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A month later

Akhilesh Yadav earns much goodwill by doing a few simple things

Akhilesh Yadav earns much goodwill by doing a few simple things

The regime change in Uttar Pradesh is a breath of fresh air. It’s not merely that a new chief minister and a new government have taken over; it is the end of the most opaque and secretive regime in the state’s history. In a way,this is UP’s own glasnost moment. In the past one month,Akhilesh Yadav has earned much goodwill by doing a few simple things.

To begin with,the CM’s residence is no longer a forbidden fortress — people can walk in and Akhilesh listens to their grievances. He has already earmarked a day in the week for MPs and MLAs from all parties to meet him. When Mayawati was CM,even her ministers had to wait for weeks to get an appointment.

Second,Akhilesh has restored the power and prestige of ministers. They have been given a free hand. In Mayawati’s time,ministers were wary of being seen with opposition leaders and mediapersons. Now BSP MLAs and MLCs can be seen in the offices of ministers,discussing the problems in their constituencies.

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Third,the chief secretary has been given his rightful place as the cabinet secretary and the head of the administration. Mayawati had handpicked Shashank Shekhar Singh,who did not belong to the IAS,and appointed him cabinet secretary and head of the administration. After a controversy and a PIL,which questioned how a man not bound by all-India service rules could be head of the administration,Singh was retained just as cabinet secretary. But in that capacity,he kept summoning officers,holding meetings,passing instructions. No civil servant dared to disagree with him. Now,officials are ready to speak their mind.

Fourth,the new CM has tried to repair relations between the government and the opposition,which had broken down in Mayawati’s time. When he first went to the assembly,Akhilesh walked up to the opposition leaders and exchanged pleasantries. Last week,a BJP MLA met him and complained that Revenue Minister Ambika Choudhary had grabbed land in his village.

It is early days but the change is visible. The young CM attends office regularly,sits through meetings,listens to officials. Mayawati rarely attended office,had little patience for meetings — the task was left to her cabinet secretary — and when she did,she spoke more than she listened. Already,Akhilesh seems to have learned some lessons. For example,exuberance is no substitute for informed decision-making. In the first flush of victory,his cabinet decided to give unemployment allowance to everyone above 35 years. This led to a rush at employment exchanges. A wiser government is now trying to work out some reasonable criteria. It has also refrained from making any further grand announcements. It seems Akhilesh has realised that while commitment to the Samajwadi Party’s manifesto is all very well,the state’s treasury is not a bottomless chest.

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Akhilesh will also have to learn how to deal with people within his party and government. He is the new face of the SP — educated,without any taint from the past and unburdened by the outdated anti-English,anti-computer ideological baggage of his party’s old guard. But the party hasn’t changed much. In spite of Akhilesh’s warning that he would not tolerate goondaism,there have been several incidents where SP men took the law into their hands.

Both as CM and state party president,Akhilesh will have to show firmness. The problem could partly be that,Akhilesh’s ministers,barring a few,are old loyalists of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. The day Akhilesh and his ministers were sworn in,his cabinet sent the governor an ordinance to extend Lokayukta N.K. Mehrotra’s term,which had ended the same day,by two years. Since the hurriedly drafted ordinance had legal flaws,Governor B.L. Joshi refused to sign it. Later,another ordinance was sent to the Raj Bhavan to make the changes with retrospective effect,which led to some inevitable questions: Who was so desperate to push a change in the law to benefit one man? How did it enhance the credibility of the Lokayukta and the government?

Akhilesh also has to fight the perception that the power rests with his father. Maybe Mulayam is being an over-protective father. But the way Akhilesh ran the SP election campaign,the way he cleared the party’s ideological cobwebs,the way he invested the party with an appeal that went beyond its traditional support base and the way he has conducted himself in the last one month show that his instincts are right. Mulayam would do well to trust and support the CM,and not do backseat driving.

First published on: 18-04-2012 at 03:28:06 am
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