Mulayam's Rs 20 cr Saifai festival exposes audacity of political class

A Facebook page for Saifai Mahotsav describes it as 'a vibrant platform that gives you information of India where you can find India’s rich arts, crafts , cultures, dance and music'. The carnival, originally named the Ranveer Singh Smriti Saifai Mahotsav, is organised by the Uttar Pradesh government in memory of Mulayam Singh Yadav's deceased nephew Ranveer Singh Yadav. While you might be forgiven for thinking that the festival, touted as a cultural extravaganza, is one of those events all state governments sponsor to try boost tourism or merely have the culture ministry register its presence, you would be slightly off the mark.

Because this is no ordinary Incredible India festival.

This year itself, according to a CNN IBN report, the Uttar Pradesh government has spent approximately Rs 20 crores to entertain a battalion of Samajwadi Party ministers, leaders and Yadav family guests. An appropriation of the political topography of Etawah is evidence of the fact that the Saifai festival is a flagrant, pompous celebration of the Yadav family's hegemony in Uttar Pradesh.

Though some Assembly constituencies around Etawah are held by the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Yadav family has been relentlessly trying to tilt the power dynamics in Mulayam's hometown in their favour. A short while prior to the 2002 elections, an India Today article traced how Mulayam Singh's extended family was securing the constituency for SP. Tej Pratap Singh, the late Ranveer Singh's 23-year-old son, and even took out a padyatra in Etawah's Saifai bazaar before the polls. Several areas under the constituency were being guarded by Mulayam's brothers and nephews.

Mulayams Rs 20 cr Saifai festival exposes audacity of political class

Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Agencies.

If the Samajwadi Party government is indeed keen on holding a cultural festival to publicize its achievements and hard sell Uttar Pradesh to tourists, Etawah is hardly the appropriate place to hold a celebration in.

Rampant lawlessness, violence against women and muscle-flexing of political parties are Etawah's most defining characteristics at present. Like we noted in Firstpost earlier, Mulayam's hometown is also a veritable nightmare for its women. In July last year, an 18-year-old girl was gangraped and then set on fire. She suffered 80 percent burns and died a month later. An 18-year-old boy was also beaten to death by goons for objecting to the thugs harassing his sister on the highway passing the town.

In the same time period, another 16-year-old girl's body was found just 150 metres away from her house. She had been raped and then strangled with her own dupatta. Not much is known about what happened to the perpetrators of these crimes.

In several cases, the police were reported to have been lax and non cooperative towards the victims. So it is fairly obvious that Etawah is not a place that should lend itself to such a spirited celebration for its own achievements. Therefore it is not too difficult to see what the Saifai festival really is - an opulent, obscene celebration of money, power and political audacity of the Yadav family on its home turf. It's merely coincidental that at present the Etawah constituency is held by Raghurah Singh Shakya of the Samajwadi Party.

This is unmistakably a Yadav stronghold.

However, the question that arises is what necessitated the festival in UP at a time when the government has faced stinging criticism for the mistreatment of Muzaffarngara riot victims in refugee camps. As has been reported in several media outlets and Firstpost, scores of children have died in the camps due to cold. Still the shaken camp dwellers have refused to return to their original homes because they fear further attacks.

In fact, a survey conducted very recently showed how the government's handling of the riot victims reeked of complacence.

In fact, while the government was keeping aside Rs 20 crore for the Saifai Festival, the camp dwellers were made to sign an agreement whereby they promised to not use the compensation money to rebuild the homes they fled in fear. They were only given relief on the condition that they won't attempt to return to their villages and their own homes at present. The camps have few amenities and even less by way of security. A camp dweller told Firstpost's Soumik Mukherjee how a forest dog had gouged the organs out of a baby who was sleeping in one of the ramshackle tents. Some of the families have been duped and given the compensation amount allotted to just one person - they were made to sign affidavits where they agreed to accepting just one person's compensation in a family of several people.

On the other hand, for the Saifai festival, CNN IBN reports:

"The Akhilesh government has spent a total of roughly Rs 20 crore in this event. Film stars are officially working pro bono, but unofficial estimates vary from Rs 5 to 10 crore. Seven chartered planes fetched stars from Mumbai and Delhi. Sitting arrangements were made for 25,000 people but over a lakh viewed the glitz. Over 2,000 police officers were deployed."

In fact, a gleeful Mulayam has announced a Rs 1 crore subsidy for Dedh Ishqiya in the state and is also mulling a 25 percent IT waiver for it.

Given that Mulayam Singh is a seasoned politician, what prompted him to give a go ahead to celebrate the shameful celebration of personal pride? Obscene amounts of food, alcohol, dances by Madhuri Dixit, Salman Khan - even a rookie would know that such a show would be political suicide for a party already facing criticism for its failures. But trust the country's tradition of coalition politics to empower the audacity of a few like Mulayam.

Despite being sharply at odds with the government, the political math at the Lok Sabha makes it necessary for both the SP and Congress to settle for an uncomfortable compromise where only a minimal amount of complaining is allowed.

Also, given that the BSP was just recently thrown out of power in Uttar Pradesh because of allegations of corruption and misrule, the Samajwadi Party, as of now, is comfortably entrenched there. The rest, including allegations by other parties, will raise their heads and die out in the din of political mudslinging. This is a routine that most political parties have grown a healthy immunity to, because history has proved that such incidents have rarely affected the political prospects of a party. Because, according to voter wisdom, the alternatives are equally dismal.

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Updated Date: Jan 09, 2014 12:06:01 IST

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