Cover Story

Being Akhilesh Yadav

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The ruler of an unruly state

WE ARE AT Shyamnagar, Ramapuram, 5 km from Rama Devi Chouraha, a well-known landmark in Kanpur. From here on, policemen stationed outside the residential colony guide us to the house of Kamal Balmiki, a 26-year-old daily wage labourer who was killed in police custody. There are big and small houses here, but Balmiki’s one-room dwelling is different. There is a tent outside, where 47-year-old Kishan Lal Balmiki sits, mourning the death of his eldest son. His wife Meena and their younger son, 18-year-old Abhimanyu, are quiet by his side. “She is inconsolable. She doesn’t eat,” says Kishan. Their third son Nirmal emerges from inside the house and tells us how things came to this pass.

It was 2 August, a day like any other for the Balmikis. The eldest son, Kamal, had just come home after the day’s work, for which he was paid Rs 200. Nirmal, 22, was back home too, but then went out to get an LPG cylinder. When he did not return from the errand, the family started to worry. What happened next, however, was worse than their worst fears. At around 8.30 pm, Nirmal was picked up by policemen from Andha Mod, about a kilometre from his house. “They were five to six men who dragged me into a white Innova. No one was in uniform,” he says. His cycle, along with the cylinder, lay on the road and someone who spotted it informed the family. Kishan, Kamal, Abhimanyu and Meena rushed to the spot. Before they could find out what had happened, the white SUV pulled up in front of them and took Kamal, too, into custody. “We are police. Your son is involved in a theft case,” is all they would say. “Even before I could think, they snatched away my son in front of my eyes,” says Kishan. The terrified family returned home and after a while, mustered the courage to visit the nearest police station, in Krishna Nagar. Nirmal was there, but there was no sign of Kamal. “They beat us and took Kamal away,” says Nirmal. “They asked me to confess that I was involved in a theft.” Next morning, Kishan went to meet the local Samajwadi Party MLA, Satish Nigam, who assured him that his sons would be released. Another day passed. On 4 August, a policeman came calling at around 2 pm and asked Kishan to accompany him to the Chakeri police station. There, he identified the body of his son Kamal Balmiki. Police told him that he had committed suicide by hanging himself from the ceiling fan inside the Ahirwan police post, where he had been kept for interrogation. “But they were bruises and cuts all over his body. His ears, nose and fingers were burnt black,” says Kishan. By the time the police released Nirmal later that day, people from the neighbourhood had gheraoed Chakeri police station.

The post-mortem report confirmed that Kamal had sustained injuries made by a blunt object on his head and back. There was evidence of electric shocks too. Based on the initial enquiry, 15 policemen, including a station incharge, have been suspended. An FIR has been registered against three named persons and five-to-six unidentified persons for murder and atrocities against Dalits. “There was a non-bailable warrant against Kamal dating back to 2010 and he was picked up in connection with that,” says Kanpur SSP Shalabh Mathur. “But there was negligence in further handling of the case by the police officer concerned. This is being investigated.” Kamal’s father Kishan denies there was ever a warrant against his son. “There was a minor scuffle eight years ago during Holi celebrations and an FIR was filed against Kamal. The case is pending in court,” he says. He fears that policemen who have been suspended will be back in six months. “Where is justice?” he asks of the Samajwadi Party government.

THE KANPUR INCIDENT, where protectors turned killers, is only the latest of many lapses that have highlighted the state of lawlessness that Uttar Pradesh seems to be devolving into. Under SP rule, the largest state in India is also becoming its most infamous. Two days before Balmiki was tortured to death, a 35-year-old woman and her teenaged daughter were raped by highway robbers in Bulandshahar district in western UP. When the opposition raised the issue, seven policemen were suspended and senior officers transferred. The culprits have since been arrested, but the incident has served to expose the inefficacy of the highway protection unit of the UP Police. Almost a week later, on 11 August, state BJP leader Brijpal Teotia was attacked in Muradnagar, Ghaziabad, and his condition continues to be critical. The criminals pumped about a hundred bullets in a matter of minutes—of which six hit Teotia—using sophisticated weapons including AK 47s and 9 mm pistols. Criminal elements toting such weaponry have become increasingly hard to subdue. On top of this, political pressure makes the state police force weaker.

Ever since the Samajwadi Party government took charge of the state in 2012, around 10 policemen have been killed in different parts of UP, including two SP-level officers and five SHO and inspector-level officers. UP has always been notorious for poor law and order, especially under the tenure of former SP governments headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav. But this time, political pressure and appointments have caused a sense of disillusionment with the police. As a result ,there is an increase in attacks on the police force itself. “It is a matter for concern,” says UP DGP Javeed Ahmad. “Police actions face the toughest scrutiny by the Human Rights Commission and media. This has resulted in a sense of hesitation within the force. That is why policemen are becoming victims.” Such an admission by the top cop of the state reflects badly on governance. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is faced with the challenge of restoring order before the state goes to the polls in about six months from now. “Whenever there is crime, we order strict action against the perpetrators. I even appeal to opposition parties that they bring any matter of injustice to me and I’ll take charge of the case personally,” says Akhilesh Yadav. It would have been easier had he been the only one controlling the government. But the SP family is a hungry, many-headed dragon. Their internal power games have resulted in the ouster of eight police chiefs from the state in the past four-and-a-half years. “Everyone has their favourites for the top job and they each get their chance at selection,” says a senior SP leader. “No doubt, law and order suffers because the officer doesn’t know how long he will last.” The appointment of Ahmad, considered a strict officer, this January is seen as an attempt to change the status quo.

