A ten-time MLA and a Parliamentarian, who also served as the Union defence minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav rose to national prominence in 1989
With the passing away of former defence minister and three-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, one of the fiercest defenders and fighters for secular values in Indian politics is gone. An old school socialist leader of the grassroots hue, Mr Yadav remained true to his values and calling, seeing politics as the best instrument for social change and governance as a noble and effective means to empowerment of the underdog.
He came into politics fascinated by socialism and was groomed by the best — Ram Manohar Lohia, and later on, Raj Narain. An essentially anti-Congress leader, he, like many a peer, was imprisoned during Emergency in 1975, and first tasted power and had his stint in government in the elections that followed its lifting in 1977.
A ten-time MLA and a Parliamentarian, who also served as the Union defence minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav rose to national prominence in the heady year of 1989, when the V.P. Singh’s government was created by the unlikely coming together of the socialists, regional parties, the right and left wing to uproot the Congress hegemony, represented by Rajiv Gandhi government, when he became the CM of UP, India’s largest state, for the first time.
Along with his Bihar counterpart, Lalu Prasad Yadav, with whom he shared both political and familial relationships, he represented the initiation, rise and consolidation of Mandal politics — with the formidable Yadav-Muslim combine defining their core foundations of repeat electoral victories.
Akin to Lalu Prasad Yadav, who arrested Lal Krishna Advani when his Ram Janmabhoomi rath yatra reached Bihar, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav stood firmly against Kar Sevaks seeking to bring down the disputed Babri Masjid when he had police open fire at them.
Rising to power based on identity politics, he was crucial to holding back the BJP from power by creating an unusual alliance with Kanshi Ram’s Bahujan Samaj Party to defeat the BJP in UP, and putting paid to the political ambitions of Mr Advani. He was also a crucial pillar of the UPA government for a decade.
Not all was hunky dory or idealistic. UP and Bihar saw unleashing of social justice and identity empowerment but also lumpen criminalisation, corruption and lack of development in the decades of political domination by the socialist, Mandal parties in northern India.
It was secular, empowered the OBCs, especially the Yadavs, and welcoming of the minorities, but failed to build the social utopia or a sustainable equity that would have matched the aspirations of everyone.
Just as Rajiv Gandhi had the opportunity to create a very formidable and long-term dominance of politics with liberal, modern and developmental values, the splintered factions of the Janata Dal too had their opportunities in the 90s and beyond to showcase the working of their model. They did not succeed beyond a point.
In their failure, lay the foundations of the second rise of Hindutva, and Narendra Modi. In his Luddite format, Mr Yadav was anti-reform, and anti-development, like in his opposition to English language or computers.
But no one can take away from him his biggest achievement — one of our fiercest fighters for secularism and socialistic values, one with which he seldom compromised. And went away fighting, as the fighter he always was.