Mulayam will keep people guessing till he's sure Akhilesh has outgrown him in political craftsmanship

Deceit and deception are hallmarks of social life in ravines that bestride Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. In his formative years at his Saifai village of Etawah that borders Madhya Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav learnt it the hard way that everyday survival in the treacherous terrain of ravines was no less than an art. In the world outside ravines, it is called politics.

It would be rather premature to sing requiem for Mulayam who has finessed survival into an art aka politics. Five years ago, when Mulayam handed over the reins to Akhilesh ignoring the claims of his much loved-brother Shivpal Yadav, he was guided more by pragmatism than emotions. Akhilesh was a novice then and Mulayam was not getting any younger. He was quite aware of the human limitations that afflicted him. As of now, he is a pale shadow of his past. The manner in which he put up a charade of a fight against his son before the Election Commission was only demonstrative of his cunning. He seemed quite willing to be defeated by his son who has been showing the signs of acquiring killer instincts that are prerequisite for a successful politician.

Contrast Mulayam’s meekness on Tuesday with his conduct in the past, one would realise the difference. He walked away with the legacy of Chaudhary Charan Singh after reducing his mentor’s son Ajit Singh to a Jat leader of Baghpat. Similarly, he did not bat an eyelid before leaving former prime minister Chandrashekhar and forming his own party Samajwadi Party (SP) after the Babri Mosque demolition.

UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. File photo. PTI

UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. File photo. PTI

But Mulayam fought his life’s most difficult battle with former prime minister VP Singh. He was fighting with his back to the wall. In 1980, VP Singh took over as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and launched a massive operation against dacoits of Chambals. The ruthless operation conducted by the UP police saw elimination of several bandits in dubious encounters.

If police officers of those times are to be believed, the police used to pick up able-bodied young men on the slightest doubts of having links with dacoits and bumped them off. Needless to say Mulayam had a lost an army of supporters in Jaswant Nagar, Etahaw, Mainpuri, Etah and Agra. Though gangs of brigands like Phoolan Devi, Vikram Mallah and Nepal Singh Yadav operated with impunity, the police chose soft-targets by picking up petty criminals who dabbled in politics.

In one of the encounters near the ravines of Jaswant Nagar, Mulayam’s army was decimated when the dreaded dacoit Nepal Singh Yadav was killed by the police. He was believed to have close links with neta ji whose protective umbrella ensured his survival for decades. Mulayam launched a fierce battle against VP Singh and accused him of engineering fake encounters to kill political activists in Etawah and adjoining ravines.

Of course, Mulayam soon made up with the new regime when VP Singh was replaced by Bir Bahadur Singh in 1982 as UP chief minister. Once again, he built his army of supporters across the region under the tutelage of Charan Singh, a leader who mobilised intermediary castes by taking up agrarian issues. Mulayam was quick to grab the mantle from Charan Singh and established himself as undisputed leader of the OBC’s except Jats. He effectively confined Ajit Singh to being a leader of the west UP and then subsequently reduced him to the position of leading Baghpat and the adjoining belt. His running feud with VP Singh continued even after 1989 elections in which VP Singh pitched for Ajit Singh as the chief minister of the state. However, Mulayam outsmarted him and secured the majority votes in the legislature.

He relied on his instincts honed in his childhood in ravines to survive the Ayodhya crisis. He was quite at ease with leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and had developed excellent equations with the torchbearers of the Ayodhya movement. Yet he found secularism as his calling card to cement a formidable social coalition of Muslims-Yadavs to develop his own political base. Though his party was decimated in 1991 Assembly elections, he bounced back in 1993 by forging a coalition with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) following demolition of the Babri mosque. Few realise that Mulayam’s masterstroke of forging alliance of OBCs and Muslims proved to be the undoing for Congress which used to have a strong base in the state.

In fact, Mulayam was shrewd enough to realise that his party could grow only at the expense of Congress and the Left parties. This was the precise reason why he appropriated minority support base of the congress and co-opted prominent Communist leaders of eastern UP to his fold. He shunned any alliance with Ajit Singh knowing that it would be inimical to his political interest.

In the twilight of his career, Mulayam has reasons to worry for his son’s moves of stitching up an alliance with the Congress and the RLD — both the groups which Mulayam deliberately shunned. His worry also comes from the fact that despite showing signs of acquiring killer’s instincts, there is a degree of naivety in Akhilesh’s political moves. As a father, he is wary of Akhilesh’s tendency to rely on fair-weather friends and discard trusted allies. In the ravines of Chambal and in politics, such follies are rarely condoned and often fatal. Mulayam had learnt this hard way. Till Mulayam is sure of Akhilesh having outgrown him in political craftsmanship, he will continue the facade of deception going to keep his friends and foes guessing about his real intent.

That has always been a typical Mulayam Singh Yadav, a master of ambiguity.

Published Date: Jan 17, 2017 15:02 PM | Updated Date: Jan 17, 2017 15:14 PM

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