The unravelling

Akhilesh Yadav is steadily betraying expectations that propelled him to the UP chief ministership

Already facing criticism on all fronts over the suspension of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, the Uttar Pradesh government arrested Dalit writer Kanwal Bharti for criticising it on Facebook. Samajwadi Party leaders have even dragged Nagpal's family into the unseemly war of words. These events force attention to the ways in which UP politics is mired in the same old patterns. Just over a year after it won a decisive mandate in a notoriously fragmented state, weaning votes away from every competitor, the Samajwadi Party is rapidly wasting the goodwill it had gathered. Instead of inaugurating a new phase of governance, as Nitish Kumar did in Bihar to a considerable extent, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has ended up repeating all the errors of the past. The SP's single point agenda appears to be to foreground the state's communal cleavage.

Yet, for all its stated concern about preserving communal harmony, violence between communities has flared all over the state, be it in Mathura, Pratapgarh, Bareilly, Lucknow, Ghaziabad or Faizabad. The police has been undermined by the party's own workers, who interfere in administrative decisions and rub in their contempt for the law and order apparatus. Akhilesh Yadav has failed to rein in these elements, prompting unwelcome memories of previous SP governments. What's more, its advocacy of Muslim issues has been at the level of gesture alone. After making the sweeping manifesto promise that all terror cases against innocent Muslims would be withdrawn, for instance, it made no effort to present evidence and prove their innocence, and merely asked the courts to withdraw cases "in the interest of communal harmony". Not surprisingly, the government's shoddy defence has only elicited judicial reprimand.

The perception that Akhilesh Yadav is not in control and that the government is virtually led by his father and other SP elders, has not been actively dispelled. Now, by all accounts, Mulayam Singh Yadav appears to be focused on 2014, and all the energies of party and government are being poured into pre-election gestures. As the leader who promised the people of his state a new beginning and a clean slate, it is Akhilesh Yadav's responsibility to break through the old habits and constraints, and arrest his government's backsliding.

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