Saifai: “Ye Saifai hai. Idhar tedha chaloge tho ṭheek rahoge, seedha chaloge to log bolenge paagal hai.” (This is Saifai. You will be fine here if you are crooked but people will call you mad if you are honest.)
This was the view expressed by my driver as we reached Saifai, some 200 km from Lucknow. It’s a beautiful ‘rurban’ centre. A smooth drive on the new spanking expressway connecting Lucknow to Agra, something for which chief minister Akhilesh Yadav takes great pride, gets you to Saifai in just over two hours flat.
As I admired the upcoming international cricket stadium, the huge university complex named aptly after Chaudhary Charaṇ Singh, my driver interrupted my thoughts.
“All this was possible because Mulayam Singh Yadav converted this into his political karmabhoomi. It was good that he made Akhilesh CM in 2012, but now I just can’t understand why he has acted against his son’s interests. That too when elections were staring us in our face,” he said.
To satisfy this query which I too have been trying to answer since September, we decided to go to a small village in Saifai called Rampur. A typical Yadav stronghold, most of the 150 families here are from the community. There is a sprinkling of some Muslims as well. Unlike most other villages in UP where arrival of a car leads to momentary action on the ground with kids running behind it, this village certainly stands out. Here, a nice concrete road allows you to drive around the entire village. I spotted a group of 10-15 old men ambling around a charpoy. The sun was out in full glory. Nice day for a ‘chai pe chaṛcha’ so I stepped out and walked towards this group.
Another old man pops in and vehemently disagrees. “This whole theory was created so that Akhilesh could become the chief minister of the state again. The problem for Mulayam isn’t Akhilesh, its Shivpal. After all didn’t Mulayam refuse to give any affidavit before the Election Commission? The person who has lost out in this is Shivpal. Akhilesh is the hero with full support of Mulayam,” he said.
This conspiracy theory was repeated by many people whom we spoke to across the belt of Etawah, Mainpuri and Saifai. It seems as if the Yadavs in this area are convinced about Mulayam’s extreme political sharpness or slyness. My driver summed it up well: “Mulayam means slippery. Man se Mulayam, tan se Mulayam lekin dimaaġ se pehelwaan!”
We went to the house of Ram Shankar Singh, someone who has known Mulayam since he was a kid. His house is now located on the old highway that connects Kanpur to Agra. Half of his house is rented out to State Bank of India, not without a word from Mulayam. As he showed us several albums of his pictures with Mulayam, he stopped at one picture. It’s picture from 1962 when Mulayam and Ram Shankar were fellows at a student’s union in Saifai. He narrated to us the story of how Mulayam became prominent in that region as a wrestler.
“There was a big wrestler in our days called Ram Azad. He was twice the size of Mulayam. At a dangal, Azad was throwing an open challenge to anyone who was present there to beat him. I asked Mulayam to go and fight him. He was initially reluctant just looking at the size of Azad but when all of us friends insisted he agreed. And oh boy, did Mulayam fight. He knocked out the big fellow not once but twice. That day I was convinced, in this pocket sized man, there is the mind of a dynamite,” he recalled.
Perhaps it’s this mind which has kept Mulayam going from strength to strength. Was he using mind games this time against his own brothers to strengthen Akhilesh? I asked Singh.
“The truth is that Mulayam loves Akhilesh. Isn’t Akhilesh a ditto copy of Mulayam? How can Mulayam ever get angry with Akhilesh then? There is nothing but love. The problem is that Mulayam has failed to tackle Shivpal. In this fight between brother and son, he was forced to take sides with brother despite his heart making him think otherwise,” he said.
But who would Saifai support if Mulayam was to actually implement his threat of contesting against Akhilesh? “Thank God that may not be the case. How could we make a choice between body and soul? One is incomplete without the other,” Singh said.
Another old man, Munshi Raj, quick to conceal a whisky bottle he has just bought, ran into us as at Singh’s house. He too, like many here, had a personal story to share about Mulayam.
“He used to teach me in school. I helped him a lot during his initial days. Mulayam is a role model for an entire generation here. But each role model must know that role models can change. Today it’s Akhilesh who is the toast of town here. I am now a firm Akhileshwadi,” Raj said.
By now I am clear about one thing. Practically everyone in Saifai has a soft corner for Mulayam. But their love today is for Akhilesh. Shivpal is just a tool to get work done and Amar Singh is a villainous character who needs to be kept away from everyone.Now as Mulayam and Akhilesh bury the hatchet once more, their pocket borough is asking them to just hold onto each other and forget the rest. Let’s see whether that can be possible.