare support for Mulayam Singh. 

Multiple accounts suggest that the eventual plan was to trigger a cylinder blast in the room adjacent to Mayawati’s and the preparations for the same had been made. 

She was eventually saved by a brave Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator, Brahm Dutt Dwivedi, who lived close by and jumped the wall of the Guest House to come to Mayawati’s rescue. 

This shameful incident made plain two irrefutable facts about the SP’s politics. 

One, at its worst, it was a party heavily dependent on plain thuggery. In fact, many notorious goons and mafia of contemporary Uttar Pradesh were part of the crowd that had entered the Guest House that day.

To this day, the Samajwadi Party has not been able to convincingly wash away this stain. 

Two, the SP’s inability to garner political support from groups outside its traditional vote-banks. 

The Guest House episode was a violent expression of the SP’s desperation to stay in power.

A desperation born out of the fact that in 1993, and till much later, it could not get enough support from the electorate to form a government in Uttar Pradesh on its own. 

Sample these facts. Mulayam Singh Yadav never served a full term as Uttar Pradesh chief minister. 

In 1989, his party, the Janata Dal, had to receive outside support from the BJP for a majority in the assembly.

Eventually, the BJP was replaced by the Congress as the ‘giver’ of support but Mulayam could not continue as chief minister beyond 1991. 

In 1993, the SP entered into an alliance with the BSP but could only win 108 seats as compared to the BJP’s 176.

Mulayam had to claim the support of all non-BJP parties plus some Independents to stake his claim to form the government. This experiment lasted till 1995. 

In 2003, it was only after ‘generous’ support from the BJP speaker, Keshari Nath Tripathi, that Mulayam Singh Yadav could prove his majority in the assembly.

Even this was possible only after the previous chief minister, Mayawati, had snapped ties with her ally, the BJP, and resigned. 

Moreover, even the 2012 victory of the SP, when it got a full majority with Mulayam still formally its leader, came at a vote share of less than 30 per cent.

The Firing On Uttarakhand Activists

October 1994. Buses of people had departed for New Delhi from what is now Uttarakhand. Their objective being to stage a demonstration at the Jantar Mantar. 

Mulayam Singh Yadav was the chief minister of the then undivided Uttar Pradesh and fervently opposed to the demand of a separate Uttarakhand. 

The activists were stopped by the state police at Muzaffarnagar on 1 October. The ruckus that ensued saw around 250 activists being taken into custody.

However, allegations of molestation and rape of the women activists by the police also emerged.

As news spread, more people gathered at the spot, and in a second standoff on 2 October, the police opened fire on the activists. Reports from the time mention that seven people died. 

This tragedy encapsulates what the police became under Samajwadi Party’s administrations — a political instrument. 

Under SP governments in Uttar Pradesh, the provision of law and order became a privilege for most people, dependent on their relations with their local SP leader.

A fundamental need of society that should be universally available — law and order — was made scarce by the government itself. 

The Firing On Kar Sevaks

30 October and 2 November 1990. While L K Advani had been arrested in Bihar and his rath yatra prevented from reaching Ayodhya, kar sevaks and sadhus had planned to go ahead and congregate near the disputed structure on 30 October. 

Mulayam Singh was chief minister at the head of a Janata Dal government. 

On 30 October, when the kar sevaks started marching towards the site, the UP Police, under orders from the chief minister, opened fire on them. 

The same was repeated on 2 November, when the kar sevaks tried to complete the march for a second time.

Official records showed 17 deaths; the BJP claimed that more than 50 people were killed. Mulayam himself would admit years later that 28 people had died. 

This incident showed what was perhaps the most conspicuous characteristic of Mulayam Singh’s politics — blatant minority appeasement. 

At the top, this translated to the SP leadership constantly pandering to the most fundamentalist of the elements within the Muslim community — whether in government, or opposition. 

At the mid-level, it meant that SP became a haven for the anti-social elements from the community. 

And at the ground level, where the government meets the public, it means numerous allegations of the police refusing to file a complaint in case the accused belonged to a minority group. 

Netaji — The Leader

Our overview of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s politics would be incomplete, and hence, incorrect, if we stopped at this point.

For while all that is written above is true, what is also true is that after Chaudhary Charan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav was the tallest leader in Uttar Pradesh to come from the OBC communities. 

Between himself and the late Kalyan Singh, the two symbolised the irreversible ascent of the OBCs in the politics of Uttar Pradesh.

It can even be argued that when it came to the geographic spread of their respective personal popularity in the state, Mulayam Singh Yadav was ahead of Kalyan Singh. 

The reason for Mulayam Singh’s popularity can be found in his people’s skills.

Almost everyone who met him was unanimous in their judgement that he listened. He gave the person meeting him one of the most valuable commodities one can give to another — undivided attention. 

Mulayam Singh was known to start meeting people in the early hours of the day itself, and for a large part of his political life, he would recognise and address people by their names. Even if he had met them only once before. 

In National Politics 

One of the highlights from the latter part of Mulayam Singh’s career was when he addressed the last day of the 16th Lok Sabha, and with Sonia Gandhi seated next to him, declared that he wished for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return as the Prime Minister. 

In fact, at the national stage, while Mulayam swore to fight the BJP in the name of secularism, his actions were more at variance with the Congress, and at some critical junctures. 

At a time when a national party was signing agreements with Communist Party of China, Mulayam Singh was steadfast in his utterances that the Chinese in fact posed a great threat to India. 

His greatest moment on the national stage came however in 1999, when he thwarted the formation of a Congress government under Sonia Gandhi.

After Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government had lost a motion of no-confidence by a single vote, Sonia Gandhi had met the president and declared that she had the required numbers. The famous ‘thoo-seventy-thoo’ comment. 

Mulayam, however, refused to support a government under Sonia Gandhi, citing her foreign origin. 

His Greatest Role

There was one role however, where Mulayam Singh had no competition — as a psephologist of UP politics. 

This skill of his was derived partly from his comprehensive knowledge of ground level goings-on in the state. As the legend goes, if Mulayam Singh Yadav was pointed to a village during a helicopter ride in UP, he would tell you the name of the village and also probably its demographics. 

It was also derived from his acute ability to sense the public mood. And as the story goes, one of the persons to have witnessed it first-hand is Amit Shah. 

This was during the campaign phase of the 2014 elections.

Both Shah and Mulayam Singh were present at the Varanasi airport at the same time. When Shah came to know about it, he went to meet the SP patriarch.

In their conversation, Mulayam was eventually asked how many seats did he see the BJP winning in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP group’s own estimate was somewhere in the 50s. 

And as the apocryphal tale goes, Mulayam told them they were wrong, and the BJP would win more seats than it had won in 1998 (58). Eventually, the BJP alliance won 73 of the 80 seats in the state. 

Later, during the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi, when Shah saw that Mulayam was seated in the middle row, he walked up to him, held his hands, and brought him to the front. 

Today, when Home Minister Amit Shah is at the hospital, paying respects to the mortal remains of Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Prime Minister Modi is reminiscing about his meetings with him, they are rising above political divides partly because Mulayam Singh himself did so at crucial junctures.

Between the state and the Centre, highs and lows, victory and defeat, Mulayam Singh Yadav has had an irreversible impact on the politics of Uttar Pradesh.

Equally, by belonging to a generation that had seen the idealism of the early years of Independence being replaced by practical, at times harsh, reality, he was a product of the same politics as well. 

Arush Tandon is interested in icons of history, history of independent India and, Indian culture.

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