In the sea of people that descended on Saifai mela ground in Etawah on Tuesday morning under the overcast sky to pay their last respects to Samajwadi Party founder and “son of the soil” Mulayam Singh Yadav was a 58-year-old woman who had travelled from nearby Mainpuri district, a 15-year-old boy who “owes” his studies to “Netaji”, and a mahant from Prayagraj who believes that the former chief minister only acted as per law when his government ordered police firing on kar sevaks in Ayodhya in 1990.
“Netaji considered me as a sister and touched my feet whenever we met,” said 58-year-old Shridevi as she jostled through the crowd to make her way to the podium where the mortal remains of the 82-year-old leader were kept for the people to pay their last respects.
“I have attended Teepu’s wedding and also Teju’s… We have family relations with Netaji, so I came to see him for one last time. But there is such a huge crowd, I won’t be able to reach the podium,” she says with a hint of despair in her voice.
While Mulayam’s son and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is called Teepu by his family, Teju is Tej Pratap Yadav, Mulayam’s grand nephew.
Shridevi and her sister-in-law Amishri (52) took a bus from their ‘Sasural’ in Maulikhera village in Mainpuri district to reach the funeral ground, 20 km away. Saifai happens to be Shridevi’s “maikaa”, she was born there.
At one point, both women were able to reach close to the podium, but they were sent back by security personnel. Seeing the crowd and chaos all around in the humid weather, they dropped the idea of making another attempt to reach the stage. Instead, they stood precariously on plastic chairs to glimpse Netaji.
“I have met Netaji several times in Saifai and Mainpuri, but could not see him then because every time I was in ghoonghat. Today, I wanted to see him before his cremation. He had helped in my daughter’s marriage seven years ago,” said Amishri.
While Shridevi and Amishri, who come from farming families, could not make it to the dais, class X student Vishal Yadav managed to reach the podium.
“How can I miss this moment when Netaji is no more? Today, my family is able to afford my studies because when Netaji was chief minister he had given a government job to my uncle who financially supports my father, a farmer,” said the 15-year-old amid deafening chants of “Netaji amar rahein” (long live Netaji).
“Whatever development work has been done in Saifai is because of Netaji,” he added.
“Because of Netaji, my village has got good roads and a school. That school is named after Netaji,” said 62-year-old Rajkumar, who had come from Nagla Rao village in Jaswant Nagar, 15 km from Saifai. He had met Mulayam 15 years ago when the SP leader visited his Nagla Rao to meet his childhood friend Maharaj Singh Yadav.
“Seven persons from my village got government jobs when Netaji was CM. As a courtesy, I came here to pay tribute,” Rajkumar, a farmer, said, adding that “100 per cent” votes of his village go to SP in all elections because of Mulayam.
In the crowd, saffron-clad Mahant Laxman Das was also seen trying to reach the podium, but like many others, he failed. Laxman Das, a priest of Shree Thakur Radha Krishna temple in Prayagraj, had reached Saifai on Monday evening hours after the news of Mulayam’s death broke. When asked why he wanted to pay tribute to Mulayam who had ordered the firing on kar sevaks in Ayodhya in 1990 when he was the chief minister, Laxman Das replied: “But he was a Hindu. He helped people of every religion and caste who met him. His rivals, like the BJP people, created a pro-Muslim image of him by highlighting the Ayodhya issue so that they can make political gains. And they did.”
Religious preacher Dinesh Chandra Shastri of Mainpuri district agreed with Das. “Netaji was never against Ram temple and Hindus. He just followed the law at that time. He got Hanuman’s huge idol installed in a temple in Saifai village. Today, he is being cremated on the ground near the same temple,” Shastri said, pointing to a huge statue of Hanuman overlooking the mela ground.
In the crowd, there was Shubham Shakya of Karhal in Mainpuri district. The medical representative, in his 30s, had reached Saifai out of sheer excitement to see politicians, industrialists and celebrities. “I also heard that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will come here. I wanted to see him as well. These fleets of SUVs and the presence of prominent leaders make me realise that Saifai gave birth to a leader who was respected by everyone cutting across political parties,” Shakya said.