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Can Akhilesh Yadav buck Uttar Pradesh’s anti-incumbency trend?

If he overcomes anti-incumbency, Akhilesh Yadav will become the first chief minister in the state to do so

analysis Updated: Mar 10, 2017 23:34 IST
Sunita Aron | Hindustan Times
Akhilesh Yadav,Anti-Incumbency,ND Tiwari
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav gestures while addressing a press conference at party headquarters in Lucknow, March 7. (PTI)

The animated poll narratives had a mix of divisive and development issues this time in Uttar Pradesh, which is eager to get rid of the ‘laggard state’ tag. But the debate on the recent trend of states returning incumbent chief ministers in the country for their good work was lost in the public spat over ‘shamshan’ and ‘kabaristan’. West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are recent examples where the Trinamool Congress and AIADMK were returned to power.

Ever since the Congress lost its primacy over Uttar Pradesh, the state has not repeated the same party or chief minister in elections. But this time around, young chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has remained a major factor in the race, the other players being mighty Mayawati and popular Narendra Modi.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been out of power for 14 years and was desperate to win UP - the adopted state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But the regional forces - the SP and the BSP who had been alternately ruling the state -- posed major hurdles.

The BJP high command and Amit Shah could corner the state governments headed by the SP and the BSP over their non-performance but he had to convince voters about his party’s sincerity to develop the state through good governance. As there was no visible work that the party could showcase in UP barring demonetisation, Shah flaunted states such as Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which had returned their incumbent chief ministers Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh. With pride, Shah described it as a reward for their good governance and promised to develop UP on the same lines.

However, throwing a spanner in their efforts was Akhilesh Yadav, the young chief minister of the state, who had silenced his critics by executing big development projects over his five-year turbulent tenure. He often demanded to know if any other state in the country could show one project as big as the Metro Rail and Agra-Lucknow Expressway that they had completed in their tenure.

While joining the debate, Akhilesh repeatedly told people about the prevailing trend of repeating chief ministers in the country. His one-liner was: “This election would prove if people voted for caste or for their aspirations.”

He knew UP’s penchant for change rather than continuity in every election. The state has had 20 chief ministers since January 26, 1950 including political giants like Govind Ballabh Pant, Sampurnanad and CB Gupta. Of them, only five chief ministers could enjoy more than one term: Charan Singh, Narain Dutt Tiwari, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and Kalyan Singh.

Akhilesh’s concerns can be fathomed considering the fact that even the BJP national president was forced to showcase other BJP-ruled states than Uttar Pradesh. The party had ruled in UP for one-and-a-half years in 1991 and from 1997 to 2002. It’s another matter that while in 1991, their government was sacked after the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya .

Prime Minister Modi barely mentioned the tenures of Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh as he knew there was nothing concrete to display barring better law and order then.

Traditionally, UP has never repeated an incumbent chief minister. But apart from ND Tiwari of the Congress,, who is lauded for his development work, perhaps for the first time, an incumbent chief minister is being hailed for the work he has done for the state and is in the race for the crown again. Even his opponents criticised him mostly for ditching his father or for Muslim appeasement, which did not stick as the SP government under him had developed pilgrim centres like Ayodhya and Mathura.

In fact, instead of anti-incumbency, Akhilesh became the driving force for the Congress-SP alliance with poll partner and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi publicly lauding the development works undertaken by his government. All surveys billed him as the most popular chief minister of the state. Surprisingly, even those who had made up their mind to vote against the Samajawadi Party wanted a second term for him.

Interestingly, roadside chats with people often revealed a vote for Modi and support for Akhilesh.

Will UP break the tradition of bringing a new face every election or give him a second term will be known on March 11. It’s another matter that many BJP supporters, even if they celebrate the SP’s defeat and BJP’s victory, will openly sympathise with him if Akhilesh fails to get a second chance.

First Published: Mar 10, 2017 15:29 IST