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12 Reasons Why Akhilesh Yadav Has Failed
A single wailing cry rises from a frail, 80-year-old frame and fills up the mud-and-brick house in the densely populated, poor neighbourhood of Katra Saadatgunj village in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh. Sitting on the mud-caked floor, surrounded by other village women in ghoonghat, Ram Kali is mourning the gruesome death of her two granddaughters, Pushpa, aged 14, and Murti, just 12.
On the night of May 27, the two cousins were brutally gangraped, tortured and then, in a medieval barbaric statement of power, hanged to death from a mango tree on the outskirts of the village.
Saadatgunj may seem a back-of-the-beyond village in UP untouched by ‘modernity’. But it falls in a high-profile constituency, quite a bastion of the Samajwadi Party (SP). In the recent Lok Sabha elections in the state, Saadatgunj—a part of the Badaun Lok Sabha constituency—elected SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s nephew Dharmendra Yadav, giving the Mulayam clan one of the four LS seats the family won in the state.
There’s a deeper caste link here. The perpetrators of the crime were five local Yadav musclemen. And the rape-and-murder victims, minor girls from the Shakya community, essentially Dalits. The accused arrested since also include two cops from the UP police, underlining yet again what seems to be becoming a hallmark of the state under Akhilesh Yadav, its youngest chief minister ever: Yadav oppression of Dalits and police involvement in atrocities.
Back at the house, in between gasps, Ram Kali squeals, “Chidiya ud gayi. Hamne badi mushkil se bitiya paali thi (the birds have flown. We had raised our daughters with great difficulty).” A collective sob escapes from the small group of women surrounding her. Ram Kali’s two sons, Sohan Lal and Jeevan Lal, walk around the house with a vacant look in their eyes, repeating, almost as if it was their duty to do so, the story of their daughters’ rape and murder to the stream of visitors.
“Akhilesh won as he promised people jobs and development. What he didn’t know was how to deliver on the promises.”
A neighbour thrusts faded, passport-sized pictures of the two girls in Ram Kali’s hands to show to the empathising visitors. As she struggles to hold the photos straight, another neighbour, one of the many agitated sympathisers here, violently pushes a newer photograph, the last one ever taken, of the girls hanging from the tree, in her hands. Through failing eyesight, the old woman stares on even as local netas begin organising the congregation within the house for the impending visit of senior national leaders. Women on one side, men on another side on the floor, netas on the chairs in front.... The drill has been going on ever since the news of the murders broke. Leaders arrive in mostly white suvs with beacons, driven right up to the victims’ house, offer condolences and compensation of Rs 5 lakh for each of the victims. Five lakh from the UP state government, another five lakh from BSP chief Mayawati and the same sum from BJP’s Kalyan Singh, setting it almost as the established price for victims of rape followed by a macabre murder.
A kilometre away from the house, OB vans from television news channels surround the mango tree where the dead girls remained hanging for hours after their death till the police finally registered an FIR against the accused. The villagers had refused to take down the bodies without an FIR being registered first. Now, the tree has acquired a memorial-like status, where visiting politicians make a stopover before or after meeting the family. Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, Dharmendra Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Chirag Paswan, Rameshwar Chaurasia, Kalyan Singh—arriving almost as if on a conveyor belt. The CM, though, is yet to make a visit. A rude reminder of the fact that Akhilesh takes his time even to embrace a tokenism. What comes easily though are insensitive, high-handed statements to TV channels in the form of news bites. No wonder 65-year-old Jai Shankar says, “It’s a good thing Akhilesh didn’t come here. There would have been a riot.” In UP, sadly, the state administration has allowed much worse to continue to happen.
Within the span of a week, ever since the Badaun rape, there has been a string of reports of rapes from Sitapur, Aligarh, Tikri village, Panwadi village and Devrahat in Kanpur dehat. Meanwhile, insensitive statements from the SP leadership issue forth on cue. In Delhi, on June 5, Mulayam asked the media why those concerned about rapes don’t stay back in Delhi. SP leader and Mulayam’s cousin Ramgopal Yadav blames television for the rise in rapes in the state. Akhilesh himself attacks the media for highlighting rape cases only in UP, asking them to “Google similar such incidents in other states!” On one occasion, he even hints that journalists must stay quiet as long as they themselves were safe. Congress leader Zeeshan Haider calls it the “inability to digest the Lok Sabha drubbing. Akhilesh is an irresponsible leader.”
And to think, just two years back, at age 38, Akhilesh had arrived on the political landscape of the beleaguered bimaru state as a ray of hope for its electorate. He won 224 out of the 403 assembly seats in a campaign driven by his own forward-looking ideas promising a UP free of crime. It has been only downhill for the young man ever since. Jubilant SP workers running riot on the streets in celebration should have been foreboding enough. Then followed a full 100 cases of communal violence across the state in the very first year of governance. New as CM, Akhilesh buckled under pressure from the mining mafia and suspended bureaucrat Durga Shakti Nagpal for opposing illegal mining. The Muzaffarnagar communal riots in September 2013 not just exposed the CM’s lack of administrative skills but, worse, his apathy. Three months later, even as the national media wrote of children dying in the cold in shabby relief camps for the riot victims, Akhilesh was busy hosting the Saifai Mahotsav, including a Bollywood night in his home town.
