He first entered the state assembly way back in 1967, when he was just 28 years old. He has been the chief minister of his state thrice, and was elevated as the country's defence minister in 1996. Now, at the age of 75, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who heads the Samajwadi Party, wants to occupy the post that has eluded him so far, that of the prime minister.
It's a do-or-die battle for the wrestler-turned-politician, as Netaji, as Mr Yadav is fondly addressed by his followers, realizes that the coming general election offers him the last chance to attain his ambition. That is why his party has launched an all-out bid to garner the maximum number of seats in the politically-vital state of Uttar Pradesh.
He is one of the principal architects of the move to forge a third front comprising anti-BJP, anti-Congress forces. He foresees a re-enactment of 1996, when the Congress slipped badly, and the BJP was in no position to muster the numbers required to form the government. The United Front was born after the polls, and HD Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal pipped Mr Yadav to grab the prime minister's post 18 years ago.
The Samajwadi Party chief is in no mood to let 1996 be repeated in 2014. He has launched his party's campaign in earnest. "Man me hai Mulayam, Aur Irade loha hain"(he may look soft from inside, but his intentions are rock-solid), so goes the party's catchline for the coming electoral battle. In closed-door meetings, he has exhorted Samajwadi Party workers to get him at least 60 seats from the state (Uttar Pradesh sends 80 MPs to Lok Sabha).
But Mr Yadav's bid has been greatly hampered by the image-deficit suffered by the Akhilesh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh. In 2012 assembly polls, Mr Yadav, sensing popular mood, named his older son as his party's chief ministerial candidate. The Samajwadi Party was swept back to power after a gap of five years, and Akhilesh Yadav, 38, was sworn in as the youngest chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
The Akhilesh Yadav government's honeymoon with the electorate, however, did not last long. It soon found itself battling charges of nepotism, mis-governance, facilitating return of mafia raj and corruption. The Muslims, one of main support-bases of the Samajwadi Party, too turned against the Yadavs over the state government's failure to control a string of communal riots that erupted in various parts of Uttar Pradesh in the last two years. Its handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots last year deepened the community's mistrust with Mr Yadav's party.
Mr Yadav has been accused of practicing dynastic politics. His son Akhilesh is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, brother Shivpal is a senior minister in the state, cousin Ram Gopal is the party's leader in the Rajya Sabha. Three others, including his daughter-in-law Dimple, are in the fray in the coming Lok Sabha polls.