Amid the fluid political situation, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav talks to Sunita Aron on a range of issues including the Samajwadi Party’s support to the UPA, preparedness for elections and the perception of his government having too many power centres. He also says the Congress and its general secretary Rahul Gandhi are not challenges. Having completed six months in office four days ago, the CM asserts he is in charge. Excerpts
Where does the SP stand on support to UPA? Do you foresee early Lok Sabha elections?
The final decision on continuing support to the United Progressive Alliance will be taken by our national president Mulayam Singh Yadav in consultation with senior party leaders. I can only say that we here are ready for the polls any time.
Do you feel threatened by talk of Rahul Gandhi playing a bigger role for the Congress in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections due in 2014?
Why should I feel threatened? The Congress or Rahul is not a challenge at all. The public has seen their performance. They are suffering the effects of price rise and corruption. I don’t think the Congress will gain at the grassroots. Their party has failed on many fronts, having taken anti-people decisions, while we have moved on our manifesto, fulfilling poll promises to farmers, students and other sections of the society.
What do you feel about the developments in Delhi?
There is no denying that UPA II has taken anti-people decisions such as the hike in diesel prices, regulation of cooking gas and foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail. There can be better ways of fiscal management than imposing burden on the common man already facing the brunt of price rise.
Who is running the UP government? Your father, your uncles or you?
A lot is being said about my uncles running the government. But it is absolutely wrong. As the head of the government, I have to take tough decisions, good or bad. I take the decisions and am responsible for them.
Then why do people feel you are a weak CM?
The officers know whether I am a weak CM or a strong one. People will also know in due course of time. I think it’s a wrong allegation. Having people who have been associates of netaji (SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav) around me does not mean they are running the show. There are senior ministers and officers who have worked in several departments. But for me, it’s the beginning and I am committed to the party’s ideology and manifesto. I know I will face the music if the government doesn’t perform.
Is it your humility a liability today?
Tell me which father or uncle in any Indian family would not want the younger generation to respect their contemporaries or colleagues. What’s wrong in that?
People accuse your father of running the government by remote control?
He is not. He will not interfere till I don’t do anything drastically wrong. He doesn’t speak to any bureaucrat directly, has never attended any development meeting. He never interferes in policy matters. Some people who don’t want me to move ahead in my political career have to find fault with the government’s functioning. As the national president of the party, netaji has every right to check the wrongs.
This perception could be because you are heading his old Cabinet?
Netaji was of the view that I needed an experienced team to assist me in taking quick decisions for the smooth running of the government. He also gave the ministers the same departments so that they could deliver better. I am doing my job, they have to perform also. (An in-depth performance review of every department is on after Mulayam Singh told the ministers to perform)
But he also handed you his old secretariat, same officers?
But they are working for me and not him. They are taking my orders. Where is the problem?
Power centres are quite evident?
In which government don’t you hear of power centres? Even the previous government led by Mayawati had power centres. I don’t want to name them. Again at the Centre, don’t you hear of power centres? It’s natural for experienced ministers to give their opinion. But no one can get the decisions changed. Take for instance the decisions on Lucknow-Agra expressway, power, vegetable hubs. All this controversy about power centres doesn’t perturb me and cannot take away my focus from the twin agenda of development and maintaining law and order.
The youth has played an important role in bringing your party to power? Where is their representation in your team?
You will soon see young faces in the team. I am going to do that. Can’t say when? It will be done at an appropriate time. But let me again emphasise that I want some young faces in my team.
Don’t you see bureaucratic hurdles in the implementation of your ambitious programmes?
Nothing is going to defocus me from my agenda, which is the implementation of the party manifesto. We have taken major infrastructure related decisions. We have decided to have roads, wherever feasible on PPP model. We have cleared the old power projects and they should become functional in two-three years’ time. I am going to personally monitor the progress, take aerial survey of the work being done. We are going ahead with separate feeder for the rural areas, like in Punjab. The state had barely 300 ambulances. By the end of this year there will be 3,000 ambulances running in the state, one at every block level. Also, 40 districts of the state will have 100-bedded hospitals.
Are you satisfied with the pace of development work?
We are working on other schemes like writing off loans of poor farmers. It’ll take time. The schemes have to be worked upon in offices and not on the street, why unnecessarily making noise about them. Chief secretary Javed Usmani is fully aware about the government’s priority. He is working very hard as they all are in the interest of the state. Our one point agenda is to take the state on the course of development. I may remain or not, the development would. All schemes are in the pipeline and many of them will be rolled out by November.
What gives you the confidence?
People are coming and meeting me. Support is coming from various sources. The other day when I called a meeting with the officials of Indian Institute of Remote Sensing here in the state capital, the ISRO chairman contacted me offering me data and any other technical support that I may need. He sent me the digital map of Lucknow (he brings the map showing how it would help in planning the city’s transport). I have asked him to send me the digital map of Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps, they were happy to note that at least some chief minister had shown interest in the work they do.
The general perception is that your government is failing on law and order?
I admit it’s a challenge. We have been able to check our cadre; they are not involved in crime though there may be some aberrations. We are making efforts. There are political pressures. Sometimes ministers and legislators may demand officers of their choice in their respective areas. But then officers of their choice will have to perform or go. We are planning to promote Dy SPs so that I will have a wider choice of officers to pick from. There are officers who are passionate about their work, there are some who do it as their duty. Recently, Deoria district magistrate started sweeping the hospital he had gone on an inspection visit. I want my officers to take an extra step, if not walk a mile, to achieve the goal. For me every day is important. I am happy the day I do some constructive work.