Mulayam Singh Yadav (1939–2022) was the founder and patron of the Samajwadi Party. He was a firm believer in the adage that there are no permanent friends and enemies in politics, and his somersaults to protect the interests of the party frequently perplexed political analysts. On October 10, 2022, he passed away in a Gurugram hospital following a protracted illness. Mr. Yadav, an intelligent politician, broke new ground by placing the politics of backward castes at the forefront of Uttar Pradesh and held the position of Chief Minister of the most populous State three times (1989-91, 1993-95, and 2003-2007). Akhilesh and Prateek, his two sons, are still living.
A fervent supporter of secular politics, Mr. Yadav suffered electoral setbacks after he gave the order to shoot the Kar Sevaks during the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1990. However, he positioned himself as the defender of the Constitution’s spirit and returned to power by forming a potent Muslim-Yadav alliance that paid off handsomely at the polls.
When coalition politics were the order of the day and regional parties sought to be more than merely kingmakers, he also held the position of Defense Minister during the United Front administration in 1996. Prior to that, he had come perilously close to holding the position of Prime Minister.
Unexpectedly, the Samajwadi Party came back to power under his leadership in 2012; however, he chose to hand the reins over to his son Akhilesh, sparking a dispute within the Yadav family over a progressive overhaul of the plebeian party.
Mr. Yadav, who has no political ties and comes from a non-political family, is a teacher by trade, a farmer by ancestry, and a trained wrestler. He was born and raised in the small hamlet of Saifai in the Uttar Pradesh district of Etawah, which is on the edge of the Chambal ravines. More than just a product of the soil, he was a wilderness child who, following in the footsteps of his mentor Chaudhary Charan Singh, dismantled the Congress, which stood for the upper caste’s hold on politics in Uttar Pradesh, by mobilising the backward castes, which make up the majority of the State’s voters.
Not every action taken by the 10-time MLA and seven-time MP was successful, but his perseverance and affinity for the common man made sure that the Samajwadi Party survived the State’s boiling pot of Mandal and Kamandal (caste and religion) politics and remained a force to be reckoned with.
Mr. Yadav, who firmly believes that there are no permanent allies or adversaries in politics, frequently left political experts perplexed with his somersaults to protect the party’s interests. He behaved in accordance with the party’s interests in Uttar Pradesh on the national political theatre. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost the trust vote in 1999 by one vote, he prevented Sonia Gandhi from becoming the monarch by citing her foreign ancestry. But in 2007, when the Left parties stopped supporting the UPA, he backed Congress in order to keep Mayawati, his main rival in the State, out. Because the last man in the line could relate to his idyllic persona, the accusations of corruption had little effect on him.
Old-timers claim that the gritty politician’s longevity in U.P. politics for more than five decades was due to his childhood work herding cattle and his literal cycling across the region as a youngster. He knew the political climate because he was a farmer’s kid. His judgments constantly left both his opponents and friends scratching their heads. He was a buddy of friends for his beneficiaries and a blatant opportunist for his detractors.
With the support of his trio of Janeshwar Mishra, Beni Prasad Verma, and Azam Khan, Mr. Yadav once more resorted to his socialist origins and established the Samajwadi Party in 1992. However, he persisted in his seasonal partner experiments. In 1994, he married Mayawati, and in 1995, there was a bitter breakup. It is stated that Mr. Vajpayee’s blessings were the reason for Mr. Yadav’s comeback to power in 2003, which kept him out of the political wilderness. When Kalyan Singh, the face of the Babri Masjid demolition, quit the BJP, he also socialised with Singh.
Mr. Yadav’s strong one-on-one interactions with the karyakarta more than made up for his lack of oratory prowess. He was one of the last few politicians to reach out to constituency workers without the help of party heavyweights in Lucknow. Despite accusations of nepotism in subsequent years, Mr. Yadav selected devoted young people from student politics, which allowed the local leadership of Muslims and the most backward castes to thrive. One of his brilliant moves was to drop charges against dacoit Phoolan Devi in 1995 and to give her a Lok Sabha ticket, turning her become the symbol of the Nishads.
His time as Chief Minister is remembered for enhancing the government’s delivery system in the State’s rural areas. Without much use of public relations techniques as we know them now, Mr. Yadav fought for the improvement of farmers, whether it was by constructing roads in rural areas or by offering free water for irrigation.
He was one of the earliest public figures to advocate for the advancement of Hindi, and he founded the Yash Bharti awards to recognise the achievements of notable individuals from the State who excelled in the fields of literature, the arts, and business. His relationship with the poet Gopaldas Neeraj in Hindi was renowned. His relationships with Subrata Roy and Amitabh Bachchan also ended.
He managed to maintain a delicate balance between Amar Singh, who had connections to powerful corporations, Azam Khan, who had ties to traditional Muslims, and his younger brother Shivpal, who served as his Man Friday in the party structure. Every time he was cornered by the media or the opposition, Mr. Yadav found a way out by giving the idea that he was being used by his louder, more assertive partners, but in reality things weren’t quite so one-sided. He made peace with the current regime by thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Parliament after witnessing the suffering of his contemporaries, such as Lalu Prasad Yadav. The government agencies haven’t really bothered him in the past ten years.
The controversies that surrounded Mr. Yadav will also be recalled. When he was in charge of the State, shots were also fired at members of the Uttarkhand movement in addition to the Kar Sevaks. He resisted being politically correct because he was wed to an atavistic patriarchal viewpoint. He never truly expressed regret for the alleged 1996 attack on Mayawati at the State guest home by SP employees.
His insensitive and sexist remarks, in which he nearly excused rapists and gang rapists, as well as his opposition to reservations for women in Parliament, haunted him still, but he refused to alter his tone. Mr. Yadav was all too familiar with his voter base, but he was also aware of the messages posted on social media’s virtual walls. So, in likely his final move, Mr. Yadav gave the party’s leadership to his son, who has a progressive viewpoint on matters that remained his harsh father’s weak place.