He’s not even a year into office, but there’s already talk that Akhilesh Yadav has quite lost the UP plot. The assessment on the ground is that in the event of a snap Lok Sabha election, the SP will see losses and the BSP will regain ground. What’s significant is the change in mood in the nation’s largest state: many fence-sitters who voted the SP into its thumping victory (224 seats in a House of 403) now regret the decision, as law and order deteriorates, a goonda raj rules, and the CM seems to have little control. UP is a mess and there will be a political price to pay.
It seems like much water has flown down the Gomati since a 38-year-old chief minister was sworn in, one who, unlike his father’s rustic Etawah wrestler background, had even acquired a degree in environmental engineering from Australia. His simplicity, accessibility and above all honesty appeared to create an aura around him. His firm snub to dreaded mafia don-turned-neta D.P. Yadav added to the image. Akhilesh was seen as the Yadav scion who would finally turn the page in the history of the Samajwadi Party. His 10 months in office, though, have put paid to many of these hopes.
While most political observers blame uncle Shivpal Yadav and the many such “uncles” Akhilesh is surrounded with for the mess, others say Mulayam Singh Yadav himself is the biggest hurdle in the son’s path. Take the induction of ministers in the Akhilesh cabinet, handpicked by Mulayam. The 47-member council has at least a dozen who face serious criminal charges, including murder, attempt to murder, rape, extortion and assault. All of this naturally reflects on the worsening law and order situation.
The bureaucracy too is entirely of Mulayam’s choice and packed with those who were dumped (for varying reasons) during the preceding five-year Mayawati rule and those recommended by ‘netaji’s’ business baron pals, including the now slain Ponty Chadha, Ashok Chaturvedi, the Ansals and Sahara Roys. The coteries that played the system remain as entrenched as during the Maya regime.
Even among the SP’s direct grantees, a common feeling is that Akhilesh’s stint has been “quite disappointing”.
A few well-meaning bureaucrats were given key positions, but the past 10 months have shown that these were more for cosmetic value rather than any meaningful purpose. Noida and Greater Noida (“UP’s goldmines”) were headed by bureaucrats whose shady track record has even attracted the wrath of the Allahabad HC, with a division bench ordering their removal. The Akhilesh government still went about defending both Rakesh Bahadur and Sanjeev Saran (Noida chairman and CEO respectively). Fed up, the court has now ordered the government to submit a “compliance report” by the first week of February. Another infamous IAS officer, Neera Yadav, convicted by a CBI court in the Noida plot allotment scam, was made appointments secretary. It took another court order to have the officer removed, only to be brought back again after the state managed to get a stay on the conviction order.
The situation on the communal front isn’t any better either. The last 10 months have witnessed as many incidents of communal violence. What began with a Hindu-Muslim clash in Pratapgarh district in May was repeated in Kosi Kalan town of Mathura district in June, followed by a prolonged spell of violence in Bareilly. Shortly thereafter, similar tensions and violence erupted in Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad and Faizabad. The worst came in Ghaziabad where six Muslim youth were killed in police firing. (Of course, there is political capital to be made here also. The BJP’s Lalji Tandon says it’s all happening “because of the blind appeasement of minorities”.)
Former state Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi blames it all on the “weakness” of the Akhilesh government. “He failed to take stern action against erring officials whenever communal violence broke out because he doesn’t have a free hand to run the government,” she says. BSP spokesman Swami Prasad Maurya flays both father and son: “There is a complete absence of governance in the state ever since SP came to power.”
Even among the direct beneficiaries of the SP, a common feeling is that Akhilesh’s stint has been “quite disappointing”. A senior bureaucrat who’s been a great fan of Akhilesh says, “I fail to understand what is keeping him from asserting himself.” Another bureaucrat offers the answer: “Sadly, he has been incapacitated by his own people.”
Ironically, none other than Mulayam himself has been critical of the government’s functioning. On at least three major occasions, the father has publicly voiced concerns over his son’s governance, even issuing warnings to partymen to behave. But even diktats issued by both father and son banning use of party flags or insignia on their vehicles have fallen on deaf ears. SP men have a free run, flaunting their links with the party’s bigwigs. “Intimidation of government officials and cops is an everyday affair now... they know no harm will come to them, that announcements made by netaji are meant only for public consumption,” says a senior police officer.
All of which leads to why Akhilesh is, rather early in the day, being described as a “majboor” CM. His father’s legacy is actually becoming his undoing. Ironically, it is on the strength of his son’s performance that the wrestler-turned-politician from Etawah is hoping to improve his Lok Sabha tally.