NEW DELHI (AP) — Mulayam Singh Yadav, India’s former defense minister and veteran socialist leader, died in a hospital Monday after a prolonged illness. He was 82 years old.
Yadav was admitted to a private hospital near Delhi for more than two weeks before his death was announced by his son Akhilesh Yadav, political successor to the Samajwadi Party that dominates India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh.
“My respected father and leader of all is no more,” he tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Yadav “a humble and down-to-earth leader who was sensitive to people’s problems”.
“As Defense Minister, he worked for a stronger India,” Modi tweeted.
Yadav, a three-time chief minister of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, was a former wrestler who rose to politics in the 1980s when a federally appointed commission set up to identify the country’s “socially backward classes” led to a national upheaval. During these protests Yadav emerged as a socialist leader championing the demands of the so-called backward castes and religious minorities.
In 1990, when Yadav was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, he ordered police to shoot Hindu protesters in the northern city of Ayodhya as they marched toward the 16th-century Babri mosque to reclaim it as a large temple for the Hindu god Ram. At least 16 people were killed in a police operation.
When the mosque was finally leveled by Hindu mobs in 1992, sparking massive communal violence across India, Muslims credited Yadav with saving it two years earlier. The community became his party’s largest voting bloc.
A year later, he became the state’s chief minister for a second time after forming an alliance with a regional party as Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party gained ground on the back of Hindu nationalism.
In 1996, Yadav rose to national prominence when he became India’s Defense Minister in a United Front coalition government.
In his long career, Yadav was known to have allies on all sides of the political spectrum and was often touted as a candidate for the post of Prime Minister of India.
Although he never came close to becoming prime minister, his party remained an important partner in several coalition governments, as Uttar Pradesh sends the largest number of MPs to India’s lower house of parliament.
In 2012, Yadav handed over the charge of his political party to his son, who became the chief minister of the state for five years.
In 2017, his party was ousted from power after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won the election and installed Hindu nationalist Yogi Adityanath as the state’s chief minister, a feat he repeated earlier this year.