Sweeping the election may have been the easy part,given the giant challenges of reforming his party and governing a restless UP
Now that the dust has settled after the electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh and a new government is in power,what will decisively change for the state? Akhilesh Yadav,who represents a younger generation within the Samajwadi Party,who has promised to introduce change in his own party and in the state,has become chief minister with an absolute majority. One must also remember that the young voted in unprecedented numbers this time,heralding a generational change in the UP electorate. What,then,are the challenges facing the new SP government and how is it equipped to deal with them?
The three challenges facing the SP government are maintaining law and order and removing criminal elements from politics,dealing with corruption,which is widespread and prevents many programmes from being implemented,and most important,ensuring rapid economic development for all sections and regions. The first issue is crucial because in 2007,the SP lost to the BSP after a series of shocking acts of vandalism,murder and kidnapping during February 2007,which showed not merely the breakdown of the law and order machinery but a more deep-seated crisis of governance. Equally important is removing criminals from politics,because in UP there is a close connection between law and order,corruption,and economic development arising out of lucrative government contracts,which is why gangsters stand for election and maintain links with parties. A third aspect is preventing atrocities against Dalits in rural areas,as the landowning backward castes who form the mainstay of the SP are the direct oppressors of the former,who are largely landless labourers. Many of the rapes and murders during the BSP regime were of Dalit girls. The SP has also stated that it will revive student unions in universities,which can also lead to law and order problems. While claims are being made that attempts have been made to clean the SP by removing criminal and goonda elements,even before the CM was sworn in,some SP supporters went on a rampage,beating up journalists in Jhansi and Dalits in Badalpur (killing one of them near Agra). The induction of Raghuraj Pratap Singh (Raja Bhaiyya) into the cabinet shows that the SP remains dependent on criminals,and that removing them from the party will be difficult. Although the new chief minister has expelled some SP workers and warned other troublemakers,he has his task cut out.
The issue of corruption is even more critical. The prolonged Anna Hazare movement,the NRHM scandal,the many BSP ministers being charged by the Lokayukta,etc,played a role in the Mayawati governments defeat. There is a strong perception among the people in UP that corruption is widespread and persistent among political parties and the bureaucracy,which deprives them of their entitlements. The SP is skating on thin ice here, given that its own history of corruption,like the police recruitment scam,is still alive in peoples minds. While selecting civil servants of established integrity will send a positive signal,the new CM must have the ability to control the old party. As criminals can generate money needed for elections,removing them is difficult. The large number of crorepati MLAs in the SP is a pointer to this dilemma.
With development issues overriding other concerns in the Hindi heartland,the economic agenda of the young chief minister assumes prime importance. One of the best-governed states at Independence,UP today is one of the most backward,characterised by slow growth,high poverty,deprivation,exclusion and poor human development. Since Independence,successive governments,particularly in the last two decades,have failed to utilise the states considerable human and natural resources. In the 80s,there was a slight shift away from the agricultural to the non-agricultural sector,leading to a rate of growth higher than the national average,particularly in agriculture. However,during the 90s,endemic political instability and competitive populism by every government whether led by the SP,BSP or BJP offering handouts to their supporters,depleted the states coffers,with little remaining to invest in education,infrastructure and health. This led to a sharp drop in growth rates and an acute fiscal crisis,putting UP in a debt trap. In 2004,the Mulayam Singh government passed the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act,but no government,including his own,managed to maintain fiscal discipline.
Against this backdrop,the economic picture for the SP is bleak. The manner in which successive governments have functioned over the last two decades has created an impasse between the urgent need for rapid growth and fiscal discipline,and the political agenda of parties,which requires catering to specific sections of the population. An important test for Akhilesh will be whether he can reverse this pattern and address all-round economic development.
A two-party system is emerging in UP between entrenched regional players,as the national parties remain in decline. The SP must meet these internal and administrative challenges if it hopes to consolidate its position.
The writer is professor at the Centre for Political Studies and rector at Jawaharlal Nehru University,New Delhi