(Excerpts from Winds of Change by Sunita Aron)
It was the quintessential Bollywood script and could have easily been adapted into a movie titled, Love Story:1995.
One day, a young boy and girl, from strikingly different backgrounds informally met at a common friend’s house in Lucknow’s Cantonment area and fell in love.
The boy was the son of a powerful politician. The girl’s father was an upright Army officer. They belonged to two warring castes, and were historically and politically averse to each other: Yadavs and Thakurs.
Still worse, the boy’s father was deeply hated in the girl’s home state, the hills of Uttar Pradesh which later became part of an independent state called Uttarakhand. Her state’s people could neither forget nor forgive the young man’s father for having ordered an attack on innocent Pahadis at the Rampur Tiraha crossing in Muzzafarnagar on the night of 1 October 1994. As a result, the father was literally banned from entering the borders of the hill state.
Completely oblivious to all this, the couple dated regularly, sometimes at Lucnow’s Mahomed Bagh Club, and at times at the Surya Club in the Cantonment area. They would often bribe friends to stand as alibis while they stole some special moments together.
Akhilesh Yadav was in his early Twenties when he first met the 17-year-old Dimple Rawat, daughter of Col S C Rawat who was posted in Bareilly at the time. He had recently graduated in Civil Environmental engineering from the Sri Jayachamarajendra College in Mysore while Dimple was finishing school from Army Public School, Lucknow. They first became good friends and then fell in love with each other.
Akhilesh, who was pursuing his engineering degree from Mysore at the time, had heard about the tension between the Uttarakhandis and his father, but couldn’t comprehend its political implications. In 1996, Akhilesh decided to pursue his MS in Environmental Engineering and moved to Sydney, Australia. However, he kept in regular touch with Dimple by writing letters, something he had completely stopped doing after school but had resumed once again for her. Sometimes a letter would be followed by a greeting card as well. He kept in touch with Dimple from Australia.
By the time Akhilesh returned home with an MS degree, the couple had decided to give their love story a logical conclusion.
“Hum logon ne socha chalo ab shadi kar lete hain’ –We thought of getting married now.. Akhilesh said in a lighter vein to Sunita Aron, the author of Winds of Change. Like any other young an, he was nervous about approaching the topic with his family as he was aware that here were several contentious issues surrounding his relationships with Dimple.
After his returns from Sydney, his family had also started pressurising him to get married at the earliest as he was not only eminently eligible but most importantly, his paternal grandmother was ailing and was admitted in Lucknow’s civil hospital.
After considering all options, Akhilesh finally decided to let his family know of his relationship with Dimple and handled it intelligently by first taking his dadi ma, Murti Devi into confidence.
The old woman had raised him from the time he was an infant and was extremely fond of him. One day he told her about his plans to marry a girl from a different caste and had presumed that his grandmother would be shocked at the idea and reject the proposal.
But Akhilesh was in for a surprise when his dadi ma told her favourite Tipu casually, “Tum kissi bhi doosri jaati mein shaadi karo, par karo jaldi.” You marry in any other caste, but do it at the earliest.)
Once convinced that he had won her support, Tipu told her about Dimple and her family at length and she promptly gave him her blessings. By then Mulayam Singh had also learnt about his son’s decision to marry Dimple and although he did not disapprove of the alliance, he did have some major concerns about it.
Mulayam was the Union Defence Minister when discussions had started in the family about Akhilesh’s impending marriage. Further, as is the norm in Indian families, Mulayam was often approached by prominent Yadav families, including those of politicians from both within Uttar Pradesh and its neighbouring states for forging a marriage alliance.
But Akhilesh was committed and after his granmother’s support, had made it known to all and sundry that he would only marry Dimple and no one else.
Mulayam as well aware of his son’s stubborn streak and had once told Sunita Aron after Akhilesh had become Chief Minister, “Tipu ko koyi jaldi nahin manaa sakta (It is not easy to make Tipu change his mind.)
