On March 15, 2012, when he was sworn in as the youngest chief minister of any Indian state, 38-year old Akhilesh Yadav was seen as a man with an urge and determination to take a ‘bimaru’ (sick) Uttar Pradesh out of the woods.
Twenty-seven months down the line , his report card looks pathetic . Far from emerging as a man with a magic wand, Akhilesh has turned out to be just another beneficiary of a dynastic succession—somewhat akin to Rahul Gandhi, who, despite all the greatness being thrust upon him, could not rise to the occasion.
The turning point in his career—which came with the stern snub he gave to mafia don turned politician D.P. Yadav , who was seeking a SP ticket in the 2012 state assembly election—apparently remained a one-time wonder. In the two years that have gone by, Akhilesh failed to display that spark ever again. He has belied the hopes and expectations of all his admirers whose vote gave his party the surge of 224 seats in a 403 member state assembly.
Once on the hot seat with a mandate he or his peers had not imagined, the euphoria went a little too far. His father Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party patriarch, began to nurture dreams of reaching 7 Race Course Road. And “Lakshya 2014: Delhi” became the buzzword, often emboldened on huge posters and even stickers pasted on screens of vehicles of SUV-savvy Samajwadi activists across the length and breadth of the state.
Akhilesh took off on a positive note—fulfilling all his election promises—like giving away laptops, unemployment allowance and other freebies like Vidya Kanyadhan to young girls and a couple of other scholarships to different sections of society.
However, he seemed to overlook in the bargain that freebies could not be the end-all of governance. Apparently, his peers led him to believe that other than these doles, the only thing he needed to concentrate was his party’s caste and creed configuration. And evidently, that is what turned him into a complacent young man who lost direction even before he could set out on his governance journey.
To compound his pitfalls came an overbearing army of 'uncles' holding key positions in the government de facto headed by a fidgety father, who, for whatever reason, could not let the son run the show on his own. What had begun as a crude joke—'UP has five and a half chief ministers of which Akhilesh is half'—soon gained ground.
Even those who had reposed much faith in him started getting disillusioned when they found Akhilesh often doing things for which he had always condemned and criticized his party’s most sworn adversary, former Chief Minister Mayawati. That included her habit of avoiding the Chief Minister’s office and instead functioning from the CM’s official residence at 5 Kalidass Marg.
True, the VVIP Kalidass Marg was not impregnable anymore (Mayawati had made it out of bounds for common people). Deviating from Mayawati’s legacy of making herself completely inaccessible to all and sundry, Akhilesh re-started the traditional ‘Janata durbar’ where thousands converged from different corners of the state.
But he began to show the first signs of his weak convictions when he allowed himself to be misguided by his coterie of bureaucrats who advised him "what a waste of time" the ‘janata durbar’ was. The ritual, which was widely welcomed by the man on the street, was initially reduced from five times a week affair to four days and shortly thereafter to once a week and eventually to once a month. A bureaucrat close to him was once heard impressing upon him: “These janata durbars make no sense as people come with too many expectations that cannot be fulfilled.”
From losing focus on the poor and needy, he also began to pay lesser attention to vital issues of governance and instead started spending more time with his personal coterie of friends. Bureaucrats functioning closely with him began to feel serious deficiency of attention even on serious issues.
The result was obvious. In the absence of strong conviction, deficiency of attention and lack of urge to understand the problems or to look for pragmatic solutions and, above all, the readiness to lie prostate whenever asked to bend, left Akhilesh with a sharply plummeted credibility and lost ‘iqbal’. Each time he reversed his own orders on key issues—be it allowing MLAs to buy SUVs out of their constituency fund, or closing malls at 6 pm to conserve electricity—his partymen hailed him for “showing courage to review his own decisions.” But little did they realize that such actions only portrayed him in poorer light.
Even as his graph went down, he failed to realize the need for a strong and upright team of advisers in the form of bureaucrats who believed in delivery. Rather he preferred sycophancy in comparison to merit and did not hesitate to shield the corrupt and the inefficient until he received a rap from the High Court. Criticism became a taboo, and filtered information became the order of the day, keeping both the son and father in a fool’s paradise. Oblivious of harsh ground realities ,they went to the hustings with an air of overconfidence that could be shaken only by the results on May 16 when the party stood reduced from 23 to a paltry tally of just four in the Lok Sabha . Other than four members of the ruling Yadav clan—Mulayam, daughter-in-law Dimple and nephews Dharmendra and Akshay—all of SP’s nominees were devastated by its arch political foe—BJP which took its numbers from 10 to 73.
Akhilesh's failure to look beyond caste and religion—for which he did not hesitate to overlook serious law and order issues—allowed the precipitation of a deep crisis in the form of the Muzaffarnagar riots which left as many as 62 (most of them Muslims) dead.
What was worse was that even after the more recent brutal happening in Katra village of Budaun district—where two young minor sisters were not only gangraped and done to death but were also hanged from a tree—the chief minister did not even think it necessary to visit the fateful village. Far from that, his supporters and peers went to the extent of adding insult to injury. Instead of reprimanding Akhilesh for having displayed his insensitivity through his remark “aap to safe hain; phir ja kar prachar karo”, his uncle and the party’s most important general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav (also known as SP’s think-tank) went to the extent of accusing the media as being responsible for rapes.
With father Mulayam Singh Yadav having earlier expressed his outrageous view on rapes when he tried to dismiss the heinous crime as a typical boyish “mistake” , the party’s mindset was loud and clear. Notwithstanding SP's oft repeated assertions that prompt action was taken against the culprits, the utterances of father, son and uncle were a clear indication of their still being in denial mode.
Albeit late in the day, Akhilesh did appear to be shaking himself out of his inertia when he went on his first “surprise” inspection on June 4. He did take by surprise the lax officials of Shravasti district where as many as six came under his new found axe . Only time will tell whether this too remains a cosmetic one-shot wonder or it would be a sustained exercise to retrieve the much lost ground at a time when the iron is hot for the BJP and it is now vociferously demanding imposition of the President’s rule.
By Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow. This piece does not appear in print