Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav checks his watch every few minutes. Perhaps at the age of 73, poised for a fourth term as the chief minister of India's most backward state, he thinks his time is running out.
This wasn't exactly what Mulayam's father Sudhar
Singh had in mind. A farmer, he wanted his son to be a wrestler. Advice was usually on muscle building, Mulayam had recalled once.
Undoubtedly, it helped Mulayam muscle his way to the pinnacle of power in UP. But how did the prince of akhadas land in the political arena?
Local lore has it that his political guru, late Nathu Singh, had first spotted Mulayam at a wrestling match in Mainpuri. Impressed, he had rewarded Mulayam with his pocket borough Jaswantnagar.
Mulayam maintains he entered politics at 14, courting arrest on the call of Ram Manohar Lohia. From the socialist days of 1970s, he wended his way through the war for secularism on the Ram temple issue in the 1990s and the murkier days post-2000 when Amar Singh's influence made him a 'capitalist' in public perception.
It took a decade, but he finally came out of Singh's shadow. And despite the presence of two brothers in politics, he handed the party's reins to son Akhilesh, since Shiv Pal became controversial because of corruption charges and Ram Gopal handed party affairs in Delhi. The dynasty was well on its way.
But what most people do not know is that two of Mulayam's brothers are still farmers.
Any given day in Saifai, Abhay Ram can be found in the fields. Ex-servicemen Ratan Singh sits under a nearby tree. There are no security guards, no cars and no paraphernalia.
Even when his brother was the chief minister, Abhay Ram cycled to his farm. These days, he uses a motorcycle. Neither had attended any of Mulayam's swearing-in ceremonies. And when they do meet, the talk is of crops, irrigation and cattle.
This is perhaps what provides Mulayam his touch with the people and an ear to the ground -skills that are still paying off.
But he owes his winning streak to the motto - 'jo kaha who kar diya'. The next five years will provide the most gruelling test of that motto - the party has already squandered three chances and its name is synonymous with goonda raj.
No doubt, the man who keeps his sleeves perpetually rolled up has his biggest battle ahead.
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