From the burnt villages of riot-hit Muzaffarnagar to the cozy, middle-class homes in Lucknow – residents of Uttar Pradesh are unanimous that law and order in India’s most populous state has declined under the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP).
Communal tensions, extortions and abductions, arbitrary enforcement of the rule of law, and political interference in exercise of administrative duties are problems most cited by the public under the Akhilesh Yadav-led government.
The harried UP residents compare the current government with the previous Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) regime.
“Mayawati may have been corrupt, but at least we were living in peace,” says a Lucknow-based businessman on condition of anonymity.
But why is the SP regime so notorious for its hooliganism, and how did the BSP manage to maintain law and order?
“To begin with, the SP’s workers are far more militant than those of the BSP,” says Anupam Mishra, an Allahabad-based journalist.
“Perhaps it’s also because Dalits have been oppressed for so long that even when they get political power, they are not as aggressive.”
But Sudarshan Yadav, an SP supporter in Chandauli, responds, “Under the BSP, there was Dalit goondagardi (hooliganism). It is our rule now.”
Another SP supporter Om Prakash Yadav says, “Earlier, if police saw us gambling, we would run. But now the cops wave at us and ask us to continue.”
And while these men gamble away at Fatehpur village in Chandauli, Dalit residents in neighbouring Byaspur village say there is none to give them justice.
“Policemen chase us away when we go to police stations. All local officials are Yadavs. No one even registers our FIRs,” says Chhavinath Prasad.
Meanwhile, workers of other parties seem almost envious of the leeway given to SP workers.
“The SP gives its workers free rein,” says Someshwar Pandey, a BJP worker in Gorakhpur.
“If the SP is in power, you can bet the worker will emerge a lot richer than he was before the party came to power.”
As journalist Mishra points out, “Under Mayawati, there was centralisation of power and corruption. Workers remained under her control.”
“But under the SP rule, there is such anarchy that Mulayam Singh Yadav has himself gone on record several times asking his people to remain disciplined.”
Mishra says the other distinction between the two regimes is that SP leaders are quite accessible to party workers.
“If a district administrator or local policeman takes action against a party worker, the worker is quick to call up a state leader, who then exerts pressure on the officials to put the matter to rest. This sets a precedent. Other bureaucrats become reluctant to take any action that might anger party leaders.”
On the other hand, “Mayawati is inaccessible and other leaders in BSP have limited authority. Hence, BSP workers cannot use political muscle to the same extent as SP workers, and the bureaucracy is more powerful,” Mishra says.