Akhilesh’s Dimple Yadav, who took oath as a Lok Sabha MP on Wednesday, outside Parliament. Picture by Prem Singh
Lucknow, Aug. 8: When even your subordinates call you “unfocused”, reboot.
That’s what Akhilesh Yadav is trying to do as he aims for an image makeover by handing out laptops to students and releasing unemployment allowances.
Sources close to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister said the 39-year-old was working towards cranking up his government’s popularity ratings in the run-up to the general elections, due in 2014.
Hence the sops, which also include loan waivers for farmers.
Some observers were, however, sceptical about how far such freebies would help him.
“This is part of an old, time-tested tradition of patronage democracy in Uttar Pradesh where parties go for freebies when they are in trouble,” said R. Dixit, a professor at Lucknow University.
Opposition leaders said “misrule” had tormented even his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, when he was chief minister. “Akhilesh has become a bechara, a poor, helpless chap. I hope freebies help him,” said Naseemuddin Siddique, who was a minister in the previous BSP government.
Some of Akhilesh’s cabinet colleagues have dubbed him “energetic but unfocussed”, but the criticism that would have spurred him the most came from his dad.
Late last month, Mulayam went to the extent of pulling up ministers and legislators at a meeting where Akhilesh was present, warning them that the government must work harder to deliver the promises made by the Samajwadi Party during the campaign for the Assembly elections.
The criticism led to a three-day brainstorming session of the party executive, where Akhilesh interacted with senior members, youth wing leaders and legislators and expressed his determination to bring about a change. The meeting ended on Monday.
A Samajwadi source said roadside hoardings showing Akhilesh with laptop-carrying school and college students would be part of a PR drive.
A media group, which has expertise in carrying out such ad campaigns, is in touch with the chief minister, the source said, adding that the campaign would coincide with the distribution of laptops to students in November in Lucknow and other big cities.
The state budget has set aside Rs 2,721 crore for providing tablets and laptops to students who pass Classes X and XII this year.
The laptop drive is part of Akhilesh’s efforts to create, what he said, was a “proper climate for education” in colleges and universities.
“Our colleges and universities need to offer world-class environment so that pupils from outside come and study here and, banking on that, entrepreneurs get attracted to this state to establish their businesses and factories here,” Akhilesh said on Tuesday.
His efforts to attract investments have, however, drawn a blank so far. The plan to set up an IT park here has received expressions of interest from just two firms, sources said.
Akhilesh also announced the decision to release unemployment allowances. “We are all set to release unemployment stipends from next month to more than 9 lakh youths in the first phase. Girls from poor families and who are Inter-passed will be benefiting from the scheme as they would be entitled to get this allowance,” he said.
A budgetary provision of Rs 1,100 crore has been set aside for paying this unemployment allowance of Rs 1,000 a month.
Akhilesh also announced that farmers’ loans up to Rs 50,000 would be waived. The budget has set aside Rs 500 crore for writing off such loans.