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Collateral Damage


In spite of a clean personal image, Akhilesh Yadav is finding himself on the sticky wicket in the run-up to the next assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, reports Rajendra Kumar
RAJENDRA KUMAR | Issue Dated: January 5, 2017, New Delhi
Tags : Uttar Pradesh | Samajwadi Party | Bahujan Samaj Party | Congress | Akhilesh Yadav |

There is a reason why Uttar Pradesh weighs so heavy in the Indian political scene. Since Independence, the parties which have ruled the Centre have gone to rule it via Uttar Pradesh. All these factors make Uttar Pradesh the most electorally sensitive state in the whole of India. Assembly polls are due in the state that has 80 Lok Sabha and as many as 403 Vidhan Sabha seats. The importance of the election is not lost on anyone. Every political party worth its salt has already started to strategize for it. As of now, among the main players, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress have announced their chief ministerial candidate for the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party is still holding its cards to its chest.

It is being widely rumoured that BJP might not announce its chief ministerial candidate after all and will likely fight on the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his promise of good governance. As of now, BJP, BSP and Congress are fighting this election on the appeal of changing the incumbent dispensation. Clearly, the Akhilesh Yadav government is in the crosshair, and it is finding itself cornered. And if that was not enough, the family feud came at a wrong time to further aggravate the challenges posed.

However, with the family feud settled for now, or at least swept under the carpet, the Akhilsh Yadav government is trying to improve the law and order situation in the state in order to put a presentable image in front of the voters and fight off the opposition from BJP, BSP and Congress.

In between, Akhilesh Yadav will also achieve a personal milestone, which has gone unnoticed by the pundits. When the term of this government is complete, Akhilesh Yadav will have become the first chief minister of the state ever to have completed his term at the first opportunity itself. Akhilesh had started his innings as a swashbuckling young leader in the year 2012. However, working through the minefields laid by his father and uncles, he was so drained out that he became merely a shadow of his former self. Things reached to such preposterous level that an MLA from his own party came out in the media and declared his government incapable of doing things. Such things would have been impossible just a few years ago when his father ruled the party with an iron fist.

Things came to a head when his uncle and bete noire Shivpal Singh Yadav, who is also state party president, called a meeting and accused Akhilesh of not only lying, but also of conspiring to break the party up and fight the election alone. To make matters worse, these allegations were levelled in the presence of Mulayam Singh Yadav, who chose not to comment, leave alone reprimand his brother. Sources close to the family maintain that Shivpal crossed the line because of his own frustrations vis-à-vis the young chief minister. However this does not discount the fact that Akhilesh Yadav has not yet managed to live up to the expectation of the people of Uttar Pradesh. The biggest drawback was the very limited power that he was allowed to wield inside the party itself. That it’s a hindrance in governance is to put it rather mildly. He was given a formidable party to rule. Four
years later, it is deeply divided and fragmented house.

Even those who are die-hard supporters of Akhilesh admit to this. However they quickly add that his father, uncles and powerful outsiders such as Azam Khan made it singularly difficult for him to rule the state. They add that while the man has vision, it was never allowed to take wings. Whenever a new programme or initiative was proposed by him, it used to be summarily dismissed by his own family without so much as giving it an honest consideration. It didn’t stop at that. Those close to the chief minister, such as Pawan Pandey, Anand Bhadoria and Sunil Singh, were repeatedly disciplined and reprimanded by the party for relatively small transgressions. A few were even expelled from the primary membership of the party. The situation turned especially ludicrous when even his uncle Professor Ramgopal Yadav, who stuck by his beleaguered nephew, was expelled from the party.

Rattled, not to mention frustrated, by these decisions of Shivpal Singh Yadav, Akhilesh implored his father directly to cancel the expulsion of these leaders along with many of his supporters. Mulayam acted swiftly to avoid the possible split and revoked the expulsions. They were asked to write an apology letter, and were then directed to get involved in the election campaign.

