The autumn of the Yadav patriarchs

The autumn of the Yadav patriarchs

Gone are their days of clout

Until the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Modi, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad, the Yadav chieftains of the Hindi heartland, obstructed the Saffron party’s dominance in the key region and hence a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha.

This changed in 2014 when the BJP swept Uttar Pradesh and much of Bihar. Incredibly, it managed a near repeat in the recent 2019 polls in some ways bringing an era of their supremacy to an end. But it was a different story through much of the 1990s. So powerful were the Yadavs that, it is said, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) strategists planned ways of co-opting the two powerful anti-Congress leaders into the Saffron ecosystem but in vain (though Mulayam Singh occasionally entered into a tacit understanding with the BJP courtesy the disproportionate assets case again him.)

Both, the former UP CM and Samajwadi Party (SP) boss, Mulayam, (79), and the former Bihar CM and Rashriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo, Lalu, (71), were avid socialists, casteists, anti-upper caste and pro-minority – attributes that would never mix with the BJP. As a result the Saffron strategists tried to split or weaken the Yadav parties. But it took them over a decade to achieve some success, and that too only after a new BJP emerged under Modi-Shah.

The only Yadavs the BJP managed to woo were Sharad Yadav – in 1999 as part of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) – and Ram Kripal Yadav, a trusted lieutenant of Lalu Yadav, who joined BJP in 2014. There was also the instance of Amar Singh facilitating a minor split in the SP with Shivpal Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s younger brother, floating a separate party on the eve of 2019 Lok Sabha elections to help the BJP.

However, of the two, Lalu has been a strident and credible opponent of the BJP and he, some analysts believe, paid the price for it by going to jail while a clever Mulayam saved himself from ignominy by forging a covert understanding with the Congress and the BJP brass from time to time.

In the last two decades the SP chief, who harboured prime ministerial ambitions, has taken several U-turns to suit his political interests. It helped him for sometime but now it is clearly the time for diminishing returns.

It was Mulayam, who blocked Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s bid to become PM in 1999 as he refused to sign the letter of support to the President at the eleventh hour paving the way for the formation of the BJP government. The wrestler-turned politician bailed out the Manmohan Singh-led government when the Left withdrew support in July 2008 over the controversial Indo-US nuclear agreement; the 36-strong SP contingent voted in favour of the government in the trust vote. In 2012, Mulayam opposed Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for President only to do an about turn later.

Mulayam also surprised the political class in February 2019 when he praised PM Narendra Modi and ‘blessed’ him to be re-elected. Political pundits were left guessing whether the DA case or senility had afflicted Yadav senior. In contrast Lalu has been consistent in his political posturing. However, there are many things common between the two satraps – foes-turned-friends-turned- sambandhis.

Mulayam, a three time CM and five-term Lok Sabha member, was defence minister in Deve Gowda’s cabinet during 1996-98 and Lalu, twice CM, was railway minister in the United Progressive Alliance government. Both came from poor families and entered politics inspired by the Socialist icon Ram Manohar Lohia. Professing social justice, they crafted a formidable electoral coalition of backward castes, Dalits and minorities, with “MY” (Muslim-Yadav) combination as the base in their respective states. While Lalu emerged as the darling of the secularists and Muslim voters with the arrest of LK Advani in Samastipur in 1990 en route his Ayodhya Rath Yatra, Mulayam benefited from the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 as the Muslims turned against then PM Narasimha Rao and the Congress and backed SP in the 1993 election that led to Mulayam becoming the CM.

The relations between the two dominant Yadavs soured in 1996 when an ambitious Mulayam Singh tried to become prime minister but Lalu Yadav and a few others upstaged him, paving the way for the selection of Deve Gowda as PM; the senior Yadav settled for defence portfolio. However, they buried the hatchet in 2014 when Lalu’s youngest daughter married Mulayam Singh’s grand nephew.

Mulayam’s decline started after 2004. Despite having 36 MPs he was kept at a safe distance by the Congress and in the next few years, his Man Friday, Amar Singh, changed the ‘samajwadi’ culture of the party by bringing it close to Bollywood superstars like Amitabh Bachchan and others and corporate honchos like the Ambanis. Upset with the ‘corporate and filmy’ culture of the party many socialist leaders including Beni Prasad Verma, Azam Khan and Raj Babbar revolted forcing Mulayam to expel Amar Singh from the party in 2010. However, after six years he was re-inducted as general secretary only to be expelled again in 2018 by Akhilesh Yadav for hobnobbing with Shivpal Yadav.

Mulayam Singh will be 84 in 2024 and Lalu Prasad, 76. With an ailing and ageing Lalu in jail, RJD drew a historic blank in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections under the leadership of his younger son Tejashwi Yadav. Analysts say five more cases are pending against Lalu in the CBI courts of Ranchi and Patna and hence it will be difficult for him to indulge in political activities for a few more years.

Out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP, the SP won just five in May 2019. The party has been witnessing a steady erosion in its support base over the years; from a high of 36 Lok Sabha seats in 2004, it went down to 23 in 2009 and just five each in 2014 and 2019. The party was defeated in the 2017 assembly election fought under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav, who displayed neither the grit nor the tenacity of his father.

The Modi tsunami has apparently eclipsed the political careers of the two Yadav chieftains in the autumn of their life. With a muscular BJP around it will be very difficult for them to stage a comeback. While a corrupt image, dynasty and ‘yadavisation’ of the power structure provided electoral space to parallel ‘social justice’ parties like the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (U) in Bihar and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party in UP, it is Moditva that posed a major challenge to the Yadavs threatening the casteist foundation of their vote banks like never before.

 (Kay Benedict is a New-Delhi based independent journalist)
The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.