ORDER IS THE need of the hour, not just in UP but also within the Samajwadi Party. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family members have taken to washing dirty linen in public and this has served to emphasise divisions in the party. One section continues to believe in the politics of caste and votebanks. The other is touting development as the miracle mantra for returning to power. The party is caught in a time warp, where a transition from one school of thought to another is not taking place. Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, an old school politician, continues to rely on caste and community and he has the support of his brother, senior UP minister Shivpal Yadav. On the other hand, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav believes in the politics of development and refers to his work and schemes rather than talking about communities. He is supported by party MP and his uncle Ram Gopal Yadav. The differences between father and son are now spilling out into the open. “I don’t want to comment on this,” Shivpal Yadav says. “As chief of the election team, my job is to ensure victory for the party and I am working hard in that direction. We are taking the good work of our government to every village and block of the state.” Days after we spoke to him, Shivpal Yadav, however, made an unexpected remark in public against his own government. “Our people are involved in land grabbing and corruption,” he told a crowd in Mainpuri on 14 August. “I told Akhilesh to visit the villages and spend a night there. But he and his ministers ignored me. If things go on like this, I will resign from the party,” he warned.

The Kanpur incident, where protectors turned killers, is only the latest of many lapses that have highlighted the state of lawlessness UP seems to be devolving into

The day after his statement, it was Mulayam’s turn to show solidarity with Shivpal. “A few people are against him. If he quits, the situation for the party will worsen. Half the people will leave with him,” the SP supremo said. “He is the only one who listens to me. If he goes, then I will be forced to stand against this government.” He was advised not to say all this in front of the media but Mulayam went ahead in the presence of Akhilesh Yadav. A family meeting was called in the evening at Mulayam’s residence in Lucknow, and Akhilesh and Shivpal were summoned. Mulayam is learned to have done some firefighting and resolved the differences for the time being.

The first sign of conflict between Akhilesh and Shivpal surfaced when the latter announced the merger of mafia don Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal (QED) with the SP this June. The QED has influence in some parts of eastern UP and a merger was a well-calculated move by Mulayam and Shivpal. But this didn’t go down well with Akhilesh Yadav, who was kept out of the loop. The Chief Minister refused to let the taint of the mafia wash away the reputation he had built with his government’s development work. Finally, the merger was called off and the blame for the ill-advised move was shouldered by Shivpal. A miffed Shivpal was conspicuously absent at Akhilesh’s cabinet expansion later in June. He reportedly believed the QED debacle to be orchestrated by Ram Gopal Yadav and took his revenge by removing Rajesh Dixit, national secretary of SP and a close aide of Ram Gopal’s, from the national executive of the SP in July.

“Netaji [Mulayam Yadav] understands the state’s politics. You can’t win an election only on development. You have to manage certain equations,” says an SP Rajya Sabha MP. Sources indicate that Mulayam approached Akhilesh last month to rethink on the merger with the QED but the Chief Minister remained adamant. On 5 August, at a public programme to celebrate the birth anniversary of former SP leader Janeshwar Mishra, Mulayam made no secret of his disagreement with Akhilesh: “When I say this to the CM, he feels bad. But we need candidates who can win elections. I will have the final say on the candidates as my signature is needed. If given tickets, your ministers will lose elections.”

In the wake of all this, the party is once again mulling the idea of taking the QED along. “Netaji has been authorised to take a decision on this. Whatever he decides will be acceptable to all,” says Shivpal Yadav. However, sources indicate that it is unlikely Akhilesh will relent. A cyclone may yet tear the SP apart even as electoral stormclouds loom over the horizon. While other parties are busy devising election strategies, the party that won 224 of UP’s 403 seats in 2012 is battling other problems. It is not that Akhilesh Yadav is not trying to change perceptions of his party. He has initiated several projects like the Lucknow Metro Rail and the Agra-Lucknow Expressway, both of which are on the verge of completion. Wherever you are in Lucknow, development work and billboards highlighting his achievements are never far. The state has also made progress in setting up better infrastructure for industry.

Akhilesh blames the media for the negative publicity. “Every incident is turned into an opportunity where everyone starts giving an opinion about the state,” he says. “The media doesn’t talk about the good things and the development work carried under our government. It is a state of 20o million people and we are trying every bit to ensure all-round development.” It is not the media, however, but the law and order s ituation that is responsible for the negative perceptions. With allegations of land grabbing by party workers coming from the party supremo himself, what the Samajwadi Party needs is to put its house in order before it is too late.

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