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Mulayam Singh rose amid ferment in UP, his journey would run parallel to state’s

Three-time Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, eight-term MLA, seven-time MP, and ‘Netaji’ to all, who redefined Uttar Pradesh politics, Mulayam Singh Yadav, died aged 82 on Monday. He was in the ICU of a Gurgaon hospital since October 2.

Born to a farming family in Saifai village of Etawah district, Mulayam was a wrestler-turned-student leader whose personal journey as a politician was closely woven with the political history of UP, including the Mandal-Kamandal politics of the 1980s and 1990s, till he transferred the reins to his son Akhilesh Yadav in 2012.

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The period of intense social and political ferment that coincided with Mulayam’s rise saw OBCs gain political ascendancy in UP, leading to the sidelining of the Congress party dominated by upper-caste leaders. India’s most populous state was then also witnessing sharp communal polarisation in the wake of the BJP’s Ram temple campaign.

A follower of Ram Manohar Lohia and steeped in socialist tradition, Mulayam established himself as an OBC stalwart, not afraid to speak his mind. After he took oath as UP’s 15th CM in 1989, the Congress could never return to power in the state.

Belonging to Saifai village of Etawah district, Mulayam’s personal journey as a politician would come to be closely woven with the political history of UP. (Express Archive)

In a tweet paying tribute to Mulayam, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had devoted his life to popularising the ideals of Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia. “He was a key soldier for democracy during the Emergency,” Modi said.

The PM, who is on a tour of Gujarat, also mentioned Mulayam during a speech in Amod, recalling the “special bond” he shared with the SP founder-patron. “In 2014, when the BJP blessed me as the Prime Ministerial candidate, the people from the Opposition who I had a bond with… I called them to seek blessings. I remember Mulayam Singhji gave me two words of advice — it is my amaanat (gift)… In 2019, in the last Parliament session of the last government, Mulayam Singh stood up on the floor of the House… (and) without any interest or political game, he said, ‘Modiji takes everyone together and I am confident he will win 2019 and become Prime Minister again’.”

Mulayam’s rise in UP politics, which started from his college days, coincided with a period of intense social and political ferment after the 1970s. (Express Archive)

Mulayam first entered mainstream politics in 1967 at the young age of 28, winning from Jaswant Nagar Assembly constituency in Etawah district, as a candidate of Lohia’s Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP). He went on to win seven more times, from, respectively, Chaudhary Charan Singh’s party Bharatiya Kranti Dal, later renamed Bharatiya Lok Dal, Janata Party and Janata Dal, before forming his own Samajwadi Party in 1992. He once said that the clue to winning an election was “parcha, kharcha aur charcha” (campaign, expenditure and ground level canvassing).

Since 1996, when Mulayam got elected to Parliament, the seat has been won by his brother Shivpal Singh Yadav.

In his first term as MP, Mulayam served as Union Defence Minister in the United Front Government. During his tenure, he called China “a bigger enemy” of India than Pakistan, and maintained this position till the last.

He first became Chief Minister under a Janata Dal-led government in Uttar Pradesh in 1989 but his tenure could not last for more than two years as the party split both at the Centre as well as in Uttar Pradesh.

It was during his first regime that police opened fire on kar sevaks gathered in Ayodhya on the call of the VHP, RSS and BJP leaders, on October 30, 1989. Later he would express sadness and regret at what had happened, but justified it saying it was necessary to protect a religious place, the unity of the country and the faith of Muslims in the country.

Emerging as a socialist leader, Mulayam soon established himself as an OBC stalwart, capturing a swathe of political space vacated by the Congress. (Express Archive)

He became CM for the second time following the 1993 Assembly elections, when he formed the government with the BSP, then led by its founder Kanshi Ram. This government fell over the infamous guest house incident when angry SP workers attacked a meeting Mayawati was holding with her party MLAs.

In the late 1990s, the entry of Amar Singh in Mulayam’s life brought about a change in the character of the SP, introducing a touch of “Bollywood and corporate”. As SP Rajya Sabha MP and general secretary, Amar Singh became Mulayam’s key man in Delhi and Mumbai, with the SP founder ignoring misgivings of the larger Yadav clan about him. Mulayam and Amar Singh would fall out in 2010, by which time Akhilesh’s clout within the SP was on the rise.

In 2003, Mulayam became CM for the third time. It is during this tenure that he introduced several social welfare schemes and a much-talked-about unemployment allowance, of Rs 500 per month. He also introduced a Kanya Vidya Dhan scheme to help poor girl students, which was later revived by Akhilesh, when he became CM in 2012.

Initially, the imprint of Mulayam was seen in the Akhilesh government. However, after four years, differences between the two were in the open, both in the functioning of the party as well as the government. In 2016, amid a bitter fight between Akhilesh and uncle Shivpal, Mulayam sided with the latter, dividing the SP. After Mulayam expelled Akhilesh from the party and as CM, the latter took him on, and won. While Akhilesh systematically went about consolidating power in the SP after that, Mulayam’s role dwindled.

While his government’s decision to open fire on kar sevaks would lead to him being called “Mullah Mulayam”, it helped him forge a Muslim-Yadav or M-Y combination that served his party well. Through the ebb and tide of UP politics, even when it was seen as politically expedient to distance oneself from the Muslim community, Mulayam stood by them.

He was also a strong advocate of the use of Hindi in official communiqué, and often spoke against promotion of English. In 2013, he sought a ban on the use of English in Parliament.

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In 2014, his statement opposing capital punishment for rape, saying “Ladke, ladke hain, galti ho jati hai (Boys will be boys.. they make mistakes)”, saw outrage and led Mulayam into one of his biggest controversies. The SP leadership is still taunted over the statement by opponents, who equate its reign of the state with lawlessness.

Mulayam is survived by Akhilesh, his son from his first wife, Prateek, a son from his second wife, and grandchildren, apart from his brothers.

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Mulayam will be cremated on Tuesday at his native Saifai. The Uttar Pradesh government has announced a three-day mourning.

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