When Mulayam Singh Yadav Lost the Chance to Become the Prime Minister

Mulayam Singh Yadav was the Union Defense Minister from 1996-98.

2 min read

Video Producer/Editor: Shohini Bose

Mulayam Singh Yadav had an illustrious political career of 55 years, not only in the state, but also nationally. The Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo who died on Monday, 10 October, not only held Chief Ministership in Uttar Pradesh thrice, but was also the Union Defense Minister from 1996-98.

A former wrestler, he was also fondly known as a ‘wrestler in the Indian political arena,’. But not many know that he came close to becoming the Prime Minister of India, twice.

Let’s take a look back on his tenure as defense minister and how he missed the bus to 7, Race Course Road.


Defense Minister of India 1996-98

Mulayam Singh Yadav held a defense portfolio in HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral governments during 1996-98 for two years. His tough decisions on crucial strategic issues earned him the order of ‘the best defense minister’ in defense circles.

In the 1990s, when Mulayam Singh lost power in Lucknow. While many began to question his political future, he shifted base to Delhi to pursue a bigger role in national politics.

Samajwadi Party (SP) won 17 seats in the 1996 general elections. After the 13-day government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee fell, HD Deve Gowda became the Prime Minister and Mulayam Singh Yadav was made the defense minister.

‘Netaji,’ as he is known in political circles, was the first defense minister to visit the Siachin glacier. It is said that Yadav did not allow guns to fall silent on the western front during his tenure as defense minister. His tenure is credited with pushing back the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by about four kilometers at a few places on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Throughout his tenures, he was known for his stance against any attempts of intrusion by the Chinese forces.


How Mulayam lost the chance of becoming PM

In his political career spanning more than five decades, Mulayam Singh came close to becoming the Prime Minister of India twice.

In the 1996 general elections, Congress could win 141 seats while BJP won 161 seats. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the PM but he could not gather enough support, leading to his government's fell in 13 days.

The Congress was not inclined to form the government. Former PM VP Singh also also refused to come forward. The name of Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu was discussed but a consensus could not be reached among the alliance partners.

Senior CPI-M leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet then proposed the name of Mulayam Singh Yadav, and a consensus of almost reached on his candidature. Mulayam Singh was to take oath as the next PM at 8:00 am the next day, but following Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Yadav's stern opposition, Mulayam lost his chance.

Similar circumstances arose in 1998, lacking support of the Yadavs, Mulayam Singh missed the bus.

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