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February 18, 1998


Campaign Trail/Mulayam Singh Yadav

Frugal meals, hard talk and Mulayam's ability

A day on the campaign trail with Mulayam Singh Yadav

Samajwadi Party President and outgoing Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav fends off an unending stream of telephone calls, hurriedly taking a few bites of a plain chana roti meal and gulps down a glass of mattha as he has to leave in a short while for campaigning in Uttar Pradesh.

The minister, in his room at his official residence at No 2, Krishna Menon Marg, has only a few minutes to snatch the village-style frugal breakfast of two chana (raw gram flour) rotis (unleavened bread) and mattha (buttermilk) before beginning a hectic day. Everyone accompanying him, including this correspondent, is told to hurry up.

As he reaches Palam airport, the security men inform him that Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani and Bahujan Samaj Party stalwarts Kanshi Ram and Mayawati are already in the VIP lounge, on similar campaign missions, awaiting clearance for their aircraft. ''So what, I will also wait,'' he says, and strides into the room.

The planes have been held up due to bad weather. Soon, Yadav is fretting and fuming for he has to address a series of whistlestop meetings in several districts of his home state. Every now and then, he makes frantic queries, saying ''We should not get late even by a minute.''

In a short while, the weather clears and the leaders move on to their respective aircraft. Yadav quickly takes a seat in his cream-coloured four-seater plane and asks the pilot about possible delays and arrangements for a helicopter at Bareilly airport for the next leg of his journey.

As the aircraft prepares for takeoff, Yadav flips through a bunch of newspapers and magazines. Interestingly, while browsing through the magazines, he does not even glance cursorily at the poll surveys.

At Bareilly, Yadav goes into a bad mood on finding that his helicopter has been delayed. But his spirits improve when he notices the crowd waiting for him at Tilhar in the Shahjahanpur constituency. He emerges from the aircraft, waving at the lustily cheering supporters.

In a crisp address, he quickly points out the straight contest is between the BJP and SP, but not before firing a salvo at the Congress. ''Don't rub salt on old wounds'' is his one-line advice to the party which recently apologised for the demolition of the Babri Masjid and Operation Blue Star.

Yadav introduces the SP nominee from the area and exhorts the crowd to put its stamp on the party symbol -- the bicycle -- and then briskly walks to board the helicopter again. A writing on the school building, where the helipad was made, catches his attention: 'Slow and steady wins the race', written in bold letters on the wall.

After the meeting, the atmosphere in the helicopter changes dramatically as the party chief quickly estimates the chances of success for his candidate and gears up for the next one.

As the day progresses, his strategy becomes evident. Apart from attacking the BJP and the Congress, he comes out with something relating to the daily rigours of the voters.

He asks the people, ''Kya aap ke ghar mein bees pachees kilo chini hai, kya aap ke pas 10-20 kilo ghee hai Holi ke liye? (Have you got 20 to 25 kg of sugar and 10 to 20 kg of sugar with you for the coming Holi celebrations?)." If the gathering is predominantly Muslim, he poses the same question substituting Eid for Holi.

After a series of meetings, an apparently tired Yadav sits down for another frugal meal of half a piece of chana roti with aloo gobi subzi.

Asked whether this is his lunch, an aide replies, ''He does not have lunch while campaigning, but is partaking it out of courtesy for guests like you'' (this correspondent).

Later, at Laharpur in Sitapur district, he addresses a large gathering but suddenly stops as soon as the azaan (call for prayers) comes from the nearby mosque.

The entire assembly waits in silence for the while. Yadav then resumes his speech with a full-throated slogan, ''Jab tak bhooka insan rahega, dharti par toofa rahega'' (There will be unrest as long as people face starvation).

Ridiculing the BJP claim that he would not be an able prime minister, he says he can provide such leadership. ''I am equally at ease while ploughing fields and disposing of files at Uttar Pradesh chief minister's office or at the defence ministry.''

''Hume bail nathana bhi ata hai, aur jab Mulayam ki kalam chalti hai to phir nahi rukti hai (I can handle bulls and and when I start to use the pen, it never stops)."

The end of the day's journey is at his Vikramaditya Marg double storied house in Lucknow. In the lobby, chess pawns lie scattered on the floor even as he retires for the day, only to resume the endgame of the electoral chess the next morning.

Campaign Trail

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