Grammar of Mulayam Singh’s politics

There is method in his apparent madness: in quitting the grand alliance he is trying to secure his base in UP

Yogesh Vajpeyi | October 10, 2015




Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to pull out of the ‘grand alliance’ in Bihar has understandably created a flutter among members of the erstwhile Janata Parivar. Though official reactions from leaders of other units of the parivar, JD(U) leaders Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav and RLD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, are muted in the hope of chances of reconciliation, second-rung leaders in these outfits have started talking of “a betrayal” and a “trade-off” with the ruling BJP at the centre.

Those who are acquainted with the political discourse within the erstwhile socialists in the past are not unfamiliar with such insinuating suggestions.  Charges of betraying the cause and trade-off with the enemy camp have invariably been levelled during the earlier break-ups, only to be forgotten when the imperatives of convenience demand a temporary patch-up.

Canny politician that Mulayam is, he knows it. He imbibed the rules of the game of politics of social justice from the wrestling bouts in the Jaswant Nagar assembly constituency during the early 1960s when the then Praja Socialist Party MLA, Mathu Singh, picked him up, oversaw his baptism in politics and ensured that he got a Samyukta Socialist Party ticket for the same constituency. He won the seat in 1967.

READ: The rise and fall of Yadav Singh


Mulayam has not forgotten the lessons he learnt on the ground where the Chambal valley’s political culture of vendetta and settling scores combines with an acute awareness that tactical alliances are only a means to consolidate the political capital. As he struggles to defend his political capital on home ground – assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are due in 2017 – he knows that politics is the art of the possible where the winner takes all.

The realisation dawned on Mulayam immediately after socialist steward Ram Manohar Lohia’s death in 1967. He contested the 1969 assembly elections from Jaswant Nagar on SSP ticket and lost. Realising that the socialists were on a down-the-hill roll, he joined breakaway Congress leader Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Lok Dal in 1969. That Charan Singh’s politics was based on mobilising backward castes against the Brahmin-bania raj helped him expand his political capital.

Mulayam remained with Charan Singh till his death after which the BLD split into BLD-A (Ajit Singh) and BLD-B (Bahuguna). He claimed to be the true inheritor of Charan Singh’s legacy fighting the Congress in the name of Lohia’s anti-Congressism even if it meant making a common cause with the BJP.

After the Congress debacle in 1989, the two BLD factions merged into the Janata Dal and Mulayam outwitted Charan Singh’s son Ajit Singh in the race for UP chief ministership with tactical support from VP Singh. The downfall of the VP Singh government at the centre saw him switch sides to Chandrashekhar’s short-lived government. However, Mulayam managed to retain his chief ministership with outside support from Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress.

READ: Caged parrot reads Mulayam’s fate


He caught Rajiv and his party on the wrong foot when immediately after a talk with Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi he returned to Lucknow and drove to the Raj Bhawan, recommending the dissolution of the state assembly. ND Tewari, then leader of the Congress legislature party in UP, was literally caught napping.

The 1991 election saw BJP ride to power thanks to the Ram Mandir wave and Mulayam started looking for new tactical allies that could add incremental value to his political capital. He had already consolidated his Muslim vote bank by projecting himself as the defender of the Babri mosque. He formed his own party, Samajwadi Party, in 1992 and entered into an alliance with Kanshi Ram’s Bahujan Samaj Party to ride back to power in the 1993 assembly elections caused by the dissolution of the state assembly following the demolition of the mosque.
How the SP-BSP alliance broke up and deeply fragmented UP politics is now an open chapter in the state’s political history. Since then both Yadav and BSP leader Mayawati have been doing business with the BJP in their quest for power – sometimes overtly, sometime covertly.

While Mayawati became the CM of the state thrice with BJP support (1995, 1997 and 2002) Mulayam enjoyed his share in the cake of power at the centre as a defence minister during the United Front government and UP during the president’s rule under governor Romesh Bhandari and as UP chief minister with tacit BJP support during 2003-07 after the breakup of the last BSP-BJP alliance.

The 2007 state assembly elections saw Mayawati’s BSP return to power with an absolute majority of its own. The subsequent elections in 2012 saw Mulayam install his son Akhilesh as the chief minister on the party’s own strength.

The move to reunite the members of the erstwhile Janata Parivar with Mulayam projected as its leader was riddled with holes from the beginning and Mulayam had doubts about the real motives his potential allies, particularly Nitish Kumar, who has been openly hobnobbing with the Congress. Statements by JD(U) leaders like KC Tyagi that the issue of the president of the proposed united outfit immediately after Mulayam has endorsed Nitish and the non-BJP alliance’s chief minister in Bihar made him smell the rat.

So he seems to have decided to pull off the rug from under the feet of his not so trusting friends. Mulayam is no fool and he knows that he has little stake in Bihar elections. But he wants to defend his political terrain in Uttar Pradesh when elections are due there. He knows that a decisive result in favour of his not-so-trustworthy allies could only spell trouble for him in UP. On the other hand, a BJP victory will set the stage for him to repeat the old theme song of Barbarians at the Gate to consolidate his Muslim vote bank.

Though the last word on the reconfiguration of anti-BJP forces is yet to be written, Mulayam knows that neither Lalu nor Nitish can or will be willing to bail him out in the electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh. There is a method in his seeming madness.

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(The article appears in the October 1-15, 2015 issue)

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