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Will Mulayam be third time lucky?

Sharat Pradhan and Tara Shankar Sahay | August 28, 2003 20:41 IST

He is a recognised master of negotiating the political minefield of Uttar Pradesh.

On Friday the master, who is known to us as Mulayam Singh Yadav, will take over the state's reins for the third time.

Though Mulayam in Hindi mean soft, the wily Yadav is anything but that. He is on record attributing his toughness to an avid enthusiasm for wrestling. Time and again he exhibited the knack of bouncing back when the battle seemed virtually lost.

And it is that instinct which is in abundant evidence as the 63-year-old prepares to make a dramatic return to the top job after a gap of eight years. Apart from a 20-month stint as India's defence minister, the Samajwadi Party chief has been away from the corridors of power.

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His new motto is flexibility and that explains the rapprochment with a rival like Ajit Singh. Interestingly it was Singh's father, the late Charan Singh, who was Mulayam's political mentor.

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Similarly his hand of friendship to Kalyan Singh seemed unthinkable even a few years back. Kalyan Singh was in the BJP and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when the Babri Masjid was demolished in December 6, 1992. At that time Mulayam had proclaimed Kalyan as his 'enemy number one'.

But the pragmatic Yadav did not lose any time in making overtures to Kalyan, when he was kicked out of BJP. Today both of them are friends, as thick as politics will allow them to be.

Likewise he made his compromise with English language, against which he launched a major tirade during his first stint at chief minister. He went to the extent of getting all English typewriters removed from the UP Secretariat. When asked how he would communicate with the non-Hindi speaking state governments, pat came the answer, "I will write to them in the language spoken and used in their respective state."

Groomed as a teacher in Safai village in Etawah district of central Uttar Pradesh, where he was born on November 11, 1939, Mulayam took a plunge into politics at an early age of 15.

Influenced by the writings of well-known socialist Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, he took active part in various socialist movements led by his ideologue. But it was former prime minister Charan Singh who provided him the first formal political plank in the mid-sixties.

Mulayam became the president of Etawah Degree College Students Union in 1961-62, but shortly thereafter got a teacher's job in an intermediate college in the neighbouring Mainpuri district just as he finished his MA and BT.

He emerged as the youngest MLA in the UP assembly when he contested the first Vidhan Sabha election in 1967 on a Samyukta Socialist Party ticket. He got elected on a ticket of the Bharatiya Kranti Dal -- a creation of Charan Singh -- in 1974. Yet again in 1977, he romped home as a Janata Party member.Mulayam Singh Yadav

He was made the state cooperatives minister and it was then that he shared power with his archrivals like Kalyan Singh. In the election that followed in 1980, he lost for the first time during the Congress wave. But he got inducted in the upper house of state legislature where he promptly rose to become leader of the opposition.

Later when he got elected to the state Vidhan Sabha again in 1985 as a Lok Dal nominee, he became leader of the opposition in the lower house, thereby getting the distinction of being the only leader to have held the position of leader of the opposition in both houses.

The year 1989 was the turning point in his career when he rode on to the chief minister's chair on December 3. But this tenure remained short-lived as in June 1991 he himself opted for divorce with the Congress on whose support his government rested.

What, however, cost him dear at the hustings was the firing he ordered on violent karsewaks who stormed the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in October and November 1990.

He drew a lot of flak from many Hindus who labelled him as 'Maulana Mulayam' and from Muslims, who blamed him for the backlash that hit them after the firing that killed some 18 karsewaks.

Yet later when the mosque was pulled down on December 6, 1992, Mulayam emerged as a hero among Muslims. That gave him a big political boost and the election that followed in 1994 after a prolonged President's Rule Mulayam was back on the pedestal -- though with the support of a new ally, the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The honeymoon was not destined to last long and it was no surprise when BSP leader Mayawati pulled the rug from under his feet in June 1995 and upstaged him to become chief minister herself with the support of BJP.

Perhaps this was the first time when a shrewd and astute politician in him had to eat humble pie. It was this humiliation that he could never swallow. The years that followed failed to give him any major leap. Yet it was creditable that he could maintain his strength in the state while simultaneously making inroads into the Centre by becoming the defence minister during the Dewa Gowda regime.

Ambitious that he always was, Mulayam at one point of time even tried to push his case for the prime ministership.

But despite his skills at presenting his case, some of Mulayam's tactical errors are still talked about. When he opposed Sonia Gandhi's candidature for the prime minister's position after the fall of the 13-day Atal Bihari Vajpayee government on account of her being a videshi (foreigner), the Congress chief paid him back in the same coin by declining to extend her party's crucial support to Mulayam when he needed it most.

"People forget that (in politics) the end justifies the means," he told rediff.com at that time.  

Though he staked claim to form the government as the single largest party after the February 2002 assembly election, Sonia stymied him by refusing support. It was Mayawati who grabbed the opportunity with BJP's support.

But Mulayam never gave up and kept up the pressure on Mayawati. On Friday he will reap the fruits of his perseverance by getting back the top job.

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