Akhilesh Yadav may have won the cycle race, but has UP lost everything?

Now the real issue in these elections is the poor track record under Akhilesh Yadav and not the power politics within SP.
Akhilesh Yadav may have won the cycle race, but has UP lost everything?
Akhilesh Yadav may have won the cycle race, but has UP lost everything?
Written by:

Mohan Yadav

“Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

These words from a George Orwell essay, quite aptly represent what is unfolding in Lucknow as the whole of India looks on. Over the past few weeks, news outlets across India have been feeding the schadenfreude of the masses by playing on loop the internal power politics of the Samajwadi Party where the incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has been seemingly grappling with his own father Mulayam Singh Yadav and a multitude of figures within and outside the SP. Respite came with the announcement by the Election Commission to grant him the ‘Cycle’ symbol, and Akhilesh’s next move looks like it will be to form an alliance with the majorly crippled Congress party, which Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad jumped the gun upon and fed to the media. The move seems like a step in the right direction as far as vote-bank politics is concerned and will further consolidate Akhilesh’s position by bringing in the meagre 13% vote that the Congress holds and supposedly negate the ill-effects of ticking off the Mulayam Faction within the SP. However, the one thing that no solution can be found for, is the political juggernaut that is Shivpal Yadav, at least in the rank and file of the Samajwadi Party. That battle Akhilesh will have to fight on his own, and the end result will only be declared on March 11, 2017.

While all this is happening, one thing remains constant, the people of Uttar Pradesh have been once again side-lined and ignored.

Tall Claims

Akhilesh Yadav claims he is working to reclaim the party from the outsiders, who he believes are diluting the original socialist principles that the party was founded on. A forceful assertion is being made that the young brigade is working overtime to snatch away the power from the greedy and the corrupt criminal elements and restore the lofty socialist ideals that were the original moral compass of the party. But in spite of this implicit admission of the loss of ideals and the inherent conviction for the need of course correction, projecting this power tussle as a fight to keep 'criminal elements out of politics', is nothing short of a pompous caricature. One only needs to take a close look at the candidate list Akhilesh Yadav has released to realise these tall claims are simply hogwash.

Heir Apparent(ly Not)

Akhilesh Yadav emerged on the political scene at a time when other dynastic heirs like Rahul Gandhi, Omar Abdullah, Jyotiraditya Scindia were on the wane and would have suffered a similar fate but for careful image management and bumptious personal branding. Yadav Jr. managed to hoodwink the masses of UP in the last assembly elections, riding on the hopes of the masses of UP of invigorated development, improved quality of life guaranteed by the energy of a young leader. However, a cursory glance at the past five years indicates that Yadav Jr. has proved to be grossly insufficient and maybe even emblematic of the rot that has crept into the SP. A visible growth in caste related crimes, breakdown of law and order machinery, slowdown of industrial growth and rising unemployment have been compounded by an indecisive and uninterested Chief Minister at the helm.

(Anti-) Incumbent Chief Minister

Yadav Jr. exhibited a characteristic inability when it came to his conduct as the Chief Minister. He was perpetually unsure of himself, always quick to shift the blame on others - be it his bureaucrats or the central government and very recently to the members of his own family. To his credit though, he always came across as a lovable individual with a breezy demeanour. A famous anecdote about how during a review meeting of the party during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, where Amar Singh quipped that the Akhilesh-led fresh crop in the party was required to cater to the Hannah Montana consumer demographic, helps to put things into perspective. Akhilesh was often chided for being distracted by his mobile phone during most interactions. He was even caught fiddling with his device while sharing the dais with President Pranab Mukherjee and often frustrated bureaucrats during meetings, leaving them clueless whether the CM was even listening to the issues they were presenting to him. He also left many bewildered when he used to undergo great mental strain to understand basic technical concepts, maps, etc. given his training and educational background in engineering. In a 35-minute meeting with a group of activists who were making a representation to him on food security, Yadav Jr. spent 20 minutes in an interrogation of the Belgian-born economist Jean Dreze on his fluency in Hindi.

