A little over five years ago, when Mayavati had stormed into office in Lucknow, there were great expectations all around Uttar Pradesh of stability and also a fair measure of governance marked by social justice. The Bahujan Samaj Party had secured an absolute majority in the assembly elections and for the first time in many years a coalition of normally warring forces was not needed. Mayavati herself had also garnered support across caste lines. This aroused hopes of a healthy rainbow administration.
But things soon began to fall apart. The Dalit chief minister showed the world that she was more interested in paying tributes to herself — sometimes by way of innumerable statues of herself — and looking after her own immediate interests. By the time the next election came around, the voters, still looking for that elusive, good single-party administration, voted mostly for the Samajwadi Party and its young representative, Akhilesh Yadav, the son of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Akhilesh was seen as the new star and his father made him the chief minister. Not only was he a young man with a clean image and a modern outlook, but he had also trounced his Congress counterpart in the election. Followers of Ram Manohar Lohia could not have dreamt of anything better.
It is too early to judge Akhilesh’s performance, but the start has not been promising. His swearing-in was followed by jubilant party followers adopting strong arm tactics against political opponents, proving that they were not prepared to change their bad old ways. The new chief minister managed to control them but by then the wrong message had already been sent out. Then the young man’s wife, Dimple, contested the by-election to the Lok Sabha from Kannauj, a seat Akhilesh had to resign from when he became chief minister. This raised doubts about the sincerity of his promise to make a fresh start. Now he is having problems with the SP’s old guard who are keen to safeguard the party’s socialist image.
Time for action
It is true that Akhilesh has managed to secure substantial monetary assistance from the Centre, but the state will wait to see how that money is spent. The Congress does expect the SP to come to its rescue in Parliament whenever a tricky situation arises, something which large sections in the SP’s leadership are not very comfortable with. Moreover, the law and order situation in UP hasn’t gotten better.
These are still early days. But the old adage, “morning shows the day”, comes to mind. Nobody expects Akhilesh to introduce any basic changes like land reforms; if the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, shied away from such a measure in his state, Akhilesh cannot be expected to take such a radical step either, especially when the shadow of his father looms large over him.
But even without attempting any drastic changes, Kumar has been able to restore some order in Bihar. Akhilesh, on the other hand, is yet to show any signs of doing so. He seems more interested in the sort of governance that prevailed before Mayavati came to power. But that cannot be his agenda as UP needs to move forward, shrugging off the memories of all previous regimes. It will be a sad day for the state if that does not happen.
Mayavati failed her people as well as those who had hoped that a Dalit in power would prove that the oppressed classes, given a chance, could be positively different from the upper castes. Akhilesh also represents neglected communities. It is now up to him to prove that he can fulfil the people’s desire to put an end to the rule of oppressive classes. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar has struck a compromise with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Akhilesh has the opportunity to do even better by having nothing to do with non-secular forces.