More than the interminable power cuts, potholed roads, barren industrial landscapes and farm crisis, what has galled the people of Uttar Pradesh is the state’s worsening law and order situation ever since Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government out of power in March 2012.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) won 224 of the 403 seats in that elections — the best performance by a political party in UP since the Congress’ massive 269-seat victory in 1985. It took only 24 months for Akhilesh Yadav-led government in Lucknow to turn that triumph into an embarrassment of equal proportions.
Few, barring the ruling Yadav clan’s die-hard supporters from their community, have any redeeming words to say about the SP government. The previous Mayawati government was lauded for improving UP’s law and order situation. Official statistics bear out that economic indicators like sectoral growth in agriculture, industry and services as well as tax collection had also started to look up when Mayawati was the CM from 2007 to 2012.
“Law and order is a problem. Growth has declined. But more important, the Akhilesh government has lacked imagination. What may hurt it electorally is its failure to initiate any big signature social welfare schemes or programmatic roll out to improve the lot of the state’s poor,” says former SP worker 80-year-old Jai Singh. He, however, is quick to praise Akhilesh as somebody who listens to party workers and respects elders. Singh also continues to admire his father, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, for supporting workers and old associates.
Varanasi-based former journalist Trilochan Mishra says the state doesn’t have enough money to start big welfare schemes, including those the government promised after coming to power in March 2012. “The money they needed to spend on improving roads, irrigation, power supply, other basic infrastructure or on welfare policies has gone into distributing laptops,” says Mishra of Akhilesh government’s ambitious scheme to give free laptops to students.
UP’s state plans submitted to the Planning Commission bear out the decline in sectoral growth after the change in government in Lucknow (see box). Agriculture, industry and services sector growth rates dipped from 2011-12, the last year of BSP government’s tenure, to 2012-13, the first year of the SP government. The SP government’s failure to control and be proactive to douse the Muzaffarnagar communal riots is widely acknowledged outside the state as a low point of the Akhilesh government.
“It isn’t just about increasing crime rates or a communal riot. Perception, particularly among weaker sections, is that goondaraj’ has increased,” says Allahabad-based senior advocate Ravi Kiran Jain.
In the last fortnight, traders associations in UP’s big urban centres have taken out marches to protest the deterioration in law and order that has made doing business difficult. The poor law and order situation, the Muzaffarnagar incident and the general sense of gloom about its administrative capabilities are likely to affect SP’s electoral fortunes this time. The party had led the seats tally in UP in the 2009 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections. It won 23 seats in 2009 and 35 in 2004. Few, including party insiders, expect the SP to repeat those performances.
Interestingly, in both 2004 and 2009, the BSP’s vote percentage was either better than SP’s (2009) or in close proximity (2004). The difference between the vote share of the two parties in Assembly elections of 2007 and 2012 show a similar trend. In 2012, SP received 29.12 per cent votes to win 224 seats, while BSP got 25.91 per cent votes but only 80 seats. In 2007, the situation was exactly the reverse with the BSP polling 30.43 per cent to win 206 seats, while SP got 25.43 per cent votes and 97 seats.
But the 2014 Lok Sabha elections — with a resurgent BJP and a Congress, which looks decimated — could turn out to be different from the previous ones. “In UP all seats would see multi-cornered fights that can throw up interesting results,” said Jain and tended to agree with general assessment of most political observers in UP that BSP would benefit because of SP’s poor governance, as also the likelihood of the BJP improving its tally.
However, former Lucknow University professor and political worker Ramesh Dixit warns against overstating the BJP’s influence in these elections and discounting either the SP or Congress. He says it is likely that the BSP would gain the most in UP and BJP betters its seat tally but cautioned against underestimating the SP despite its poor governance.
“Mulayam isn’t a good speaker like Narendra Modi or as good looking as Rahul Gandhi. He fulfills few pre-requisites considered essential for a mass leader. But he continues to have a grip on the ground because of sheer hard work. His workers know their leader would stand by them in their hour of need,” said Dixit.