What explains Akhilesh’s descent from young new hope for the state to a CM who couldn’t care less? Is he just a disinterested politician, doing a job that his father Mulayam has thrust upon him? Or is he merely an inexperienced administrator who is incapable of running a complex, layered state like UP? A bit of both, say senior officials in his government. “Akhilesh won the election because he promised people development and jobs, addressed the rising aspirations of the youth in the state, security and basic necessities like roads, electricity and water,” they tell Outlook. “What he didn’t know was how to deliver on those promises.”
And the problem, it seems, persists. “The gap between aspirations and Akhilesh’s deliverables is huge and gaping and the CM, with no experience of running a state, is failing on every count to better the situation,” sources confirm. A dominant father and his own sense of judgement seem to be proving his nemesis. The young Yadav runs a government based on the inputs of a coterie that mostly comprises his own friends from school and college days, with no knowledge base or actual connect with the ground realities.
“Mulayam detests Akhilesh’s set of friends. He often says his son should meet more people than the 10 friends he meets.’
Akhilesh, therefore, has squandered all the goodwill that he once commanded. Administrative indices are quite pathetic across the board. Long power cuts and huge unemployment are causing widespread public outrage. Senior bureaucrats claim Akhilesh has a kneejerk reaction to most crisis situations, evident even in the Badaun case. Not just the law and order situation but even the economy has taken a turn for the worse in the state. Investments in UP have come to a standstill because of the long gestation period projects have come to require to take off. Even the good schemes that Akhilesh has launched were essentially doles aimed at serving his father Mulayam’s prime ministerial ambitions for 2014. An insider close to Akhilesh says, “All the government schemes implemented in the last two years, be it Kanya Vidyadhan, Lohia Awas Yojna, free laptops, debt waiver for farmers, pensions, incentive for Muslim girls, were doles and appeasements for the 2014 LS polls. The economy had to plummet.”
Not just that, his seemingly more uplifting ideas—a proposed IT park and cancer hospital in Lucknow, an agriculture university in Banda, 100 cow project scheme, metro in the state capital, farm loan waivers and medical colleges—were mired in the high-handedness of an inherited, hand-me-down bureaucracy, all loyalists of his father who decidedly chose to listen to Mulayam more than his son. It is in this, say sources, that Akhilesh faces his most difficult challenge. The CM’s office, they say, is full of Mulayam’s own favourite bureaucrats who work with Akhilesh but report to Mulayam. Prominent among them are those like Jagjivan Prasad, Arvind Yadav, Anita Singh, Shambhu Singh Yadav, Pandhari Yadav, Jagdev Yadav and others. Even senior ministers like Shivpal Yadav and Azam Khan take a cue from Mulayam’s own impression of his son, treating Akhilesh like a “trainee chief minister”.
It doesn’t help the CM’s image either when Mulayam publicly chides him for administrative lapses. In private, sources confirm, Mulayam complains to loyalists about “Akhilesh’s happy-go-lucky attitude and soft personality”. Says an insider, “Mulayam detests Akhilesh’s set of friends. Very often he says Akhilesh should be asked to meet more people than just the set of 10 friends he meets.” No wonder, Lucknow circles remember Mulayam openly criticising Akhilesh a few years back for playing cricket in the La Martiniere grounds with friends even though he had become an MP. What also comes in for trenchant criticism is Akhilesh’s insistence on standing by his friends or attending parties thrown by his social circle, earning him the moniker of “party chief minister”. This is perhaps why Mulayam has chosen to dictate terms. An insider recalls how Mulayam once ordered Akhilesh to leave a meeting with Uma Bharti, then an MLA from the state, to instead meet a senior journalist from Delhi visiting Yadav Sr. In another much-publicised rebuke, Mulayam told Akhilesh to pull up his socks as CM. Mulayam’s writ, therefore, appears large in UP politics. A writ that has done more damage to Akhilesh’s initial image of a well-meaning scion than any criticism from the media.
In fact, so badly hemmed in is Akhilesh by his father’s politics and his loyalists that the joke going around in Lucknow circles is that the state has four-and-a-half CMs. Akhilesh forms only half of the 4.5 figure, the other four include Mulayam, Shivpal, Ramgopal Yadav and Azam Khan. No wonder, few in the party listen to Akhilesh’s orders or accept his authority. So bad is the leadership deficit, insiders let on, that many senior ministers turn up late for cabinet meetings, much after Akhilesh has arrived, only to avoid standing up for the CM when he arrives. Credit goes to Akhilesh for making the CM’s office far more accessible than in his predecessor Mayawati’s time, but insiders lament that UP now abounds with regional power centres.
The fault perhaps lies in the nature of the man himself. He is not cut out for UP’s realpolitik. “He is too polite, too obedient, too soft and too respectful,” says an insider. “Politics for him is not what his father’s generation espoused. UP requires a bit of an iron hand manipulator; that Akhilesh can never be.” He does seem to have woken up from deep slumber in the week that followed the Badaun case. So there have been surprise checks, suspensions, transfers and even new orders that no policemen shall be posted in their home districts. Akhilesh, his close aides say, means business now. Many in the state believe that, with the Lok Sabha polls behind him, Akhilesh will no more be burdened by his father’s prime ministerial aspirations and may finally have a free hand in running the state. Political analyst Professor Sudhir Panwar believes “Akhilesh has personal integrity and a sense of responsiveness. Changes initiated by him in his administrative and political team will infuse new ideas and energy into the working of the government. The state needs it.”
With three years still left till the next assembly polls, Akhilesh has time to turn around what for now seems a damned state. Until then, the cycle will have to pull through the rough and tumble of UP despite the twisted spokes and punctured wheels.
By Prarthna Gahilote in Badaun and Lucknow