When you meet Akhilesh Yadav for the first time, there are a number of things that can strike you as being positive. There’s an earnestness in the 40-year-old Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s manner; a fresh-faced openness; and, rare for politicians from his state, a sense of humility. But, if you’ve watched the second and third Austin Powers movies, he can also remind you of Mini-Me, the one-eighth sized clone of Powers’ nemesis, Dr Evil, in that satirical series.
Only, in this case, you see a smaller-sized replica of Akhilesh’s father, Samajwadi Party’s chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav. In those two films, Mini-Me is largely ineffective and his character is scripted with almost no dialogue. In the past two years since Akhilesh became one of India’s youngest chief ministers, his tenure at the helm of India’s most populous and most problem-laden state has not only been unremarkable, but as many will agree, regressive.
In 2012 when the Samajwadi Party won an impressive 224 of the 403 assembly seats in UP and Yadav junior became chief minister, many, including this newspaper, welcomed the development, hoping that the new leadership would breathe fresh life into the state by changing the way it was governed; improving its abysmal law and order scene; and bringing about much-needed and long-awaited economic development. The opposite happened. Far from getting a free hand, Akhilesh remained under the shadow of his father and the influence of the old guard in the party. There was little or no change in governance of the state. Instead, three major incidents and a host of lesser ones underscored the fact that law and order in UP, always a problem, had worsened: in 2013, the Muzaffarnagar riots left 62 people dead and exposed the state’s ineffectiveness in dealing with such crises; in the same year, a young IAS officer, Durga Shakti Nagpal, was suspended (the suspension was later revoked) by the government for taking on the notorious UP sand mafia that has alleged links to politicians; and, more recently, this year, there was a spate of rapes and murders in the state, including the hanging of two young girls in Badaun, and the government’s responses to them were often downright callous.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav at his home in Lucknow. (AFP photo)
UP has India’s highest incidence of violent crimes, accounting for 12.3% of the total reported incidents and in the past two years, the numbers have increased. Many point out how the law and order situation had improved under Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s rule only to deteriorate after the SP came back to power. Despite the huge expectations from the tech-savvy, forward-looking new chief minister, it is his father and his associates who really run the show. Talk to UP’s bureaucrats and they’ll discreetly tell you how crucial files are cleared and decisions are taken (Hint: if you’re thinking that these happen at the chief minister’s office, think again). Even Akhilesh’s efforts to spur economic development have not borne much fruit though he is trying hard to get two of his favourite projects—a metro for Lucknow and an infotech city—off the ground.
The drubbing that the state’s regional parties—the SP and the BSP—received from the BJP in the last parliamentary elections is advance notice that the people of the state, across castes and socio-economic strata, are fed up with the status quo. UP is expected to go to state polls in 2017 but with the BJP using its recently-won heft of 71 Lok Sabha seats to shake things up, those polls could happen earlier.
For far too long UP has remained a hotbed of politics, caste conflicts and communal clashes and its people have been denied proper governance and development. If UP were a country, its 190 million people—roughly the same number of residents in Brazil—would make it the world’s fifth-most populous one. It would be tragic if a state that large is allowed to go to waste because of ineffective governance.