Young IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal's suspension is costing Akhilesh Yadav his image - the one which fascinated many in March 2012 when he became the youngest chief minister of India's most populous and politically crucial state.
The suave foreign-educated environment engineer became Uttar Pradesh CM at 38, raising hopes he would be the one to take state politics beyond caste considerations and usher in a progressive culture.
Such hopes, however, are receding fast, as he struggles not to be overwhelmed by satraps who are either family or his father's friends.
"He is a well-intentioned person, but has failed to develop a personality of his own," Prakash Singh, former state director general of police, said, reacting to the growing controversy over Nagpal's suspension and the apparent haste with which the CM gave the go-ahead.
This in a way captures the growing public perception that the CM is still working under his father and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's shadow.
No matter howsoever hard the CM may try to assert he is taking his own decisions, fact remains other heavyweights in the SP too are calling the shots.
Asked about the parallel power centres, senior SP leaders dismiss it as a case of Socialists being more democratic.
Senior SP leader Vinod Dubey from Allahabad sees the government as a chariot being pulled by several horses. "The government is being run in several sections. No one including the CM interferes in the departments run by senior ministers."
Till now party seniors Mohd Azam Khan and Shivpal Singh Yadav, the CM's uncle, were running their fiefdoms, but now even leaders such as Narendra Bhati have surfaced.
Bhati's public announcement that he got Nagpal removed within 41 minutes at midnight has not only undermined the CM's position, but also attributed political motive to an administrative decision.
Somewhere, the SP's younger brigade is upset over such unwarranted statements by leaders.
Anand Bhadouria, a member of a close-knit team of Akhilesh Yadav that drove the party to power, said, "Yes, we should avoid making public utterances because it harms the party. As for the chief minister, he has been in office for one-and-a-half years only. Let the time come, he will prove himself. He is sharp, intelligent and knows what decision to take when."
But there is impatience in the air with the youth who whole-heartedly supported him. They are questioning his decision to remain "status-quoist". Some who are sympathetic, say he is a victim of the system he inherited.
Many of them point to his decision to cancel his Harvard lecture only because Azam Khan was frisked at the airport.
A senior bureaucrat said, "Sometimes we do feel that he wants to breathe free and stick to a development agenda, but looks helpless before political compulsions."
Some of them point to the decision of the political leadership to remain a silent spectator when two sects of the same community clashed on the streets of Lucknow.
According to seasoned government officials, not much will change till the 2014 Lok Sabha elections because both the party and the ruling family feel this would be the last chance for Mulayam Singh Yadav to fulfil his national ambitions.
With too many flourishing power centres, the bureaucracy not only remains confused but also manages to find easy alibis for non-performance. A senior officer said, "In the previous (Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati's) regime we knew the orders would come from the top. Now, they come from all quarters, and are sometimes contradictory in nature."
When the CM had played a cricket match with bureaucrats after the state IAS association's revival, little did he know that one day he will have to remind them of how they had lost their voice during the BSP's rule and do what his predecessor did.
Nagpal's suspension is being seen in the same claustrophobic light.
The CM had once told HT, "In a democracy one must respect public sentiment and I did that while withdrawing my two orders on luxurious cars to legislators from MLA fund and early closure of malls to save electricity."
But this time it appears the political compulsions were too heavy for him to respect public sentiment. It was he who gave Nagpal a prime posting in Noida and it is he who sacrificed her for political considerations.
Hindustantimes.com conducted a poll asking readers if Akhilesh Yadav lived up to the hopes of Uttar Pradesh. About 3.6% of the respondants agreed to the question saying the chief minister has indeed worked to come up to the expectations of the state. 95.1% of those who voted disagreed and the rest 1.2% of them remained undecided.
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