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Muzaffarnagar riots: Akhilesh turned out to be a damp squib

There are only a little more than 30,000 ‘likes’ for the Facebook page of Akhilesh Yadav, Uttar Pradesh’s young Chief Minister, a somewhat damp response to a man sometimes referred to as ‘the other prince’, a main one being the Congress heir-apparent.

He holds a master’s degree, is said to enjoy hip-hop as much as Bollywood, is never seen without his Blackberry and iPad. At 38, he became the youngest CM of Uttar Pradesh after trouncing Mayawati. But that pedigree is hardly appealing to his core constituency, those who voted for his father Mulayam Singh, a wrestler-turned-politician whose long trysts with the now-on-now-off CBI cases against him have become the stuff of urban political lore. By now, with the Opposition calling for his resignation and President's rule in UP, it must have dawned on the chief minister of India’s largest and most complex state that his constituency doesn’t care for FB niceties.

So, is he a misfit or a misunderstood novice? There have been anywhere between 39 and 100 mini riots in Uttar Pradesh since he took charge of the state in 2012, depending on whose version one believes.  It's a hark-back to the pre-Mayawati days, some have said. Even Mayawati was better, others have twisted the knife.

 Muzaffarnagar riots: Akhilesh turned out to be a damp squib

At 38, he became the youngest CM of Uttar Pradesh after trouncing Mayawati. But that pedigree is hardly appealing to his core constituency. Reuters

Akhilesh recently provided several thousand laptops free of cost to intermediate-pass students in the state, and plans to follow that up with tablet PCs for revenue department officials, mainly tehsildars and lekhpals, apparently to streamline revenue and land records. But apart from that and a few other correct noises, Akhilesh is now unrecognisable from his image in the pre-election days. His appeal to the fence-sitters in UP’s urban areas was his urbane and non-partisan  image. A year later, he has disappointed those constituents.

During his campaign, on allegations that the Samajwadi Party had been the cause for a great deal of pre-Mayawati goondaism in the state, Akhilesh had candidly admitted that the party’s need to post the numbers in those days had led them down that path. He promised that the old image had been discarded and that law-breakers within the party would be dealt with soundly. He pointed out the kind of unexpected candidates he was fielding – an IIM professor, a former Ranji cricketer, another who had a PhD and others.

Asked by Shekhar Gupta during an election-time Walk The Talk show about the state’s poor infrastructure, he said, “If we come to power, we will make way for better infrastructure. If we make airports, then people accuse us of making it in our village. But UP needs a big international airport. We need to carry forward all of Netaji's development projects.” A PPP-model that didn’t fly in the face of his socialist ideals, too, he promised.

The UP State Industrial Development Corporation and its bureaucrats have been making valiant attempts but with little progress. After promises to internationalise the state’s attar (perfume) industry, his government has now been having meetings with Japanese entrepreneurs to turn Firozabad – from where his wife Dimple lost a by-election – into an industrial hub. A Business Standard report quoted sources as saying the government wants to "breach the bangle city tag and go beyond".

But an independent social science institute’s study of the Uttar Pradesh budget for 2012-13 found the state’s indebtedness rising to nearly Rs 2.5 lakh crore. Annual repayment of debt and interest alone bite off nearly 60 percent of the state’s revenue, found a study by the GB Pant Social Science Institute. This means UP depends on tax sharing from the Centre’s tax share, grants and further borrowing.

Akhilesh’s response to reports on the state’s continuing power crisis has been to lay the blame at the doorstep of the previous BSP government.  When the power crisis caused a ruckus in the Assembly, cabinet minister Shivpal Yadav had to admit to the House that 31 projects were yet to be taken up due to hurdles over land acquisition, NOC from the environment ministry, coal linkages, etc, according to a report in Tehelka.

He has been personally caught on the wrong foot too often. Amid the controversy over Durga Shakti Nagpal, he told a Wall Street Journal reporter, “There are some who want to bring down my government. To them, the question of Bodoland, where hundreds of people are agitating (for a separate state), is not a big issue. The question of Telangana, where a state (Andhra Pradesh) was torn apart, is not a big issue. To them, only one sub-divisional magistrate’s suspension is a big issue.” He wasn’t only politically incorrect – he had already gone down that road when he backed a Cabinet colleague lauding the government for denting a colonial framework in 40-odd hours with the sack order. He was also caught appearing completely unaware of what the opposition to his government’s inexplicable action against the upright officer was doing to his image.

Clearly, since his heady days as newly-anointed chief minister, things in UP have deteriorated rapidly. His law and order record has been cited repeatedly. His inexperience in dealing with deep caste and community divisions has been exposed.

When he became CM, it was expected that Akhilesh could marry the privilege of dynastic politics with his success in mobilising the masses with promising results. Perhaps the Samajwadi Party’s history cannot be shaken off so easily.

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Updated Date: Sep 09, 2013 22:25:32 IST

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