It is easy to sneer at the light relief and comic distraction provided by the organizers of the oath-taking ceremony of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. At one level, the presence of many film stars, industrialists and socialites from Mumbai have absolutely no bearing on either the Samajwadi Party’s avowed ideology or Lucknow’s (un)importance to Indian capitalism. Yet, apart from demonstrating the wide links of the new chief minister and his party general secretary, glamour does fulfil a role in India’s second-most benighted state. It suggests that it is possible, in theory at least, to transform UP into a place that is appealing to notables other than the likes of the Prevention of Terrorism Act-tainted member of legislative assembly, Mr Raghuraj Pratap Singh, endearingly known as Raja Bhaiyya. If Mr Yadav can indeed create the right conditions for the likes of an Ambani or a Godrej to look seriously at UP, both as a market and an investment centre, he would have done his bit for a state that seems incapable of reaching the 21st century. More to the point, he would also have corrected an impression, dating back to his earlier stints as chief minister, that he is unnecessarily pugnacious and unduly partial to those on the other side of the law. That his installation in the top job was not accompanied by the familiar bickering over the role of the governor does give hope that the state will witness the modest return of a decent politics.
Not that any course correction is going to be easy for Mr Yadav. The fractured mandate of 2001 has made it possible for a handful of unscrupulous members of the legislative assembly to hold the state to ransom. Earlier, Mr Kalyan Singh was a victim of compromising for the sake of a majority and Mr Yadav will be subject to the same pressures. The encouraging sight of Messrs Kalyan Singh, Ajit Singh and Pramod Tiwari parading their support to Mr Yadav cannot hide fears of conflicting egos generating another bout of bad governance. It is here that Mr Yadav’s national ambitions can come to the rescue. Unlike Ms Mayavati, who was intent on using her innings to sharpen social conflict, Mr Yadav’s strategy is to broaden his social base. The exercise is legitimate and must be welcomed as yet another example of power forcing politicians to blunt their abrasiveness. After nearly a decade of instability, criminality and decline, India’s largest state could do with a respite. The odds are against Mr Yadav but that is no reason to not give him a chance. It can’t get any worse in Uttar Pradesh.