This incident has also sent a clear signal that Mulayam Singh Yadav has accepted the supremacy of Akhilesh Yadav inside the party. Though belatedly, both Mulayam and Shivpal came to realise that no electoral meeting or campaign trail can enthuse party supporters in the absence of Akhilesh.

The family feud that threatened to derail the party itself at least had a clear winner at the end. But at what cost? There are over a dozen members from the family who hold some or other post in the party or the government. It also makes Mulayam Singh’s family possibly the biggest political family in the country’s political map. It had led to the emergence of several power centres, leading to a crumbling of authority and order. The problem this poses in governance can never be overstated.

The Samajwadi Party is suffering from the ailment of incumbency as well. The problem of lethargy and degradation that is common with the parties that are in power anywhere has also affected the party. The only positive thing is, its cadres remain motivated and its machinery is still well oiled. It has a presence in every village and block and that gives it a headstart over parties like Congress, that suffer from a lack of organisation. However, like the upper echelon of the party, its lower ranks are also fragmented into Mulayam, Shivpal and Akhilesh camps, and that’s detrimental for the party. This needs to be stemmed as soon as possible. It is learnt that those observers who were sent by the party to blocks and villages, have also come up with the same assessment. They further add that the competition for tickets is both good and bad for the party. While this indicates the popularity of the party, it also opens a breach for rebel candidates.

Well known political analyst Ashutosh Mishra, also an academician with Lucknow University, says, “Akhilesh gave everything that he had, to his government. However, the shadow of his father and uncles loomed large for too long. This made the governance sluggish and it could not take off with the same propensity as was expected from it. But it is evident from the recent events that he has emerged a winner, and that’s good both for the party as well as the government.”

He adds, “Akhilesh is the face of the party and the election will be fought under his leadership. Having won this battle, he needs to focus on the law and order situation inside the state. And many of the problems come from Samajwadi Party’s errant cadres themselves.”

Errant cadres are really a big problem for the party. The kind of ruckus they created after the victory rally in 2012 is still fresh in the memories of people. Only recently, some unruly cadre gate-crashed a party meeting being led by Mulayam Singh and raised slogans supporting Akhilesh Yadav. Some even maintain that it is because of the terror unleashed by these strongmen that Dalits, minorities and females feel unsafe under this government. And if that was not enough, Hindutva groups have further created an explosive situation by terrorising the poor in general and minorities in particular. These Hindutva goons have support from a section of the Sangh Parivar, and this has emboldened them no bounds. The communal environment that has resulted from this has put the government and the party on the back foot.

What can harm Samajwadi’s prospects is its growing indifference towards the security and safety of its minority population. The Akhilesh Yadav government is also accused of further aggravating the problems of farmers. Farmers, right from Western Uttar Pradesh to Bundelkhand, appear to be peeved with the government and the party. Farmers from Bundelkhand maintain that the Akhilesh government took too much time in sending relief to the drought affected region, and when it came it was too little. This has spiked the suicide incidents in the region by manifolds.

The problem facing farmers of Western Uttar Pradesh is a tad different. The Akhilesh government failed to give them the right price for their sugarcane crops. There was an increment of Rs 15 per quintal, but it was considered to be piffling. Not to mention too late. The government failed to increase the price by even one rupee in the last three years when inflation and rural misery was crushing the farmers. It is because of such slights that organisations such as Bhartiya Kisan Union and Bhartiya Kisan Andolan have started to remember the fond days of BSP government under Mayawati. There used to be a rise in MSP every year and sugarcane factories used to run without issues.

Above all these, Akhilesh will also have to neutralise the strategy of BSP, BJP and Congress. BSP supremo Mayawati is a real challenge for them. Mayawati has claimed she will avenge the embarrassing defeat of her party in the Lok Sabh polls. BJP is riding on Modi’s promise. Congress is also doing whatever it can to be relevant, mostly at the cost of Samajwadi Party.

The board is set. The opposition has made its first move. It is on Akhilesh now to make a countermove. And he might be the only one in his party now to be able to do so.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017