NEW DELHI: Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav the political twins of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar respectively are today as different as chalk and cheese. The first has changed dramatically from a leader of action into a man of silence, while the second as the campaign for the ongoing Bihar polls shows, remains as incorrigible and outspoken as before.

At a time when both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh seem to be on the Hindu nationalist agenda, Lalu Yadav has come into his own in Bihar, taking on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the flair of the eternal politician. Mulayam Singh, on the other hand, is a pale shadow of his former self, skulking on the sidelines, and refusing to speak out on major incidents of communal violence such as Muzaffarnagar last year, and the Dadri lynching now.

The two Yadavs were the shining stars of the two poor and least developed states of India, and together could determine the complexion of the Lok Sabha and indeed the future of Indian politics at the time. They worked well together despite having a common Yadav-Muslim appeal, were powerful orators, and had the capacity to not just deliver speeches but build organisations. Unlike fly-by-night political operators, they built strong organisational structures in their states while in the Janata Dal and inherited the same when they left to form the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal respectively.

When BJP leader L.K.Advani’s rath yatra for the demolition of the Babri mosque was stopped under then Prime Minister V.P.Singh’s instructions by Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav went into a deep sulk. His grouse was that Singh had robbed him of the moment of glory deliberately, out of sheer jealousy and competition, and allowed the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief to gain mileage amongst the Muslims, the captive vote bank.

Mulayam Singh was not prepared to accept, or even listen, to Singh’s explanation that he was left with no choice as the yatra entered Bihar first, and had to be stopped. Singh repeatedly tried to make the UP Yadav see reason, by pointing out that he could not have allowed the yatra to move through a Janata Dal ruled state without challenge, and waited for it to enter UP before taking action.

For decades they did not speak with each other, the enmity preventing joint campaigns despite a demand from the ground. The Bihar Yadav told this writer many years ago, that he would never speak with Mulayam Singh who had stabbed in the back ever again. However the ‘never’ changed, and for the first time the two came together in a bid to unite the scattered Janata parivar, and fight the BJP together. The near decimation of both in their respective states hastened talks of a merger, but now with the Bihar Assembly elections around the corner Mulayam Singh has backed out of the alliance.

To understand the differences it might be important to list the commonalities---that are many---between the erstwhile Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Janata politics.

1. Both have been charged periodically with corruption, with the Bihar Yadav servicing time in jail. The Central Bureau of Investigation has been active against both.

2. Both have followed feudal, family based politics.

3. Both have never been in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party although the UP Yadav has often been accused, even by his supporters of working behind the scenes with the BJP. Fact finding teams saw a certain meshing of interests between the BJP and the Samajwadi party in the Muzaffarnagar communal violence just before the Lok Sabha elections, with the local impacted minorities alleging deep connivance.

4. Both have relied heavily on the Yadav and Muslim vote, with the last being addressed through sops and high voltage campaigns denouncing ‘communal forces.’

But the paths they have chosen are now very different. Mulayam Singh came under the influence of Amar Singh who is largely credited by the Samajwadi party leaders as being responsible for the UP leaders demise as a politician of courage and some principles. Amar Singh was finally shown the door, after several disastrous years when major SP leaders threatened to leave, but reports now suggest a possible return. However, since then Mulayam Singh has shown a greater desire than ever before to accommodate the BJP, and remain silent when speech acquires the potential of controversy. He has not said a word about the Dadri lynching, with his son Akhilesh Yadav finding it very difficult as the chief minister to manage the communal situation in the state.

Lalu Yadav, on the other hand, has decided not to be cowed down by the cases of corruption and has even declared at campaign rallies that he would probably have to serve another stint in jail. He has taken on PM Narendra Modi directly, lampooning him for his promises and speeches.

Mulayam Singh is widely perceived to have buckled down under pressure of the CBI graft cases against him---a perception his silence continues to feed into. Instead of joining issue with PM Modi, he has actually been reaching out to him with the SP government visibly hesitant to take action against the BJP leaders accused of fomenting communal trouble. CM Nitish Kumar of Bihar on the other hand, is keeping a tight control on communal violence even though the campaign for religious polarisation by the BJP is relentless, according to Janata Dal(U) leader Pavan Varma. Nitish Kumar is receiving full support from Lalu Yadav, who has launched a full throated campaign against the BJP at all levels. He knows, better than his UP colleague, that this is a last ditch battle for him and after initial tantrums has settled into a prolonged and intense fight.

Lalu Yadav’s politics is thus simple and fairly transparent unlike Mulayam Singh’s that has always followed a wheels within wheels syndrome. As a senior leader of his party said, “it is not easy to know what Netaji is thinking or doing now, and who he is working with.” The BJP has been soft in criticising him, as he has been too with his silence. He has also moved out of the grand alliance, and decided to contest the Bihar elections in a bid to take away the votes from the alliance that did not waste time responding, but merely released the statistics of the last time the SP had contested seats in Bihar. All candidates had lost their deposits.