Humility and good manners are considered hallmarks of a pushover in the refracted prism of our politics. When Akhilesh Yadav came to power in Uttar Pradesh, people were struck by his humility, his freshness, his enthusiasm. Today, these qualities have come back to bite him where it hurts most. It is clear now. He will not have an easy run. Despite his public shows of respect for seniors in his cabinet, they have fired at him from all directions for his inexperience, even his age.
While it is still not ‘come back Mayawati, all is forgiven’, Akhilesh needs all the help he can get to hold off his detractors. Rajya Sabha member Prof Ram Gopal Yadav came to his aid recently when he issued a veiled warning to ministers in the UP cabinet. Hitting out at Akhilesh’s detractors in the council of ministers he had said, “When Indira Gandhi became the prime minister of the country for the first time, people gave her several names, including goongi gudiya. What happened? When she started asserting, her decisions and actions changed the very destiny of the country’s politics. Here in our state some party leaders are undermining the position of the chief minister while calling Akhilesh a ‘ladka’ (a young lad). They should not forget that this ladka can change overnight and become very tough.” His message was clear. The chief minister, irrespective of his age, should be treated as chief minister.
Akhilesh’s opponents are playing up his helplessness in a dispensation ruled by his father Mulayam Singh. The father is not helping any. The perception that the CM is still tied to daddy’s apron strings is reinforced when Yadav senior pulls him up in public or when his ministers or officers try to bypass him. The other day, Mulayam Singh chastised the government he himself is driving by remote control. It was his son who said sorry, not the errant ministers.
As I hear, Mulayam Singh is laying the foundation for a cabinet reshuffle, which he can do without any threat to his majority government. As of now Mulayam Singh wants to keep everyone happy. He has ambitions of coming to power at the Centre after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. For this he needs the numbers. And they will come if his son’s government performs. But at the same time, he can’t leave well alone and let his son bring about the changes needed. Akhilesh is caught between a rock and a hard place.
Former BSP minister Naseemuddin Siddqui, sweating outside the renamed Janeshwar Mishra Park in Lucknow, told me, “The chief minister is a subject of sympathy. What can he do when his own ministers and officials don’t listen to him?” His uncle Shivpal calls the shots at the cabinet meetings while Akhilesh remains a mere spectator. Or for that matter how will Akhilesh rein in troublesome minister Mohd Azam Khan who hasn’t got tired of using every forum to flaunt his connections with the first family of the state?
The message to the bureaucracy is clear. Akhilesh is the CM but the power behind the throne is the pater familias and his merry band. This means that Akhilesh cannot even tell Azam Khan where to get off, he has to be all sweetness and light to him.
Akhilesh has been playing down the controversies, saying they always need netaji’s guidance. He is caught in a generational conflict, a young chief minister with an old cabinet. There is a complete mismatch in their functioning and in their vision for UP. Akhilesh can deliver if he can shake off the baggage that his father has handed over along with his legacy.
For now the government is lurching about without direction. The files never seem to reach the right desk. Two major poll promises that had brought the Samajwadi Party to power were the unemployment allowance for jobless youth and tablets for class 10 and 12 pass students. These have got held up in a maze of bureaucratic red-tape. Comparisons with the previous government are to be expected. Mayawati was autocratic. No one in the party could question her decisions. Within the SP, there is total freedom to speak. Maya’s ministers avoided the media like the plague, SP ministers wait eagerly for reporters.
I think the issue here is not so much of guidance, but of governance. Public patience is running out as people have yet to get a feel of any tangible change. Akhilesh fears that a lobby is working overtime to malign the image of the state government. His fears may be true. But it’s time he took some tough and quick decisions. For this, he has to show some spine and get out of the ‘daddy knows best’ syndrome. Youth cannot be a disqualification for the ability to govern. The old order has to give way to the new.