Mulayam Singh Yadav takes pride in his wrestling record — he has never conceded a match in the akhara, he says. Over the years, many political stalwarts have been victims — metaphorically — of Mulayam’s “Charkha Dao”, a move in which he would lift an opponent off his feet, spin him around, and throw him back on the ground.
The victims this time are Mulayam’s socialist fellow travellers Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, from whose anti-BJP grand alliance he walked out last week. In the process, he appeared to have given the BJP a boost, and opened a window for smaller left outfits to try to forge a possible third front.
The Bihar Assembly elections is a battle in which Mulayam has hardly any stake. But his decision to change sides is in keeping with an old pattern of behaviour. Each time he has switched, Mulayam has emerged victorious, and left both friends and enemies hurting.
In 1988, he left H N Bahuguna to side with V P Singh. And a year later, he locked horns with Ajit Singh, son of his political mentor Choudhary Charan Singh, to become Chief Minister of UP for the first time. In 1992, he left Chandra Shekhar to form his own party, and in 1993, forged an alliance with the BSP to get the CM’s post for the second time.
Mulayam became CM for the third time in 2003, this time with the support of the Congress. In 2009, he allied with the former BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh, only to dump him later. And in 2010, he ended his 14-year relationship with Amar Singh, the man who was once seen as his shadow.
In his long political journey, the SP chief has left many stalwarts like Beni Prasad Verma and Raj Babbar by the wayside; Azam Khan faced a similar situation, but was able to claw back. The left parties, who had a significant presence in UP, were eaten up by Mulayam, who included their legislators in his party.
In Bihar, the SP’s best showing came in 2005, when it won four seats. But the Yadav that mattered in the state was Lalu. After four decades in politics, Mulayam now craves national importance. After the heavy defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the moves at reunifying the Janata Parivar were aimed at regaining a national image.
He moved ahead with the reunification of six parties — SP, RJD, JD(U), SJP, INLD and JD(S) — despite strong opposition from members of his family. The prize he got was becoming the head of a group that was yet to take shape. Mulayam’s efforts ensured that Lalu accepted Nitish as the leader of the alliance in Bihar.
But Mulayam soon realised that the experiment might end in him losing his own party. So, when the time came, the SP created an issue — of seats — out of nowhere, to walk away. As Ramgopal Yadav, Mulayam’s cousin said: “We would have lost SP… Our party, our symbol, everything would have gone, so I refused to sign the death warrant of our party.”
Mulayam had once contemptuously referred to Lalu as “sitting in the lap of the Congress”. SP leaders claim that Mulayam had lost the race to the PM’s chair due to Lalu’s ambition. The recent wedding between Mulayam’s grand nephew Tej Pratap Singh Yadav and Lalu’s daughter Rajyalaksmi has melted the ice, but it seems the old saying about kingship knowing no kinship remains relevant. From Lalu’s perspective, it would appear that Mulayam brought him to a position of accepting Nitish as leader in Bihar, and then pulled out himself, leaving Lalu with a considerable loss of face.
The Congress has been at the receiving end of Mulayam’s political twists and turns several times. He has ensured that the Congress does not recover in UP, even as he has taken its support several times. Recently, as Rahul Gandhi sought to claim a leadership role in the opposition in Parliament, Mulayam, the head of the Janata Parivar, chose not to cooperate. In Bihar, the SP claimed that the Congress had got many more seats than it deserved. All this, of course, came after Mulayam had extended support to UPA I and UPA II, ostensibly to stop “communal forces”.
His relationship with the BJP has been complex and multi-layered. It was the rise of the BJP after 1989 in UP that established Mulayam as “Maulana Mulayam”, sole leader of Muslims. Post 1992, he emerged as a leader with the courage to challenge the BJP. And yet, a strong BJP has been politically beneficial to Mulayam — ensuring that the Muslims stayed solidly behind him.
In 2015, Mulayam needs the BJP to go soft on his son Akhilesh Yadav’s government. Last year’s Lok Sabha rout has weakened him and made him more dependent on favours. Relations between UP’s Raj Bhawan and the CM’s Office are far from cordial. More than half a dozen Bills are pending with the Governor, who has returned the file on the appointment of the Lokayukta five times. Five names of nominated MLCs are pending with Raj Bhawan. The SP is at the moment in no position to take on the BJP. Mulayam’s action in Bihar will boost the BJP’s morale. The SP chief has in the recent past sent other signals too — such as supporting Sushma Swaraj over the Lalit Modi issue, and distancing himself from the deadlock in Parliament during the Monsoon Session.
A wry comment can increasingly be heard in Lucknow these days: “Jiske haath mein CBI, uske saath mein Sapaai (SP leaders are with those who control the CBI)”. There are many who suspect Mulayam’s Bihar manoeuvre was linked to the CBI probe against suspended Noida authority engineer Yadav Singh. Ramgopal, however, denied any link.
Whatever be the reason, very few believe this is the last time that Mulayam has ditched his friends at the eleventh hour.