22nd November 1943: Mulayam Singh Yadav, Indian politician, was born

Mulayam Singh Yadav, a leading player in Indian politics and former defence minister of India, was born on November 22, 1939, in Saifai village of Uttar Pradesh’s Etawah district. The Samajwadi Party founder, known for his shrewd political skills, has served as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh several times.

Trained as a teacher and wrestler, he plunged into politics as a teenager and was influenced by socialist ideologue Ram Manohar Lohia, taking part in several campaigns led by the famous leader.

As he matured politically, Mulayam realised that the key to political power in India’s most populous state was by forging a unique social coalition that included Muslims and sections of backward castes. As the political scientist and columnist Christophe Jaffrelot writes in his book India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India: “Mulayam came from a poor peasant family in a small village but was able to join K.K. College in Etawah in 1960, where he was highly influenced by Jan, the newspaper that Lohia then edited. This political commitment led him to contest the student union elections [. . .]”

In 1967 he entered the Uttar Pradesh assembly, contesting as a socialist, and repeating the feat in 1974 and 1977, but for a different party. Though he lost the 1980 elections, he rose to become leader of the opposition after being elected in the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Parishad. In a few years, he got elected to the state Vidhan Sabha as well.

He became a minister in the state government in 1977. In 1980, Mulayam was made president of the Lok Dal, which later became a part of the Janata Dal.

Mulayam’s first stint as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was from 1989 to 1991.

With the V. P. Singh government at the Centre collapsing in November 1990, Mulayam joined hands with Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and remained chief minister till the Congress withdrew its support in April 1991.

During his term as chief minister, the Ram Temple agitation was at its peak and the BJP’s fortunes were on the rise. Heeding the call of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, lakhs of kar sevaks from across the country gathered at Ayodhya for the construction of a temple at the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site. Heavy security was deployed in and around Ayodhya. In the communally charged atmosphere of those days, Mulayam had pledged that he would not allow any person near the disputed site. On October 30, 1990, the police fired on kar sevaks trying to reach the site, killing scores of them. In July 2013, nearly 23 years after he ordered the firing on kar sevaks, Mulayam said that the “decision was painful” but he was left with no other options.

Mulayam founded the Samajwadi Party in 1992. In the 1993 Uttar Pradesh polls, he joined hands with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and became chief minister of UP for the second time, with the support of Congress and Janata Dal. He supported the creation of a separate state of Uttarakhand as chief minister. He remained chief minister till June 1995.

Mulayam now set his eyes at the Centre and was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1996. With the United Front alliance coming to power, he joined the government and became the union defence minister. Asked about the BJP and BSP suddenly joining hands to form a government in Uttar Pradesh, he said in an interview to Outlook magazine in April 1997: “They have come together out of fear of the Samajwadi Party and its widening support-base. The lower castes and the poor were with us even earlier, now even the upper castes are gradually coming within our fold, so that we represent all vargas.”

The United Front government lasted till 1998 and Mulayam was again elected to the Lok Sabha.  In 1999, when the BJP government at the Centre fell, he contested the Lok Sabha polls from two seats, winning in both. He became Uttar Pradesh chief minister again in 2003 but the Samajwadi Party lost the state elections in May 2007, with the BSP’s Mayawati again coming to power. In the 2012 UP polls, the Samajwadi Party won by a landslide. But this time around, Mulayam selected his son, Akhilesh Yadav, to be the chief minister.  

In a long and colourful career, Mulayam Singh Yadav has established himself as a pillar of Uttar Pradesh politics whose voice is heard in the power corridors of New Delhi as well. Known as a political fighter with the knack of making comebacks, he has also become a symbol of the growing clout of regional parties in national politics.  

Also on this day:

2012 — P. Govinda Pillai, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and ideologue from Kerala, passed away

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