Mulayam chose ‘larger good’ over ‘legitimate claim’ of being PM, came close to top post: Yechury
New Delhi: Burning the midnight oil, as the United Front constituents dealt with the Congress’ withdrawal of support to the HD Deve Gowda government in 1997, it was veteran leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s resolve to choose the “larger good” over his “legitimate claim” to the prime minister’s post that left a lasting impact on CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury.
Recalling the uncountable meetings, campaign trails and election strategy sessions that he shared with the Samajwadi Party patriarch while working closely for decades, Yechury said that the 82-year-old, who passed away on Monday, was a keen listener, ready to hear out even contrarian views.
The CPI(M) general secretary talked about an interesting period he shared with the veteran leader when the then Congress president Sitaram Kesri withdrew support to the Gowda government in 1997.
“Then the issue came up on whether we should go for fresh elections or form an alternative government. It was less than one year from the last elections. An alternative government was the only way, otherwise, it would have led to a lot of problems,” Yechury told PTI.
“We spent an entire night at the Andhra Bhawan trying to work out a resolution, mindful that the swearing-in was the next morning. Till early morning, we were having discussions,” he said.
The issue, he said, was that if the prime minister is changed, the cabinet composition too needed to be changed and then there would invariably be claims and counterclaims as there were so many parties.
“So, eventually I suggested that we have the same cabinet and only change the PM but by the time that was accepted, it was early morning.
“There was tension, as is natural. Mulayam Singh Yadav was there and he was willing to listen to the other point of view though he may have felt, legitimately, that he should be the next PM. He came around for the larger good,” said Yechury.
“This was one of the occasions that he came close to becoming PM,” the Left leader said.
Yechury also recalled how the Samajwadi party chief was close to Left leaders like CPI(M) stalwart Harkishan Singh Surjeet who pushed for Yadav to be the prime minister after the fall of the Gowda government.
Yechury also recalled how the Left parties have grown together with the Samajwadi Party leader, dating back to the decades of the 80s, and the important role he played in the JP Movement in his state.
He said that as political parties and as alliance partners, the Left parties and the SP came close during the 1980s and it gained momentum in 1989 during the election campaign which saw VP Singh form the government and Yadav becoming the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
“From then on the Left and SP worked together closely building the unity of Left and secular forces to stop the growing offensive of the communal forces of the BJP. “Remember that was the time of the Rath Yatra, time of the Babri Masjid demolition — he (Mulayam) always took a secular position defending the rights of the minorities and was an important ally,” Yechury said.
Perhaps the most significant part of Yadav’s nearly five decades of political career was in October 1990 when, he, as the then UP chief minister, ordered police to fire at karsevaks who were marching towards the Babri Masjid.
“Let them try and enter Ayodhya. We will teach them the meaning of law,” he had famously remarked.
Yechury also said that his role to keep the BJP out of the Centre in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Narasimha Rao government period was significant as well.
“The effort was to stop the BJP and this led to the formation of the United Front in 1996 and then the formation of the UF government after defeating the Vajpayee government in a vote of confidence after 13 days.
“In the United Front, Mulayam played an important role along with Left and other regional parties to keep the BJP out.
“My personal interactions with him during the period when he was contesting elections, through the UF days, are very close and dear to me. We travelled together, campaigned together maintained a close relationship both inside and outside parliament,” he said.
Yechury also recalled how Yadav was insistent on Jyoti Basu’s name as the prime minister of the United Front government in 1996.
“The (party’s) Central Committee did not agree to Basu’s name as PM.
“Mulayam sent us back. By then, many members had dispersed, but we consulted again and the decision remained the same. However, he had sent us back, saying, ‘no, no, go back and tell the central committee that it is my appeal’,” recalled Yechury.
The CPI(M) leader also noted that the Left’s relationship with the Samajwadi Party leader, while largely amiable, was not without its share of differences.
He pointed out three instances – the question of forming an alternative government after Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost the vote of no confidence in 1998, the election of the president where the SP supported APJ Abdul Kalam while the Left wanted KR Narayanan to recontest and the Indo-US nuclear deal.