Mulayam Singh Yadav: the Phoenix rises again
Lucknow, March 6 (IANS) He is diminutive but a never say die fighter, having learnt his skills as a young wrestler. On Tuesday, Mulayam Singh Yadav, aged 72, proved why he cannot be vanquished in his home turf.
As his Samajwadi Party triumphed in Uttar Pradesh against all odds, it was clear the man's favourite wrestling lock, dhobhi patak, remains intact.
Set to be coronated chief minister of India's most populous state for a fourth term, there was a time when Mulayam borrowed a cycle to travel in the countryside where he was born and bred.
Influenced by the teachings of veteran socialist Ram Manohar Lohia, Mulayam took to politics as a teenager. His indomitable energy and ability to mix with ordinary folks quickly won him numerous admirers.
He first took to teaching. But it is politics that made him what he is today -- a dogged fighter with the sobriquet 'Netaji'.
He was first elected, on a socialist party ticket, to the Uttar Pradesh assembly in 1967, when the Congress suffered major reverses in north India at the hands of an aggressive opposition.
A postgraduate in political science, he was elected to the house eight times.
As opposition politics underwent convulsions, Mulayam gravitated from one party to another until founding the Samajwadi Party in 1992.
He became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1989 but it was all over in two years. This was when he ordered security forces to fire at a mob which tried to bring down the Babri mosque, forever earning the gratitude of the Muslim community. Hindutva forces quickly dubbed him "Mulla Mulayam".
After the Babri mosque was razed in December 1992, he teamed up with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to be chief minister again. The Samajwadi tie-up with BSP was a disaster, and both soon became sworn enemies.
In 1996, Mulayam became India's defence minister after getting elected to the Lok Sabha.
He again took charge of Uttar Pradesh from 2003. His party was routed four years later.
Decades of political work made him a pragmatist, one who shed many of his old socialist slogans to easily merge with India's top industrialists and the glitterati.
As he dug deeper into national politics, Amar Singh emerged as his most trusted lieutenant. It was a relationship that caused much envy among many of his colleagues who deserted Mulayam.
The relationship finally soured in 2009 when his son Akhilesh Yadav, now seen as a hero of the Samajwadi sweep in Uttar Pradesh, blamed Amar Singh for his wife's defeat in the Lok Sabha election.
Aides recount tales of Mulayam stopping by roadside eateries to chat with commoners.
"He has no airs, he is very down to earth but does not believe in hyping it like others," a security officer who has known him for years told IANS.
Now a member of the Lok Sabha, elected for the fifth time in 2009, Mulayam draws support dominantly from his own Yadav clan and Muslims.
His political hub is the backward belt of Mainpuri and Etawah, the former home to a thriving industry in locally-made guns called 'katta'.
Loyalty means a lot to him.
He has retained his Personal Security Officer Shiv Kumar, his personal secretary Jagjivan and telephone operator-cum-attendant Tara Chand for the last three decades.
While he largely remains a socialist at heart, his lifestyle changed midway. For one who used to sip butter milk bottled in a thermos flask during flights, he now prefers ginger ale.