Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was born on November 22, 1939, into a farming family in Saifai, near Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, spawned the state’s most powerful political clan. He was elected as a member of Parliament from Azamgarh and Mainpuri ten and seven times, respectively. He was also Defence Minister from 1996 to 1998 and Chief Minister thrice (1989–91, 1993–95, and 2003–07). He even seemed to have a shot at becoming Prime Minister for a short time.
Let’s Look At The Socialist Leader’s Political Journey
Yadav, a “socialist,” was open to political possibilities. He had been affiliated with several parties, including Lohia’s Sanyukt Socialist Party, Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Bharatiya Lok Dal, and the Samajwadi Janata Party. In 1992, he established his SP.
Mulayam received his BA, BT, and MA degrees from various colleges, including KK College in Etawah, AK College in Shikohabad, and BR College at Agra University. Mulayam’s expertise in political science may have aided him in navigating various difficult terrains.
Yadav made agreements with the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Congress when it was necessary to form or save the governments he led in Uttar Pradesh.
Yadav, who participated in students ’ union protests and demonstrations and temporarily taught at an inter-college after earning a Political Science degree, was elected as an MLA for the first time in 1967.
According to the story, Nathu Singh, the Socialist Party MLA from Jaswantnagar, asked him to run for the seat in the next election. He was impressed after meeting him after a wrestling match.
Indira Gandhi declared an Emergency during his second term as a Member of parliament from the same constituency, and Yadav, like many other opposition leaders, was imprisoned.
Yadav returned to politics after the 1975-77 Emergency as the state president of the Lok Dal. He led one group of the state unit after the party split.
Before becoming Chief Minister in 1989, Yadav served as the opposition leader in the UP Legislative Council and then in the state assembly, with the BJP providing outside support to his Janata Dal government.
The nomination was a pivotal event in Mulayam’s life that shaped his subsequent political career. As a state minister, he made reservations in cooperative institutions for scheduled castes. This elevated him to the status of messiah for backward caste communities, which he quickly used to further his political ambitions.
Mulayam was the first choice for Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1989 when the Janata Dal-Secular came to power in the state with the support of Congress.
Mulayam’s efforts to retain his Muslim-Yadav voters, a formula that Lalu Prasad Yadav was also trying to implement in Bihar politics, led to the formation of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in 1992. His popularity can be gauged from the fact that he became chief minister again in a year with his newly formed party and the support of another newcomer, the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP), in 1993.
Mulayam has been known for his staunch opposition to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since the 1990s when he ordered the firing on Kar sevaks. He has always kept a safe distance from far-right groups. In 2021, however, an image of RSS president Mohan Bhagwat and SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav seated together in a program called by then-Vice President Venkaiah Naidu went viral on Twitter.
If Mulayam’s hidden relations with the RSS were a source of concern for progressives, his misogyny constructed him the poster boy for political patriarchy.
While opposing the death penalty for rape in 2014, Mulayam stated, “First, girls develop friendships with boys.” When disagreements arise, they level rape charges. Boys make mistakes. Will they be hanged for their errors?”
However, squabbling within the party and within the family led to a sort of coup by Akhilesh Yadav in 2017. Akhilesh, his first wife’s son — he subsequently married Sadhna Gupta — was at odds with the old guard, which also included uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav.
The younger Yadav started to enjoy popular support within the party and wrenched it from his father at an SP convention. While the former wrestler’s supporters were outraged, the son portrayed the takeover as a difficult but necessary step.
In his final years, the ailing patriarch played a smaller role in the affairs of the party he founded. They still referred to him as “Netaji.”
Tracing the running themes of Mulayam’s political trajectory has always been difficult – an ideological drive tempered by realist evaluation, identity politics based on alliance-making, and national aspirations anchored by UP-specific calculations. It has been made more difficult by his long path to power, which has included stints in and out of government.
Even during his first term as chief minister, he advocated for the privatization of loss-making public units, such as the establishment of the Uttar Pradesh Cement Corporation in 1991.
Afterward, the initiative to attract foreign investments (Uttar Pradesh Investment Centre) and industrial development (Uttar Pradesh Development Council) became part of his government’s outlook, even if close advisers like Amar Singh brought the charge of champagne socialism and cronyism with them.
While all of these incidents paint Mulayam Singh Yadav as a colorful character, his reliability in politics leaves everyone cold.
When he discovered that caste was the most important factor in ascending the political ladder in the post-Mandal era, he used it to his advantage.
When he realized that Modi-baiting was not going to work, he demonstrated his faith in Narendra Modi. Mulayam Singh Yadav reshaped the political landscape in India’s most densely populated and perhaps most politically significant state. In the process, he led and responded to important political currents of the time, as well as the demands of pragmatism. Both had varying degrees of influence on the substance and style of his politics.
Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rise is a microcosm of Indian politics — wherever power goes, he followed, and his rise from the local leader to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is a journey that young and aspiring politicians can learn from.