- "Mulayam Singhji has given his blessings. I am very grateful": PM Modi
- Rahul Gandhi said he disagreed but "he respects Mulayam Singh's opinion"
- Mulayam Singh Yadav's supporters say the comment was made in jest
Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, in a jaw-dropping departure from the opposition chorus and his own party line, said he "prayed" for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's return to power, during speeches to mark the last sitting of the current Lok Sabha on Wednesday before the national election. His supporters swore it was all in humour, but the comment still raised eyebrows.
"I want to congratulate the PM that he tried to move ahead taking everyone along. I hope all members to win and return, and you (PM Modi) become prime minister again," Mulayam Singh, 79, said in the Lok Sabha, sending the house into guffaws. The camera panned to his immediate neighbor, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, looking surprised, and to PM Modi, chuckling and thumping his desk. The prime minister also folded his hands.
PM Modi later tipped his hat to Mulayam Singh's comment during his own speech: "There is much to do. And Mulayam Singhji has given his blessings. I am very grateful to him."
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, asked to react, said he "disagreed", but added "Mulayam Singh Yadav Ji has a role in politics and I respect his opinion".
Few have taken the comment seriously; after all, Mulayam Singh had wished the same for outgoing PM Manmohan Singh in 2014.
The comment may not please his son Akhilesh Yadav, one of the main players in efforts to forge a grand opposition coalition to take on PM Modi and the BJP in the national election, due by May.
Akhilesh Yadav has also forged an alliance with bitter rival Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, with the intention of putting up a stronger fight against the BJP, which swept the state in the 2014 national election. Mulayam Singh has remained silent through these developments.
The Yadav father and son have not been on the best of terms over the past two years, during which Akhilesh, 45, staged a coup and took over control of the party founded by his father.
Despite the strain, Mulayam Singh chose to remain by his son's side as his younger brother Shivpal Yadav broke away and set up a rebel outfit.