As Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath hits the road for civic polls, The Indian Express travels across the state to track the change he’s brought.
IN March, it came to power in Uttar Pradesh doing two things at once — making promises and saying no.
The BJP government promised that the roads of UP would be “gaddha-mukt” (pothole-free) by June 15. There would be a farm-loan waiver, law and order, cleanliness, transparency in government contracts. At the same time, it was going to put in place the “kathor (stern)” state that evokes fear. It would do away with crime and criminals. Cows would not be killed anymore. Madrasas that did not meet stricter norms would be shut down. There would be no more appeasement of minorities. Or loitering by boys in public spaces near girls.
Eight months on, in the mirror of the ongoing campaign for urban local body polls beginning this week, the delivering state is yet to be seen but it’s the disallowing state that’s making itself heard.
Yogi Adityanath, now also the Hindutva mascot and star campaigner for his party outside UP — in Gujarat and in Himachal Pradesh before that — is the first UP chief minister to devote so much time and energy to civic polls. This when Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati are staying away from the campaign even though, in a break from the past, the SP and BSP are fighting these polls under their party symbols. But UP’s CM, who began his electioneering in the temple city of Ayodhya and is set to conclude it in Gorakhpur, is scheduled to address 30-35 meetings in all, averaging about three a day.
“We are in power in UP after a long time”, says Vijay Bahadur Pathak, state BJP general secretary. “We take these polls seriously”.
But how seriously does it take governance — after its big win in the state, for the Yogi Adityanath government, that’s the question.
For the record, 82.35 per cent of the identified roads — 85,824.98 km in the first phase, 4,475.94 km in the second — have been made pothole-free so far and the rest will be completed by March 2018.
But as The Indian Express travelled across eastern and western UP, it found that on the road, the government’s claim evokes derision, even among BJP supporters. In the heart of Gorakhpur, in the constituency that elected Adityanath as MP five times in a row, the busy 3-km stretch from Dr H N Singh Chauraha to Tarang flyover via Harahwa Phatak railway crossing remains more pothole than road.
Swachch Bharat is yet to make a difference, despite the double push of the Modi-and-Yogi governments — in Khanupur on Muzaffarnagar’s edge, the village pond, choked with silt, was last cleaned in Mayawati’s regime and households, Jat and SC, depend for drinking water on “campers”, privately delivered to doorsteps, at 4 am daily.
The farm loan waiver is trickling down to beneficiaries but also setting off resentments above and below — among the large numbers of landless agricultural workers and smaller farmers not in a position to take bank loans, and in the better-off farmers who paid off most of their debt but are also in distress because of costly inputs and trailing minimum support prices.
But these aren’t quite the talking points yet — it’s the kathor state that people are tuning in to.
Encounters, anti-Romeo squads
You hear it, at one end, in the “encounter” talk in political corridors in Lucknow. And, at the other, in the “Anti-Romeo Squads” created in the local thana to prevent “abhadra tippani/chedkhani (indecent behaviour)” towards women and young girls.
On encounters, the Chief Minister set the tone. “Goli ka jawab goli se”, he said and reiterated his government’s resolve to despatch criminals to “Yamraj ka ghar” in the campaign for the civic polls.
In the first six months of Yogi raj — a police officer in Lucknow says congratulatory messages to his office describe it as “thoki raj” — 18 “criminals” were shot dead in encounters — until September, that number climbed to 23. That is not a large number in a state like UP but what is new is the unabashed way in which the state government owns encounters.
“Apradhi ki goli chalegi to goli ka jawab goli se hi dena hoga (if criminals shoot at the police, the police must respond in kind)”, says Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya. It is “jawabi karvayi (counter strike)”, he says, “you can call it an encounter”.
“Ya zameen mein gadh diye jaoge (else, you will be buried in the ground)”, says Maurya’s colleague, Transport Minister Swatantra Dev Singh. “Agar 6-7 baar chedkhaani karta hai, dand nahin hua, toh bina encounter ke aap control nahi kar sakte (you need encounters to control serial offenders)”. And because “sarkar ka iqbal hona chahiye (a government must be feared)”.
