Tens of thousands of people turned up at the funeral of Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav at his native village Tuesday, bidding farewell to a leader who influenced politics far beyond his home state.
His son Akhilesh Yadav lit the funeral pyre in the Safai's mela ground, where people had begun gathering hours in advance filling up all available space.
Among those who came to Saifai to pay their respects were Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and CPI (M) leaders Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, actor and Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan and her son Abhishek Bachchan also attended the funeral.
Yadav's body was moved around 10 am Tuesday from the family bungalow to a hall on the mela ground premises to allow people to pay their last respects. A large number had queued up for a final glimpse.
His son Akhilesh Yadav, brother Shivpal Yadav and other family members were on the flower bedecked truck that brought the body for the funeral.
People walked with the cortege, many chanting "Netaji amar rahe".
"Netaji loved crowds and engaged with people freely," Ashok Kumar Yadav of Dhana village told PTI while returning home after attending the funeral.
Some recalled how, as a chief minister, Yadav would have his car pulled over to interact with villagers grazing their cattle in open fields, while many others thanked him for getting an inter-college for girls built in Bundelkhand.
Janak Singh (80) from nearby Chaubeypur said he knew Yadav from their early days and that he was fond of wrestling as well as enjoyed hosting Holi celebrations.
"That did not change even after he became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and the defence minister. He was always accessible for us," Singh told PTI.
Manoj Mishra, a native of Etawah but now settled in Greater Noida, said Yadav knew people by their first time.
"He had come for my wedding over two decades ago. He could not find rasgulle in the menu and asked me 'Guddu rasgulla nahi banwaye'? (Guddu, did you not get rasgullas prepared?) I immediately got him one on his plate which he ate happily," Mishra (55) recounted.
Janved Singh Yadav from nearby Bakevar tehsil said the humility, accessibility and sharp memory made the SP founder a "Jan Neta".
"His simplicity and humility is unmatched. There's no one like him left in Indian politics now, let alone a Samajwadi like him," he said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recalled his relationship with the SP patriarch and said Yadav was connected to the roots. If there was any leader who was connected to the public and the ground, it was Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rajnath said.
Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said, "As a 'samajwadi' (socialist) personality, he advocated the cause of the backwards and farmers. His death is an irreparable loss."
Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu termed Yadav's demise a "loss for Uttar Pradesh".
BJP leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who was one of those leaders who arrived early, said Yadav never considered his political opponents as enemies and that he shared a personal bond with every leader.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, his Telangana counterpart K Chandrashekar Rao, former Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath, Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu, NCP leader Praful Patel and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav also attended the funeral.
Businessman Anil Ambani, NCP leader Supriya Sule, Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary, farmer leader Rakesh Tikait and Aam Aadmi Party's Sanjay Singh were present as the three-time chief minister was to consigned to flames.
Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Ministers Keshav Prasad Maurya and Brajesh Pathak were seen offering their condolences to Yadav's son and incumbent SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. Minister Jitin Prasada, too, was seen.
Yadav, who had been Uttar Pradesh chief minister thrice, founded the Samajwadi Party in 1992.
Born on November 22, 1939 into a farming family in Saifai near Etawah in Uttar Pradesh, Yadav spawned the state's most prominent political clan.
He was elected an MLA 10 times and an MP, mostly from Mainpuri and Azamgarh, seven times. He was also the Defence Minister (1996-98), and chief minister thrice (1989-91, 1993-95, and 2003-07). And briefly, he even appeared to have a shot at the prime minister's post.
The party was in a position to form the state government a fourth time in 2012, but Mulayam Yadav stepped aside to let the Akhilesh become the chief minister.
But squabbling in the party and the family led to a coup of sorts by Akhilesh Yadav in 2017. In the final years of his life, the ailing patriarch played a diminishing role in the affairs of the party that he had founded. They still called him "Netaji", though.
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