He has played many roles- a 'pehelwan', a teacher, a socialist mass leader, minister, Chief Minister, Union Minister. Today, he is readying for one more - proud father and mentor to Uttar Pradesh's youngest Chief Minister. At 72, Mulayam Singh Yadav has proved that he still matters much in Indian politics.
Mr Yadav's political career is made up of some very impressive numbers. He is a five-time Member of Parliament, he has been elected MLA 11 times and has been Chief Minister of UP thrice. Once a regional satrap, Mulayam Singh Yadav has wielded considerable national clout over the past two decades. He served as the Defence Minister of India in the United Front government of HD Deve Gowda. He has been one of the pivots of the move to mobilise a third front, has on several occasions ensured the survival of the UPA government and now, with his spectacular win in UP, could play a crucial role at the Centre where coalition equations are fragile.
A long time ago, Mulayam Singh Yadav was a pehlwan in the akhadas of UP. Born in Saifai village of UP's Etawah district, he was spotted by his mentor Natthu Singh while wrestling in Mainpuri, which has for long been his Lok Sabha constituency. Natthu Singh decided that Mr Yadav could wrestle with more than just some muscular, well-oiled opponents. Mulayam Singh also holds an MA from Agra University. He says, "I wanted to become a teacher, I was an MA in political science. I became a teacher."
Mulayam Singh first became a state minister in UP in 1977. He was first sworn in as the chief minister of UP in 1989. Twenty three years later, his son is ready for his first turn at the helm of the state. Put there by a fond father who is also canny politician enough to recognise the need of the hour.
Netaji, as everyone around him including son Akhilesh addresses Mulayam Singh, has a fine memory: "When I went to jail during Emergency, I used to miss Akhilesh. He was barely two years old. He had come once to jail to meet me."
Mr Yadav has known bitter rivalry too. Not least with Mayawati the BSP chief who he once partnered politically - in 1992, the same year that he founded the Samajwadi Party. The coming apart of that alliance led to mistrust so deep that the two have been sworn enemies for many years now. In the last 20 politically volatile years, Mayawati has snatched power four times from him, the last time in 2007, when she washed UP in the BSP's colours. This time, son Akhilesh scripted political revenge with a win even more emphatic than Mayawati's had been.