The five states which went to the polls in the first quarter of 2017 included the big states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. But it can be said that Captain Amarinder Singh’s government, which completed a year in office on March 16, is not being watched with the intensity that the Yogi Adityanath regime invites. And Manohar Parrikar, who stepped down as a Union minister to return to Goa, and whose government finished its first year on March 14, barely draws national comment. This is not iniquitous, but only due to the fact of UP’s salience on the political map and because neither Parrikar nor Singh came to office with a staggering mandate, nor with the great expectations of change that Yogi did. The Uttar Pradesh election was won without a chief ministerial candidate, purely on the strength of Brand Modi and the promise of sweeping change.
The choice of Adityanath for chief minister was seen by some as a masterstroke, a visible affirmation of a different future. It was indeed daring to pick upon a candidate who had made his name as an ardent vocaliser of Hindutva rather than a Hindutva proponent who could organise and administer. In some quarters, it was seen as a reckless choice. In the year since the BJP’s central leadership made it, however, the substantive promises on which UP turned into a saffron swathe, barring a few islands of influence of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, have been quietly forgotten. Instead, high-visibility campaigns over far lesser issues were foregrounded.
Parts of western Uttar Pradesh have roads with lunar surfaces, suitable for Mars rovers. Adityanath had dramatically vowed to make all of the state’s roads pothole-free in three months but none of the agencies involved, the department for public works, corporations and panchayati raj bodies, could meet the deadline. In a big-ticket investor summit in February designed to shed the Bimaru tag, the biggest MoU signed came under a cloud. On the other hand, the formation of anti-Romeo squads in already stressed police thanas across the state provided instant gratification, and the state’s encounter culture was resurrected and dangerously encouraged and showcased. And always, there were cows to be rescued. But UP seeks jobs, not Romeos, and the debacle in the by-elections in Phulpur and Adityanath’s own seat in Gorakhpur suggests that disrespecting a poll promise will be costly.