Can Akhilesh Yadav be UP’s saviour?

When Akhilesh Yadav assumed charge of Uttar Pradesh in March 2012, there were ‘great expectations’ projected on him. For example, to remove the imprints of the former ‘corrupt, yet strong-in-curbing-crime’ Mayawati government and then bring out a sea change in UP’s tainted image, that was rendered ridiculous by endless statues resurrected in Behenji’s honour.

But the main question is — has the young chief minister been able to achieve this so far?

Dressed in the typical neta attire — crisp white kurta-pajama (just with the red cap missing which made him look like the ‘cyclist of hope’ for UP) Akhilesh Yadav walks into his office at 5 Kalidas Marg, Lucknow, buzzing with energy and ready to talk. Over the next hour, we have a freewheeling conversation, where he initially highlights the work done by his government – distributing laptops, welfare schemes for the poor and women, among others, but, undeniably, the discussion meanders towards the basic issue of law and order, which, during his tenure, has been his Achilles’ heel, as it were. Yet, this was exactly the issue that Mayawati manages to score over.

In his defence, Akhilesh maintains that his government has been taking immediate action in every case that gets reported, but he staunchly believes this is an issue which needs to be addressed ‘daily and continuously.’ Fair enough. But the point of the matter is, Mister Chief Minister, compared to the Mayawati regime, crime rate in UP has shot up drastically under your administration.

He’s not unaware of the problems, of course. Behenji had her priorities set right, being a ‘one-woman-army’, unlike the Samajwadi Party, which has multiple leaders. Maya chose to passionately concentrate on building, breaking and rebuilding parks with her elephantine statues, and juxtaposed that ‘constructive approach’ with a dictatorial whip on the police to curb crime. Behenji exemplified her prowess as she perfectly sorted out BJP leader Varun Gandhi’s jail visit for his alleged hate speech.

However, the issue of rampant corruption in UP is nothing new it has been successfully perpetuated by every possible political party when they come to power in the state. Can the young yuvraj actually change these intrinsically embedded syndromes in the DNA of the UP government? It seems difficult, even unrealistic.

Yet, during the conversations, one can always catch a sneak-peek into a passionate plan of sorts in his mind, which he wants to implement intelligently, essentially focusing on development in areas like information and technology, education, health, infrastructure, improving quality of roads, and now, he has added heritage and tourism to the ambitious list. Even if he cannot do it all, his tone indicates that he at least does want to do some of it.

At the state level, these issues put him on a backfoot, but on the national level his responses are zealously instantaneous. On the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh smiles with a glint in his eye (he knows he is younger than the so-called youth leader of India) saying, ‘He is a good leader but he has to work hard. He is a promising leader of the future.’ Later, Akhilesh confesses that no one really knows when that future would arrive though. Advocating the answer which several self-help books teach, on how to say NO, the chief minister with a straight face asserts a plain and direct NO to questions — about aligning with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the future (obviously it’s the minority votebank issue that kills this very idea at birth), or the possibility of having the expelled leader Amar Singh back in SP?

Because of SP’s overt pro-minority face, publically a NO to BJP isn’t unexpected, but his metallic remark on Modi, sets the pitch higher. Akhilesh slots Modi as a nobody, saying he has no presence in India, apart from in Gujarat and on television. In fact, he takes a dig at him saying Modi’s own friend in Bihar (chief minister Nitish Kumar) has stopped his entry into the state. This too was expected from him, as the ghost of 2002 riots gives the SP a boost to polarise votes in UP and have their loyal minority votebank secured. But the most succulently framed answer is Akhilesh’s analysis of how senior BJP leader LK Advani plays the political games. I ask him about Narendra Modi’s aggressive campaign to be declared as the PM candidate juxtaposed with Advani being praised by Mulayam Singh Yadav. But Akhilesh takes the lead on Advani and says he is playing ‘emotional politics’! A faint trace of hurt flashes, as he feels unhappy that his father could be naïve to have fallen for Advani’s perfected political overtures.

Building up the episode like a thriller from an Agatha Christie novel, he goes on to paint the background picture leading up to this episode. Picking up the brush, and dabbing it in poltical colours he said that BJP leader Sushma Swaraj had come to address a rally on law and order issue in UP, for which she was provided all kinds of facts and figures related to the state. After this, she informed Advani about the deteriorating state of law and order in the state. In Delhi, during the Budget session, after the house was adjourned, that is when Advani raised the issue with Mulayam. In fact, expressing his displeasure at Advani’s doing, Akhilesh now thinks felt Advani sought to instigate a father against his own son. I try and gauge how a veteran politician like Yadav senior fell for Advani’s analysis so easily, maybe he was just in a bad mood that day? Naively in 2012 he told me that if so many political aspirants were in the race be the next prime minister then why not him. He is grounded this year and knows what he wants – he has to concentrate on UP. The political aspirations have been curbed to the state, and like the stalwart leaders of every political party,  Akhilesh no more puts his name in the list. He has moved aside and cleared the path for his father instead. Mulayam Singh Yadav, at some level nurtures the dream of being the PM, if a third front comes to power in 2014.

Meeting him last year in April, presented a young warrior, who is ready to take on challenges being hurled at him by skeptics and his detractors. Exactly after a year when I met him again, there was an underlying sense of change in the 39-year-old chief minister’s persona. Emulating the junior Yadavs philosophy even the BJP announced that they would distribute laptops to people. Yadav has set an example for others to follow and imbibe.

The dual combination of clear ideas in Akhilesh Yadav – to take UP on a path towards development- coupled with energy, enthusiasm and assertiveness, might just offer UP its solution not to sway from one political leadership crisis to another.

A part from his quintessential candidness and humility, there was a sense of clarity both on the national and state level. He has in fact emerged from his father’s shadow, broken the shackles of his uncles and party loyalists, moving ahead to a new path designed, laid and tread by himself.

The author is special correspondent at
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