Blood, Gore & Goondaraj

A flashpoint moment during Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure was, the gory riots in Muzaffarnagar. According to official figures from March 2012 to September 2013, 115 people had lost their lives and over 50,000 were reported displaced in incidents of communal rioting. Akhilesh’s ineptitude was never more starkly visible than during this incident, where it was rumoured that all the real-time updates of the developments on the ground and instructions on force deployment were not being relayed to him and he was learning about them through secondary sources. For several months in 2013, posts of director-general and assistant director-general in five of the most crucial state police branches (Police Recruitment and Promotion Board (UPPRPB), Intelligence Headquarters, Vigilance Establishment, Economic Offences Wing, and Security Headquarters) lay vacant. Four out of the five branches reported directly to the Chief Minister’s office. This lent credence to the theory of 5½ CMs (comprising Mulayam Singh, Ramgopal Yadav, Shivpal Yadav, Azam Khan and Anita Singh) with Akhilesh being the indifferent half to complete the equation.  

(Non) Performance

Naturally, Akhilesh Yadav’s lackadaisical attitude towards governance has very real ramifications for the people of UP. Take your pick of the indices to evaluate the States’ performance over the past five years and you will be hard-pressed to find any indicators of life improving under Akhilesh’s regime. UP is the worst place to be born as a woman. The women of UP are most likely to be aborted as children, have diving literacy rates, marry earlier than women of their states and are most likely die in pregnancy. As if this isn’t enough, they have the most crimes committed against them and are unlikely to find gainful employment. Although Akhilesh solemnly promised to make UP attractive for industries, the industrial growth in the state has been amongst the slowest in the country.

Crime (Capital) & Punishment

The state has also remained steadfast in its reputation as the crime capital of the country. In spite of this harsh moniker, the law and order machinery in UP is in a state of virtual paralysis even today. Transfers and appointments are done on caste and community lines. Credible rumours state that that if one walks in to a police station, one is most likely to find the SHO to be someone close to the local SP leader. Senior IPS officers are known to clamour for cosier future postings by appeasing the SP leaders. Such systemic subversion of meritocracy in the functioning of the state machinery has seen a bloody spill-over into daily lives of the citizens of UP. The horrific Bulandshahar gang rape, the immolation of journalist Jagendra Singh, the gang rape and murder in Badaun and the brutal rape and murder of a Class XII student this year in Lucknow; all underscore the shambolic breakdown of the rule of law in the state. While these incidents came to the fore and shook our collective conscience, there are many more such incidents which were promptly swept under the carpet by the SP-criminal nexus. What was more disturbing than the macabre acts, was the response of the state administration to these incidents. Shortly after journalist Jagendra Singh was burnt alive, a cabinet member of the Akhilesh government presented a bizarre defence for his colleague Ram Murti Varma who was allegedly complicit in the incident. Parasnath Yadav simply stated the journalist's death must have been written in his destiny. Or take for instance Mulayam Singh’s comments in 2014 following the outrage about deteriorating law and order in the state, very categorically stating that the Akhilesh government could not be expected to keep a check on each and every crime. Amidst all this clamour however, we never heard one voice that actually mattered: Akhilesh Yadav’s.

Culpable Suicide

Akhilesh’s argument for the lack of culpability for all this rot has always been dubious at best and irresponsible at worst. The claim that he never really held sway among the 5.5 CMs of UP and thus, his scope for intervention being limited, is utterly convenient and when it suited him, like recently, he has shown amazing alacrity at seizing power. This moment in UP’s politics holds a mirror to a phase in the early 2000’s where SP moved from selecting candidates just on the basis of caste lines, to selections of candidates on ‘winnability’. Back then, this meant candidates who could muster enough muscle power and money to win. Not much has changed since, except Akhilesh now realises that distancing himself from the criminal elements within his own party gives him a better shot at winning. Hence, the cleverly orchestrated family feud. If Akhilesh is serious about cleaning up UP’s politics, this begs the question, what stopped him earlier?

Now the real issue in these elections is the poor track record under Akhilesh Yadav and not the power politics within SP. In essence, Akhilesh is making the same pitch he made in 2012; a young brigade to clean up and develop UP; except this time around he has made a scapegoat of his own party.

One can only hope that the people of UP are not gullible to fall for it once again.

(The views expressed by the author are personal.)

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