He was popularly known as Netaji, a sobriquet used first for Subhas Chandra Bose. Mulayam Singh Yadav (83) had many qualities that made him easily one of the tallest leaders of the country. He had a mind of his own and he could always spring a surprise. When Sonia Gandhi was inches away from being sworn in as prime minister, he called into question her foreign origin and sent the move for a toss. In his last speech in the outgoing Lok Sabha in 2019, he shocked everyone by wishing Narendra Modi one more term as prime minister. Ordinarily, he would have been a caste chieftain, lording it over in the area, settling local disputes and spending his spare time in the wrestling arena — but for the socialist ideas he gained from Ram Manohar Lohia. He hobnobbed with almost all the parties that bore “socialism” in their names only to realise that he needed a party of his own.
Vishwanath Pratap Singh as Prime Minister unsheathed the Mandal weapon against the temple politics of the BJP by offering reservation to the other backward castes. It was a powerful weapon in Yadav’s hands when he launched the Samajwadi Party in 1992. He had the solid support of the single largest Yadav community in Uttar Pradesh, who had until then been scattered among parties like the Congress and other socialist variants. His stand on the Babri Masjid issue was enough for the Muslims who felt disenchanted enough with the Congress over the demolition of the mosque to gravitate towards him. The consolidation of the Yadav-Muslim votes made him virtually invincible in UP.
No other leader believed that politics was the art of the possible as Yadav did. He did not mind aligning his party with the Bahujan Samaj Party, the BJP and even the Congress to let him or his son and successor Akhilesh Yadav hold the levers of power in UP. He even had a shot at the prime ministership, which alas slipped out of his fingers. The arrival of Narendra Modi as the MP from Varanasi and Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of UP was something he could not come to terms with. But then, he had ceased to be the effective leader of the Samajwadi Party. His promise of socialism no longer inspires the people, who find the Bulldozer Baba’s Hindutva far more appealing, especially when Muslims find themselves rudderless. Yet, Mulayam Singh Yadav will remain the red-capped Netaji in the hearts of the people for a long time to come.
Name game, who’s to blame?
Shakespeare did declare, “That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.” But ask any Shiv Sena leader and he would say that the name is in fact all that matters. It is a pointer to the kind of challenge Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar had when both factions of the Shiv Sena wanted names that encapsulated their heritage and ideals. He proved to be like the wise Solomon who asked the woman making false claims of motherhood to cut off a piece of the child and force the real mother to forsake her claims. Mr Kumar had no philosophical questions to settle, as he only had to give the two factions a name from the three they themselves offered. In the end, the CEC was able to please both Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and Balasaheb’s Shiv Sena.
Names should be simple so that people can both pronounce and remember them easily. If that is the yardstick, Balasaheb’s Shiv Sena which can be called BSS, takes the cake over Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), which may be called SSUBT. The latter is a tongue-twister. When the Congress split first, the official faction was called Congress (Organisation) and the rival Congress (Requisitionists). They became Congress (O) and Congress (R). Nobody can distinguish between O and zero. So, when the Indira Gandhi faction began calling the rival party Congress Zero, the latter had to claim that mathematics was not possible without zero. It took many years for the Congress to regain its old regal name. When the DMK split, the rival faction added All India Anna to the name to call itself AIADMK. In its case, the leaders were with M Karunanidhi, while the people were with MG Ramachandran. Successive elections proved that MGR was unrivalled. Election to the Andheri (East) assembly seat will reveal which Shiv Sena name has clicked with the people.