The year 1990 was a turning point in Indian politics when Prime Minister VP Singh, a Rajput, accepted the recommendations of the Mandal Commission and implemented a 27 percent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in government jobs.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was trying to counter the challenges of 'Mandal' politics through 'kamandal' politics by vehemently propagating the Ram mandir issue in Ayodhya, even as the vacuum left by the death of Chaudhary Charan Singh, a stalwart farmer leader who served as the fifth prime minister of India, was yet to be filled in UP politics. There was no prominent leadership within the OBC communities who could have united them.
This very moment was seized by former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, who passed away on Monday, 10 October, marking the end of an era in UP politics.
Mulayam Singh Yadav tried to fill the vacuum left by Lohia and Charan Singh through his brand of grassroots politics to make a mark in UP. Meanwhile, in Bihar, the legacy of Lohia was split into three between Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, and Ramvilas Paswan.
Yadav, considered a champion of the OBC cause, took lessons on Socialist politics from Lohia and Singh, and succeeded in securing their rightful place in society to change Indian politics forever.
Impact of OBC Reservation in UP
Political experts do believe that the implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission is akin to another Partition after the Independence of India.
"The biggest contribution of Netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav) was that he was able to implement the socialist agenda of Lohia on the ground. Socialist ne baandhi gaanth – pichare paye sau me saath (Socialists have resolved that the backward classes should get sixty per cent share) was a popular slogan during Lohia's time and Mulayam Singh Yadav turned it into a reality," Deepak Mishra, chief spokesperson of Shivpal Yadav’s Pragtisheel Samajwadi Party, said.
Earlier, those getting out of convent schools and big cities were becoming officers through the Public Service Commission (PSC) but now, those from government schools and rural areas have also started becoming officers after Mulayam Singh implemented OBC reservation, he added.
Giving a Political Voice to the Poor and the Downtrodden
Mulayam Singh Yadav rose from the dusty wrestling arenas of Mainpuri and went on to become the 'little Napoleon' of Indian politics, a title bestowed upon him by his mentor Chaudhary Charan Singh.
On many occasions, Mulayam Singh Yadav was criticized and termed as an 'opponent' of the English language and computerization. It was also alleged that there was large-scale political intervention under his regime, particularly in police recruitment, that is, members of a particular caste were preferred over others.
But he is also credited with giving a political voice to the poor and the downtrodden, and making politics centered around the people. Before him, Lohia, Singh, and Kanshi Ram had championed the politics of the downtrodden in Uttar Pradesh.
Kanshi Ram had propounded his dream of 'Bahujan Samaj' while Chaudhary Charan Singh had tried to bring the Jats and the Yadavs together. Mulayam Singh Yadav, however, went a step further as he not only united and strengthened the OBC communities but also managed to rope in Muslim support at a time when the Congress party was significantly weakened in UP.
Under the banner of the Samajwadi Party, many OBC leaders, particularly those from the Yadav community, have come to the fore and more importantly, the Yadavs understood the importance of unity and the value of their votes.