By Utkarsh Sinha
Lucknow: Only four months into the top job in Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, the youngest chief minister of the state, is already losing the sheen. When he took over the mantle after the Samajwadi Party returned to power riding on a thumping popular mandate against predecessor Mayawati, he was expected to be the welcome agent of change in a state caught perennially in negativity. Nothing has changed for the better so far. Worse, going by the trend there’s little hope for the future.
It was rampant crime - particularly caste-centric ones - that was the undoing of the party in 2007. Akhilesh came with the clear promise that he would keep his party supporters in check. His promise stands belied. Cases of violence are up significantly— Mayawati, for all her flaws, was better at maintaining law and order. Political murders are on the upswing as are cases of caste and communal violence.
Let’s take the communal situation first. Uttar Pradesh witnessed no major communal conflict during Mayawati’s tenure. In the four months since Akhilesh took charge, things have changed rather dramatically. There have been five incidents of communal violence in the state in the past five months. First, it was Kosi Kalan in Mathura district, where the clash between the Jat community and Muslims claimed four lives. It was Bareilly next and then in Faizabad, Sitapur and Pratapgarh districts. Tension runs high between different communities in several parts of the state.
Riots broke out in Bareilly twice within three weeks, last time on 11 August when a mob allegedly opened fire at a Janmashtami procession leaving two dozen people injured. "While the situation was limping back to normal in Bareilly, fresh riots across the state has raised doubts over the seriousness of the state government to maintaining peace and harmony," said Laxmi Kant Bajpai, state president of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
"Communal riots happen every time the SP comes to power. Remember how large-scale riots took place in Mau and Azamgarh in 2005 when Mulayam was the chief minister?" he added. The police authorities claim they have arrested 400 people and 108 FIRs but things hardly look bright.
The Muslim supporters of the Samajwadi Party who voted overwhelmingly for it in the assembly election earlier this year, stand disillusioned. “These incidents are bringing down the morale of the Muslim community. After so much of evidence not many accused have been arrested so far. There’s no serious attempt from the government in this regard. This could be harmful for the future prospects of the Samajwadi Party,” said Pradeep Kapoor, UP political watcher and senior journalist. The sense of unease is true of the Hindu community too.
Swami Prasad Maurya, the BSP general secretary, said, "We had seen only one instance of communal violence in the state during the BSP rule. Now it is becoming clear that the rioters belong to the SP. Mulayam won the Muslim votes by creating a fear psychosis in them."
Indiscriminate transfer of police officials on political considerations has affected the morale of the police force -- the standard response of the government is to transfer the SPs of the districts. Besides, the government is seen to be soft on communal elements from either side. The criminals supporting the party don’t make the situation better.
The latest trend in the state is the high politicisation of campuses and the consequent intense fight among student groups owing allegiance to parties for control. During Mayawati, the practice of student union elections was stopped. Now, with elections back in vogue -- they are due in September and October -- under the new regime, it is a virtual free for all. Two student leaders were shot dead within days in Gorakhpur district a couple of weeks ago. A college teacher of Kanpur was beaten up badly by student leaders not long ago. These are only a few of the reported cases. The campus atmosphere is already vitiated. Things are likely to worsen as the elections come closer.
The Kanpur University Teachers’ Association has refused to participate in conducting the student union elections. Teachers believe that elections would lead to an influx of politically ambitious criminal elements into the campuses. There is already a spurt in extortion cases with students’ groups demanding money from shopkeepers markets in places such as Aminabad and Hazratganj.
“It is something unique to the Samajwadi Party. The moment it comes to power, the party starts intervening in educational institutions in the name of democratising campuses. The result is unleashing of unruly student leaders and the subsequent degeneration of campuses which are in a shambles already,’’ said Dr Shafique Ahmed, a lecturer.
The look bad on the caste front too. There is an increase in the number of attacks on Dalits under the new dispensation. After the vandalisation of Mayawati’s statue in July in Lucknow, a trend of such incidents has started in other parts of the state. The Lucknow incident was followed by attacks on the statues of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar. There was tension after in the respective regions after the demolition of Ambedkar’s statue in Mau, Sitapur and Jaunpur.
“After the new government took over a political group is trying to provoke Dalits but this time the latter are not panicky as the community is politically more mature now than it was five years ago,’’ said Dalit activist Ram Kumar. What he did not mention was the Dalits are fighting back too.
Clearly things are going from bad to worse on the law and order front. Akhilesh does not seem to be a proactive leader, said a senior police official on the condition of anonymity, adding there are three chief ministers in the state now: Akhilesh, Shivpal Yadav and Azan Khan. The police and the bureaucracy are confused about directions. "In this situation you can’t expect a better situation," he added.