Uttar Pradesh is synonymous with controversy. And before anyone takes up arms against me for insulting their state, I live and am domiciled there. A state packing an area and population which exceeds most nations in the world, it packs equally numerous problems. Misgovernance is, by far, the most crippling one.
With this in mind, the people of UP handed Yogi Adityanath, a right-wing populist BJP leader, a landslide mandate. This is significant in two ways. Firstly, UP is usually a battleground state where governments form and fall by the tip of the nail. Having a complete mandate indicated extremely high anti-incumbency and a rising trend of populism in the state.
Some indicated that Yogi was riding on the Modi high that has led to a nationwide trend of BJP or allied governments taking hold. But it has been a year and the nation demands a report card.
Yogi- The new torchbearer of change for the population of UP?
On 19th March 2017, Yogi Adityanath took over reins from Akhilesh Yadav. The tenure of the Samajwadi Party government was marked by widespread stagnation. Both in terms of critical infrastructure and governance. There was widespread breakdown in law and order. Most critically, the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 became a black blotch on the incumbent government. Despite this, no one could make head and tail of the Vidhan Sabha election results. Usually the pendulum shifted between Samajwadi Party, a party run by and enjoying the support of the major Yadav community and in the absence of a strong Congress presence, the Muslim minority.
The other party was the Bahujan Samaj Party, a party representing the Dalits of the state under the firebrand ex-CM of UP, Mayawati. But for some, this defeat was on cards. Congress was set to lose its seat in Amethi. The Muzaffarnagar riots cost SP critical credibility and support amongst the Muslims. BSP slipped off its tried and tested “great blue elephant”. Critical dalit constituencies chose BJP or its ally The Republican Party of India. This election changed UP’s destiny in many ways.
Yogi and Communalism
Yogi, in his initial days in office, was keen to discard his image as a firebrand Hindu nationalist. The head monk of the Gorakhnath Mandir in Gorakhpur proudly showed his support amongst the major Muslim population of his constituency. In their words, he has provided adequate amenities to all in Gorakhpur and never discriminated in terms of religion. But can we so easily discard the hardliner image Yogi has cultivated for himself over the years?
Before becoming the chief minister, Yogi had a knack for speeches, speeches that could get a lot of people killed. And in a state like UP, where blood is shed over parking spaces and overtaking vehicles, religion could trigger the worst kind of violence. A not so pleasant throwback to Muzaffarnagar is in order.
In his year as the chief minister of the state, Yogi hasn’t been completely passive in this regard. The grand celebration of Diwali in Ayodhya was an obvious signal to a lot of keen observers. The ongoing Ayodhya issue has already polarised the state for decades now. This was being called out by Congress and the other opposition, especially SP, as an extremely divisive move that could trigger violence. But credit has to be given to Yogi here. Instead of promoting it as an act of defiance or a stamp of Hindu dominance, he portrayed it as a simple celebration of a national festival. It silenced the critics for one very major reason.
Adityanath was not cooperating. He was not fitting into the demonic profile of a right-wing militant everyone was hoping he would turn into with such absolute majority.
Yogi and Development
Moving on from the religious aspects of things, Yogi promised jobs, roads, investments and a decrease in crime in the state. Crime has destroyed UP. Some areas in UP are so infested by gang violence, rapes and caste and clan violence that it is not safe to step out in the dark despite police presence. The under-armed, underpaid, overworked and over-corrupt police cannot be blamed for everything.
The erstwhile governments had outright goon gangs rioting around the districts of UP, brandishing one party sign or another. They looted, rioted, raped and murdered with impunity. As a citizen myself, I have observed that things have started to improve. But it is only partially because of the efforts of the new government. The police have shot more gangsters and mafiosos than they could count in encounters. For those not familiar with the term, and obviously unfamiliar with Nana Patekar’s ‘Ab Tak Chappan’ (what a sad, vegan, decaffeinated life you have), encounter is a polite term for extra-judicial killing of a criminal escaping and resisting arrest violently.
In classic UP fashion, the numbers speak. 900 encounters, 31 goons shot. 4 police troopers also lost their lives, and hundreds were injured. NHRC was up in arms. In the view of the world, number of encounters do not signify better policing and law and order. Surprisingly though, things do seem to have improved. There are more PCR vans on the ground. The response time has improved. Ladies are relatively safer at nights At the end of the day, despite all this, there is a long way to go.
Yogi and Economy
Now, time to crunch numbers, economic numbers. Yogi ji decided to waive off farmer loans to the tune of Rs 7,371 crore. Now this populist move isn’t just aimed at making Yogi beloved by the farmers, it is a part of the larger plan for 2019. These same people will be voting in the Lok Sabha in 2019 before they vote for the state.
A slew of other measures, such as extension of Union Government sponsored schemes for the farmers combined with the loan waiver, will obviously make Yogi Adityanath beloved to the masses. But this entails a huge cost. Populist measures require money and UP seems to have less and less of it.
So, in conclusion, it has been a decent year for the new Chief Minister of the most populous federal unit in the world.
On the surface, it all looks significantly better than the quagmire that UP had become under the previous governments. But there is a long way to go.
It is time before Uttar Pradesh can be declared ‘Uttam Pradesh’.