Mulayam’s Legacy: 5 Ways He Changed UP Politics
If the first generation of rulers in Uttar Pradesh – like indeed other parts of the country – were freedom fighters; the second generation – which emerged from the late sixties – were made up of street fighters. Many of these leaders were socialists who cut their teeth in campus politics, fought vigorously for popular causes, and rose to stature during and after the emergency.
Mulayam Singh Yadav was the greatest and most eminent leader of this generation – a man who set new rules and benchmarks for political action in the UP and, to a large extent, in other parts of the north from India as well. His death marks the end of an era.
1. Affirmation of peasant communities
Ram Manohar Lohia rallied farming communities – many of whom would later form the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) – with the slogan “Sansopa ne baandhi gaanth, pichhde paawein sau mein saath” (the Samyukt Socialist Party took this resolution, the OBCs should get 60% of everything)”. groups rallied around VP Singh after he quit Congress, which was unwilling to meet their aspirations.
With the coming to power of Moulayam Singh Yadav on December 5, 1989, a long period began in the politics of the UP during which the upper castes were kept out of power. This phase – uninterrupted except for short periods in 1999-2000 and 2000-2002 when Ram Prakash Gupta and Rajnath Singh became CMs – ended only with the coming to power of Yogi Adityanath, a Thakur, in 2017.
It was under Mulayam that the 27% post-Mandal reserve for OBCs was implemented – triggering social churn that caused the BJP to project Kalyan Singh, an OBC leader, as CM in 1991. So that most of the spoils of political power under Mulayam went to Yadavs, OBC representation in government has improved overall; significantly, several OBC communities that did not use their surnames in previous decades have now begun to feel confident enough to do so.
2. Entry of Dalits into the corridors of power
In 1977, when Ram Naresh Yadav became UP’s first non-upper caste CM, a prominent candidate for the position was Dalit leader Ram Dhan. But it was the emergence of Moulayam and his politics of social justice that first enabled the Dalits to set foot in the door – a significant fact that is often obscured by the narrative of the rivalry between the SP and Kanshi Ram’s BSP.
In the 1993 Assembly elections, which took place after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the BJP’s hopes of benefiting from a Hindu consolidation were scuttled by Mulayam, who allied itself with the BSP, a party until there considered a minor actor. The SP-BSP government, however, did not last – Mulayam had its own style of politics and the BSP was eager for power. The alliance’s contradictions led to Mayawati becoming the first Dalit chief minister of the UP in June 1995, backed, ironically enough, by the BJP.
The BSP gained strength thereafter and Mayawati was able to form a government on her own in 2007, which lasted for five years. She is the oldest CM in UP to date, while the second is Mulayam Singh Yadav himself. The SP and BSP came together in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in which the BSP won 10 seats. Bi-party politics are now at a crossroads – and the BJP has used a formula of social engineering that can no longer be countered by formulas such as “M+Y” which have paid dividends in earlier periods.
3. Even before the BJP, a Congress-mukt UP
The day Moulayam was first sworn in in 1989 was the last day of the ruling UP Congress. Prior to 1989, Muslims and Dalits were considered the base of Congress, in addition to most upper castes – Mulayam shattered this social alliance with his social justice policy, dealing a blow from which Congress could never recover. The slogan of “Congress-mukt Bharat” given by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was somehow realized by Mulayam in UP a quarter of a century ago.
4. Among the greatest Muslim leaders
Much of the Muslim vote shifted to Charan Singh when he defected from Congress and twice became Chief Minister and, for a short time, Prime Minister of India.
The Muslims then moved to VP Singh’s Janata Dal and over the next few years seemed to gravitate to any party seen as capable of defeating the BJP.
In UP, the main beneficiary was Mulayam – who relied on a Muslim-Yadav coalition as the main electorate. This support has stood the test of time, as shown by the percentage of SP votes under Akhilesh Yadav in this year’s Assembly polls. With the PS out of power until at least 2027, it remains to be seen what percentage of the Muslim vote remains loyal to the party founded by Moulayam.
5. The Politics of Dynasty and Strongmen
The rapid criminalization of politics in the UP began during the emergency, under leaders such as HN Bahuguna and ND Tiwari, patronized by Sanjay Gandhi. This trend continued during Janata’s reign of 1977-80. The government of Chief Minister VP Singh, which came to power in June 1980, saw multiple killings of criminals and dacoits, allegedly from certain castes.
The tendency of criminal elements to find refuge in politics was reinforced under Moulayam, who repeatedly faced allegations of protecting and promoting these elements. If he was not the only politician to be so accused, it tarnished the reputation of the SP.
The other allegation Mulayam faced was establishing his family in his party and in Uttar Pradesh politics – indeed there was a time when 10 of his family members held prominent political positions. Akhilesh also tried hard to rid the SP of this reputation.