"To paint SP in a poor way, the opposition always hypes the law and order situation. Even smallest incidents are blown out of proportion" - Akhilesh Yadav, UP CM
On August 24, the eve of Janmashtami, the Uttar Pradesh information department sent a text to all accredited journalists in Lucknow—Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav wanted to meet them at 1pm the next day; cameras and cell phones were not allowed. The informal meeting lasted two hours and Akhilesh played the perfect host, reassuring journalists that he would personally look into their problems.
Akhilesh's exclusive meeting with journalists was a first by any UP chief minister. But then the assembly polls are round the corner and the ruling Samajwadi Party has been receiving a lot of bad press. Senior SP leaders say the recent controversies have overshadowed the good work he has done.
Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav was worried when son Akhilesh and brother Shivpal Yadav locked horns over the aborted merger of the Quami Ekta Dal, an eastern UP-based party, into the SP. Akhilesh was not in Lucknow when Shivpal announced that the Dal had merged with the SP. The Dal is led by the Ansari brothers—Afzal, Mukhtar and Sibgatulla. Mukhtar is MLA from Mau, and Sibgatulla from Mohammadabad. The merger was engineered by minister Balram Yadav, a close confidant of Mulayam. Enraged by the merger news, Akhilesh fired Balram.
The chief minister's stand was that the merger was a setback to his attempts to clean the SP of criminal elements. Mukhtar is in jail over murder charges. Shivpal had backed the merger eyeing the Muslim vote bank in Ghazipur and neighbouring areas, where the Dal holds sway.
In 2012, senior SP leaders, including Shivpal, had favoured fielding D.P. Yadav, a tainted politician from western UP, in the assembly elections. He had been part of the SP, Bahujan Samaj Party and Bhartiya Janata Party, and, in 2007, had formed the Rashtriya Parivartan Dal. Charges against him included murder, attempt to murder, dacoity, extortion and kidnapping. His son, Vikas Yadav, was accused in the high-profile Nitesh Katara murder case. So, Akhilesh strongly opposed the move to give the four-time MLA and two-time MP an SP ticket.
After the Dal merger was called off, Shivpal felt slighted and offered to resign from the cabinet. He skipped cabinet meetings, but both uncle and nephew downplayed their differences before the press. Worried by the turn of events, Mulayam came out in support of Shivpal at a party function: “Your young fellows [Akhilesh’s young ministers] have become careless. They have become used to air conditioners and huge bungalows. They do not go to the field and interact with the common man. Barring a few ministers, they are busy counting [currency] notes. Shivpal is working, so some people do not like it. There is a conspiracy against him. If Shivpal resigns, this party will split.”
Mulayam directed Shivpal and Akhilesh to sort out their differences. Akhilesh then visited Shivpal's house with his kids, and Shivpal returned the courtesy. “There are no differences between Akhilesh and me,” Shivpal said. “The chief minister has foresight. His government is doing a good job.”
Another challenge before Akhilesh is to handle temperamental leaders in the SP. Recently Rajya Sabha member Amar Singh threatened to resign saying “people close to Mulayam Singh are being insulted in the party”. He accused Akhilesh of not taking his calls and of not giving him an appointment. Singh said he and close associate Jaya Prada were being sidelined in the SP. Soon after Singh threw a tantrum, the government appointed Jaya Prada deputy chairperson of UP Film Development Council. Singh had been expelled from the SP in 2010 and was readmitted recently.
Senior leader and minister Azam Khan’s statements, too, have embarrassed the SP. Recently, the Supreme Court pulled up Khan after he said the Bulandshahr gang rape was a political conspiracy. He had said that the opposition would stoop to any level to gain mileage in the upcoming elections.
The law and order situation in UP has been dismal, and that will be the main plank of the opposition. Knowing this, Mulayam blasted leaders and ministers who had been accused of corruption and of breaking the law. “Samajwadi Party does have any room for criminals,” he said. “Party leaders should behave properly. Some party workers are involved in land grab, hooliganism and other corrupt activities, thus maligning the party's image. They are not interested in ensuring the return of the SP to power.”
Poll watchers say the opposition will highlight the government's failures relating to the Muzaffarnagar communal riots (Aug-Sept 2013; 62 dead), the Mathura riots (June 2016; 30 dead), the Dadri lynching of September 2015 and the gang rape of a mother and daughter in Bulandshahr last month.
BJP president Amit Shah said, “Mathura is an important issue for us. We will certainly raise it in the polls. The UP government may consider it trivial, but we will expose it.”
The BJP alleges that the Mathura riots were an outcome of land grab by SP leaders. It has set up a helpline for land grab victims. BJP spokesperson Vijay Bahadur Pathak said, “It is jungle raj in UP. The people will teach this government a lesson, through the ballot.” State Congress president Raj Babbar said, “In the last two decades, UP has slipped many steps behind other states in development. There is chaos everywhere in the present regime.”
And, these charges are not without substance. In mid-July, Governor Ram Naik sent a report to the president of India about the poor law and order situation in the state. A recent report of the CAG tabled in the assembly said that rape incidents have gone up by 43 per cent in the state in the past two years. And, 59 per cent of the victims were minors.
Akhilesh is hoping that development projects will be uppermost in the minds of voters. The state is trying to hard sell metro rail projects in Kanpur and Varanasi, hike in pension for senior citizens, employment schemes for rural youth and seniors, three-fold hike in student scholarships, Samajwadi Kisan Yojana for farmers, 55,000 recruitments in the police force, free meals for pregnant women, financial assistance for victims of heinous crimes, free dialysis for poor patients, 17 new medical colleges and the Lucknow–Agra expressway.
Akhilesh said, “To paint the SP in a poor way, the opposition always hypes the law and order situation. Even small incidents are blown out of proportion. There are elements who want social unrest in the state.” For now, Akhilesh has his hands full, fighting battles in the party and in the public eye.