When Akhilesh Yadav took the reins of the country’s most populous state on March 15, the problems he would face as Uttar Pradesh’s youngest chief minister were quite evident. Not the least among them, a ticklish one—of living in the shadow of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. A veteran at grassroots politics, the older Yadav still has steam in him. He remained relevant throughout the election campaign, although Akhilesh added value to that effort by helping end the perception that the Samajwadi Party was associated with “goonda raj” and projecting it as a party determined to provide good governance. The rather rumbustious victory celebrations that ended in violence and Akhilesh’s choice of Raja Bhaiyya (Raghuraj Pratap Singh) for prisons minister have taken away some of the sheen he brought. It cannot be denied, though, that it was father-son synergy that took the party’s tally to an all-time high of 224 seats in the 403-seat assembly. Mulayam’s own best effort was 142 seats, in the 2002 elections.
But a man who has ruled the state thrice can’t really be expected to refrain from some backseat driving when his son debuted on the gaddi. So it was no surprise that, when Akhilesh was sworn in with 47 ministers, the roster read like a Mulayam wishlist. One marker of this influence is the average age of the ministers: about 60 years. And when portfolio distribution was delayed by back-room tussles, Mulayam settled matters by letting his old buddies have their way: 79-year-old Kameshwar Upadhyay was made minister of youth welfare and sports, and 75-year-old Ahmad Hasan was put in charge of health. It turns out that even former IIM teacher Abhishek Misra, in his thirties, is a minister more out of his bureaucrat father J.S. Misra’s closeness to Mulayam than out of his own closeness to the chief minister.
Akhilesh had won much praise for denying muscleman D.P. Yadav a party ticket despite pressure from uncle Shivpal Yadav and the domineering Azam Khan, both close to his father. But he has failed to make good the expectations that act raised: more than a dozen ministers in his cabinet are seriously tainted. According to a study by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), at least five of the newly inducted ministers face murder charges, nine stand accused of attempt to murder, half a dozen others are involved in cases of kidnapping, extortion, dacoity or assault. Two ministers face rape charges. The feeling is that Akhilesh would not have allowed this if he had had his way. He is now reduced to defending Raja Bhaiyya, of all people, saying most of the 45 criminal cases against this toughie were politically motivated and registered during rival Mayawati’s regime. He is silent on the equally impressive histories of other ministers: Om Prakash Singh faces 29 criminal cases, Mehboob Ali 28, and another old SP hand, Balram Yadav, was the prime accused in the multi-crore Ayurveda scam and the food scam during Mulayam’s last regime.
One would have expected Yadav senior’s influence to stop at the selection of ministers. But Akhilesh hasn’t had a free hand even in the selection of top bureaucrats. Besides having Anita Singh, a 1990 batch IAS officer, appointed secretary to the chief minister, Mulayam is learnt to have arranged for his trusted party spokesman, Rajendra Chaudhary, and his personal security officer, Shiv Kumar, to be around Akhilesh most of the time. With no principal secretary rank official in the CM’s secretariat, Anita Singh is free to call the shots.
Except for the departments under Azam Khan and Shivpal Yadav, who were allowed their pick of bureaucrats, most appointments are being made on the advice of Naveen Bajpai, a former chief secretary who lost his job in 2007 primarily for singing Mulayam’s praises from a Samajwadi Party podium. Senior police officers too are being appointed according to Mulayam’s wishes, after a screening by the new DGP, A.C. Sharma, and principal secretary R.M. Srivastava.
The chief minister had hardly any role to play even in the granting of extension to Lok Ayukta N.K. Mehrotra after his six-year term ended on March 16. In fact, Mulayam insisted on an amendment in the UP Lok Ayukta Act through an ordinance to allow this. Mulayam was probably impressed by the action Mehrotra had ordered against many of Mayawati’s ministers.
Apparently realising his limitations in the matter of appointments, Akhilesh has focused on other things to burnish his image. On March 25, when he moved from his father’s residence on Vikramaditya Marg to the chief minister’s official residence at 5, Kalidas Marg, he had the road—declared out of bounds during Mayawati’s regime—thrown open to general use. He also revived the ‘janata durbar’, at which the common man could air his grievance before the chief minister. And by convening meetings on infrastructure, having a metro rail for Lucknow, improving power generation and supply among other things, he is focusing on broader issues of governance. He has told the state power corporation to ensure there is no power cut between 6 pm and 10 pm in any part of the state when school and college exams are on.
As for the sops promised in the manifesto, Akhilesh had little choice, for Mulayam was intent on honouring all of them. So within hours of assuming office, Akhilesh rolled out a hamper of gifts for youths and Muslims, to whom the party’s thumping victory is attributed. Laptops and tablets for young students, dole for the registered unemployed, a special grant for Muslim girls—the entire package could cost the state exchequer about Rs 22,000 crore over the next five years. “If we could save the funds splurged by Mayawati on monuments and statues,” he says, “we should be able to muster up the resources.” Perhaps he doesn’t realise the sops could require more than thrice of what Mayawati has spent on her pet projects.
In all this, there’s one person who spoke up for the new chief minister. Virtually pleading Akhilesh’s case over the violence that broke out on the day the SP won, Press Council of India chief and former SC judge Markandey Katju advised the media to “spare Akhilesh for at least two years”. But going by what has happened so far, one can only say that the beginning itself has raised many questions about what could follow.
In most places, the sons/ daughters and other family members of a chief minister or minister would take undue advantage of their senior’s position (Papa Kahte Hain, Apr 9). In Uttar Pradesh, a father is taking advantage of his son’s position and ruling the state by proxy.
It is heartening to observe that the decades old conventions have been broken in UP after the recent elections. We had earlier seen the sons/daughters and other family members of a politician/minister/chief minister taking undue advantage of their senior's position. However in UP, the roles and situations have seemingly been reversed- now a father has been taking advantage of his son's position and ruling the state by proxy. It's time for Akhilesh to assert and perform by himself to come up to the masses' expectations.
"The feeling is that Akhilesh would not have allowed this if he had had his way."
As if...Akhilesh is Mulayam with a younger and suave exterior. His chief ministership is no different from Manmohan's prime ministership. Everyone recognises where the real power lies.
So much for a party that says it swears by Social Justice and Lohiaite Vision... Ram Manohar Lohia would be turning in his grave on seeing all this.
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