Power Minister Shrikant Sharma includes encounters in his list of the government’s achievements: “We arrested 1,150 criminals with rewards on their heads, 18 criminals were killed in encounters, 430 encounters in all, 88 policemen wounded, 1 daroga martyred”.
The encounter is not a new policing strategy, but the anti-Romeo squad is unique to UP. Created by administrative order in thanas across the state within days of the government being sworn in, it was part of the BJP manifesto.
The squad’s policing model is an inversion of the traditional pattern of law enforcement. The anti-Romeo squad does not wait for women to complain of harassment. It barges into public spaces where men meet women to police — and to moral police.
After reports came in of the anti-Romeo squad drafting vigilantes, beating up young couples in parks, guidelines were spelt out; its legality has also been challenged in court. It is less active now because of the controversy and due to paucity of personnel — it is drawn from an overburdened police force — but the squad remains an illustrative motif of the Yogi regime.
At the all-women Raqabganj thana in Faizabad, which lacks a functioning toilet but has an anti-Romeo squad, Constable Neelam Dubey describes her modus operandi: “If I see boys standing outside a girls’ school or in the park, I walk up to them and ask: Why are you here? Do you have any work? Is any girl here your sister?”
As for the girls, she says, they don’t know. “If the girl says he is my friend, we ask her to show proof. We ask for her home number, call a family member, a guardian.” Girls must be protected, Dubey says, till they are “upto 20 years or so”. “After 25, they can take care of themselves, maybe”.
In Lucknow, when Babita Singh, DSP, conducted a training workshop for members of the squads, and tried to caution them against moral policing, she found it difficult: “They asked me: but to be moral is good, and are we not the police?”
That the anti-Romeo squad taps into deep-set conservative attitudes about women, sharpened by the spread of technology and mobility, is no aberration. The state that boasts about encounters is the same one that asks its young to prove their innocence.
In the story of the Yogi-BJP, the old is anarchy and the new leader is the saviour. There is little space for faceless institutions. The new regime’s virtue is self-evident and the notion of checks on its power an irritant. “Pehle loot machi thi. aaj navyug aaya hai”, says deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya.
Leader as saviour
“Yogi Adityanath inherited a dying system, on ventilator, in the ICU”, says Power Minister Shrikant Sharma. “Gundai, aatank aur bhaya ka vatavaran, palayan ka mahaul tha (there was a climate of fear and migration was rampant).”, says Kapil Dev Agarwal, BJP MLA, Muzaffarnagar city.
This could be a dispensation trying to look better by painting its predecessor dark. But listen to the chief minister’s longtime ideological fellow-travellers to see how the Yogi government’s before-and-after scenarios are different.
Yogi Adityanath won five Lok Sabha terms under the BJP banner but it is no secret that he has a separate political kingdom and his own private army — the Gorakhnath Math and the Hindu Yuva Vahini.
Inside the sprawling Gorakhnath mandir, where evening boats glide on the lake to the chant of mantras on loudspeakers, is Dwarika Tiwari, Yogi’s senior aide, who has spent 46 years at the math and now manages the interface between the mandir and the CMO.
“Saari seemayein paar ho gayin thee (all lines had been crossed), koi kissi pe ankush nahi tha (there were no restraints). Desh ko bacha liya Yogi-Modi ne (the country has been saved by Yogi-Modi)”. He quotes from the Bhagwad Gita: “Yada yada hi dharmasya. (whenever and wherever there is a decline of religious practice, rise of irreligion, I descend)”.
Tiwari dismisses criticism about anti-Romeo squads threatening freedoms, targeting innocents: “Har cheez mein tika tippani nahi karni chahiye (one should not criticise unnecessarily). Gehu ke saath ghun bhi pista hai (even innocents are punished along with the guilty).”