Mulayam Singh Yadav, veteran Indian politician, dies at 82

Yadav, who entered politics in his 20s, was a three-term chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state and a former federal defence minister.

Mulayam Singh Yadav
Mulayam Singh Yadav was fondly called 'Netaji', or respected leader, by his supporters [File: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP]

Mulayam Singh Yadav, a veteran Indian politician and three-time chief minister of the country’s most populous state, has died after more than six weeks in hospital, his son said.

Yadav, who was 82, entered politics in his 20s, rising to become chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in 1989.

The state sends the highest number of legislators to the lower house of parliament and a strong showing in Uttar Pradesh is essential for any party or coalition to win power at the federal level.

Fondly called “Netaji”, or respected leader, by his supporters, Yadav became Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister for the second time in 1993, a year after a Hindu right-wing mob demolished the 16th century Babri Mosque in the town of Ayodhya, triggering nationwide violence.

He and his Samajwadi Party emerged as advocates for Muslims, who make up a sizeable minority in Uttar Pradesh.

Yadav also served as India’s federal defence minister in a coalition government between 1996 and 1998. He was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for a third time from 2003 to 2007.

Mulayam Singh Yadav
Mulayam Singh Yadav at his residence in Lucknow, India [File: Pawan Kumar/Reuters]

In recent years, he handed over the leadership of the party to his son, Akhilesh Yadav, although he remained a senior leader and a member of the national parliament.

“My respected father and your ‘Netaji’ is no more,” Akhilesh Yadav said in a tweet from the Samajwadi Party’s official account on Monday.

In his condolence messages posted on Twitter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Mulayam Singh Yadav “a remarkable personality” who was “widely admired, humble and grounded”.

“[Yadav] was sensitive to people’s problems. He served people diligently,” Modi tweeted.

“I had many interactions with Mulayam Singh Yadav ji when we served as chief ministers of our respective states. The close association continued and I always looked forward to hearing his views. His demise pains me,” he added.

The Samajwadi Party, which last held power in the state between 2012 and 2017 with Akhilesh Yadav as chief minister, has come under pressure from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has swept two consecutive state elections since then.

“With Mulayam gone there will be a void and keeping the party and family united will be a difficult task for his son,” Rajani Ranjan Jha, former professor and head of the political science department at Banaras Hindu University, told Reuters news agency.

Ajay Gudavarthy, who teaches political science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that Yadav would be remembered for giving a sense of dignity to people belonging to the less privileged castes.

“He remembered everyone by their name and it brought a personalised touch to politics,” he said.

Gudavarthy, however, feels the Samajwadi Party lacks a deeper commitment towards secularism.

“As far as the protection of Muslims is considered, it was more of an electoral calculation by them rather than a historical understanding. They should have done more for the protection of minority rights,” he said.

“Initially they did that but gradually that got degenerated into the exclusively electoral calculation. This is also the reason that led to the decline of the Samajwadi Party and the rise of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies