Mulayam Singh Yadav, 82, universally called “Netaji” passed away on a rainy Monday.
Yadav was in the intensive care unit of a private hospital in Gurugram. His passing truly marks the end of an era — both for the Samajwadi Party he founded and turned in to a Uttar Pradesh regional giant and for Mandal politics in India.
Yadav was the Lok Sabha MP from Mainpuri at the time of his passing.
Akhilesh Yadav, his son, confirmed the news of the leader’s death on Twitter “mere adarniye pitaji aur sabke Netaji nahi rahe” (My respected father and everyone’s leader is no more), he tweeted.
Yadav served three terms as the Chief Minister of UP and also served as the defence minister of India. A leader, who believed in the socialist ideals of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Yadav had a secular political outlook.
Notably to protect the Babri Mosque (later demolished), Yadav (as Chief Minister) ordered the police to use force on the kar sevaks (volunteers) on two separate occassions in October and November 1990. Later he would express regret at the firings but, said it was necessary and justified to protect a religious place the unity of India.
Yadav was proud of his secular faith and the minority support he enjoyed. He once told me with genuine pride in an interview, “I am very happy that the Muslims of UP trust me to be fair and just. As a Chief Minister, I have never looked at anyone's religion.”
Yadav was a rooted leader, a wrestler-turned-teacher-turned-leader and his politics was completely people-oriented. Known for always speaking his mind, Yadav was among the last of the truly mass leaders in north India.
An earthy lingo
When elections dawned, Yadav campaigned in an earthy lingo immediately understood by his main constituents. This proved to be his magic mantra — to defeat his political opponents with a “dhobi pacchad” (wrestling move).
Yadav rose in politics after an intense political unrest, following the emergency imposed and withdrawn by Indira Gandhi.
He established himself as an Other Backward Caste (OBC) leader, particularly among the Yadavs — his own community and took oath as UP’s 15 CM in 1989.
He cut a huge swathe through the Congress party’s UP votes post-Mandal politics. The Congress has not returned to power in UP — India’s most important political state — ever since.
Yadav had a Master’s degree in political science. But, he always remained earthy, telling me once “it’s better you don’t ask how many classes I attended”.
Once he gave me an early morning time for an interview and was present in the studio before the time. As the set up for the interview was being done, he happily chatted away with the motley crew in the studio, practically everyone there, asking where they were from and recalling common places. He completely looked his natural self.
That was Yadav — always happiest among people. Meeting them, attending to them. Before old age took its ravages, Yadav used to insist that he knew the name of every SP worker and would not leave the party office without meeting all of those who flocked to meet him.
After his first wife Malti Devi (Akhilesh’s mother) passed away, Yadav married Sadhana Gupta with whom he had a son, Pratik Yadav.
Akhilesh, his political heir, has been leading the SP from 2017 when he deposed Yadav in a soft family coup. The family bitterness was however patched over and the estranged father and son soon came together.
Strong votary of Hindi
Yadav was a strong votary of Hindi and wanted it to replace English in all government communique.
A shrewd political leader in UP, he partnered with rivals when necessary. Mayawati, chief of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Yadav were lifelong political rivals and made no bones about their dislike for the other.
Yet Yadav ensured that son Akhilesh Yadav bury the hatchet and team up with her. The alliance failed to yield any concrete political results but, Yadav had no qualms about political decisions which could be seen as U-turns in politics.
Akhilesh Yadav is now the undisputed leader of the SP. However, post the Mandal era, Yadav has seen little success in UP after tying up with both the Congress and BSP.
Mulayam Singh Yadav always remained anxious about Akhilesh’s future.
His funeral will be held in Saifai — his village in Etawah district — a place where he rose to prominence from as one of India’s last truly secular leaders.