“Soon after my return from Sydney, my father asked me, “When do you want to get married?” I said, you decide when I should. Initially, Amar Singh Uncle had said that I was too young to tie the knot. Instead I should plan my future and then take a plunge into matrimony. But I firmly told him: I am what I am and I have decided to marry first and then take care of my future.”
Amar Singh, the then general secretary of the Samajwadi Party and a close associate of Mulayam, was keen to fix Akhilesh’s marriage with the daughter of a well known political damily in Bihar but Akhilesh was too besotted with Dimple to accept any other girl as his partner.
Her family had also meanwhile asked him to wait for some time as Dimple’s eldest sister was still single and they had felt that she should be married before Dimple.
Around that time, there were reports in the media about the arrival of a political family (with daughter in tow) in Lucknow. As Akhilesh had kept his love life a well guarded secret, the local newspapers had speculated about the coming together of the two powerful families from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar if a marital alliance had taken place. But as things turned out later, all that was pure conjecture and Akhilesh was completely oblivious to the gossip surrounding his wedding plans.
Mulayam had nothing against Dimple but feared a severe retaliation from hill activists who had accelerated their demand for a separate state and had upped the ante against the Yadav chieftain. He was also apprehensive because of a recent incident involving his grandnephews, Tejbir and Sillu who had to be airlifted from their schools after a threat from protesters fighting for a separate state. The boys’s grandfather and Mulayam’s cousin, Prof Ram Gopal Yadav had to move them to the Sarsanwa airstrip in Saharanpur in order to fly them back to safety.
Mulayam then decided to consult some of his friends from the hills and spoke to Surya Kant Dhasmana who knew Dimple’s family closely as they belonged to Kilvoukhal village which was next to his village in the Pauri-Garhwal district of Uttarakhand.
“Mulayam was worried as he knew that the hills people, then a part of UP, hated him. Initially, he told his brother Shivpal Singh, with whom Akhilesh had spent a considerable part of his childhood, to explain the constraints and convince him against getting married. But somehow we all favoured the alliance and told him so.’ Dhamsana then proceeded to narrate how Mulayam had eventually been convinced and finally gave his stamp of approval to the marriage.
‘One day while we were discussing the same topic, Kapil Deo Singh, the veteran socialist leader from Bihar, walked in. He was one leader Mulayam actually feared as well as greatly respected. He told Mulayam that he will be ruining the happiness of four families by saying no to Tipu’s wishes.
If he got Akhilesh married, said Deo Singh, to a girl of his own choice, then those two families would be unhappy forever. And if Dimple moved on and married some other boy, then that makes two more families unhappy! Everybody would suffer only because of one wrong decision of yours”
Vinod Barthwal, a senior leader and member of SP from Uttarakhand, proffered the same advice to Mulayam but put it differently. He told him, “Our girls from devbhumi (god’s abode as the hills of UK are described) are very cultured and traditional. They respect family values and keep them together. She will bring good fortune for your son and your family.”
His words had proved prophetic as Akhilesh’s political career did witness a meteoric rise after his marriage to Dimple and he entered the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2000 after winning from Kannauj and eventually became the youngest Chief Minister of the largest state in March, 2012.
Thereafter, Dimple’s parents were approached and in true Bollywood style, it was indeed, ‘And they lived happily ever after..’ kind of a happy ending. In retrospect, Akhilesh also agreed that it was not easy for both sets of parents to agree in the kind of circumstances which prevailed at the time. Referring to Dimple’s parents, he said, ‘It was very nice of them to have agreed.’
On 24 November 1999, Akhilesh Yadav and Dimple Rawat got married in the ancestral village of Saifai, with receptions in Delhi and Lucknow. The wedding was attended by the who’s who of the political and corporate world besides several from the entertainment industry, including the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Big B Amitabh Bachchan.
In Delhi reception, Mulayam Mulayam Singh, the father got the ostentatious stage pulled down for a simpler one. He had wanted the wedding to be very simple. Truly socialist wedding the father wanted for the son!