Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Samajwadi Party’s political journey in the last 25 eventful years has been strewn with broken relationships and ties. The difference is that it’s the first time that this family-centric party is seeing such an open rift within the family.
It has been a story of an almost-PM. It is said that he was ready to arrest L K Advani in Deoria in 1990 the moment his rath yatra entered UP. He was upstaged by RJD’s Lalu Prasad who arrested Advani at Samastipur itself. So while Mulayam is known to have a solid base of Muslims other than his core Yadav vote, it was Lalu who at the time took over that image.
When Mulayam Singh ensconsed Akhilesh Yadav on his “ummeed ki cycle” and the CM’s chair in 2012, political analysts called it a model for the patriarch of another family-centric party, DMK, to emulate. But the public washing of linen in the past few months, however, has been anything but worth emulating.
Mulayam started his career in national politics by making clear his antagonism with V P Singh and openly sided with Chandra Shekhar. His alignment with the BSP in a path-breaking alliance, then the breaking up on the back of a much-discussed violent “guesthouse incident” stalled any possible future of a Dalit-OBC combine in UP.
He went on to be defence minister in the United Front ministry and nursed a grievance that he was bypassed for the PM’s chair, despite being the CM of India’s largest state. L K Advani’s autobiography cites how, in 1999, his refusal to allow the Congress to form an alternative government at the last moment shocked his fellow travellers from the socialist-third front parivar. In 2002, the SP again surprisingly sides with the BJP in its bid to make A P J Abdul Kalam the President, after reassuring his non-BJP associates that he was up to supporting K R Narayanan again.
In 2003, following the fall of the BSP-BJP government in UP, Mulayam’s sudden installation as CM of a minority
government surprised the BJP-led Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre. Another turnaround was the abandonment of the People’s Front of regional and Left parties, which stunned his allies. Both these moves came at
a time when Amar Singh was seen as playing the role of negotiating for his leader.
In 2004, when the UPA was formed, the CPM’s H K Surjeet took Mulayam to a dinner meeting just to ensure “secular” forces would not get dispersed.
In 2012, Mulayam appeared to be working very closely with Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee for the selection of the President but at the last minute embarrassed her by deciding to abandon the hunt and backing Pranab Mukherjee, who went onto win.
In last year’s Bihar polls, despite having forged close, familial ties with Lalu Prasad, Mulayam abandoned the maha gathbandhan of the RJD-JDU-Congress. The story repeated itself in the Bengal elections of 2016, when he first came alongside the Left parties, then jumped ship months before the polls.
Mulayam’s story has also been one of mandir as much as it has been about kamandal politics. If he emerged as a “pivot” for Muslim votes when they abandoned the Congress and viewed Mayawati with suspicion, he was also seen see-sawing when he welcomed Kalyan Singh and Sakshi Maharaj into his fold under the banner of non-Yadav OBC consolidation.