By Vinay Kumar Pathak
Will the new rule of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh(India), resemble the 2007 “Goonda Raj” or is it a new beginning for the party and the province under Chief Minister Akhilesh Yavad?
On March 16, the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh witnessed its youngest Chief Minister (CM) Akhilesh Yadav take office as the candidate of the Samajwadi Party (SP), which had gained an electoral majority over the incumbent regional Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and national parties such as the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. Yadav, the “new suave, media savvy face” of the SP, spearheaded the party’s electoral campaign as an “agent of change” promising economic development of the “backward” state vis-à-vis the casteist campaign of the regional BSP and the communal campaigns of the BJP and a Congress that appeared confused in the run up to polling day about their candidate for CM-ship.
Goonda Raj In Uttar Pradesh, India
Conscious of the SP’s image of being associated with “goondas” (thugs, hooligans, or gangsters), Yadav’s campaign pledged to “come down hard” on issues of goondaism particularly from within the party ranks. Indeed, it was the SP’s inability to establish law and order and to rid its party ranks of goondas that resulted in the SP’s defeat to the BSP, which was led by the Bahujan or Dalit icon Mayawati in the 2007 elections. In 2006, during Mulayam Singh Yadav’s (Akhilesh’s father) term as CM, the SP government was compelled by the judiciary to admit that the state was riddled with crime, it was the “mafia that was at the forefront of the management of economic and commerce actives” and that “bureaucrats, politicians and the police … [were] often [being a part of] criminal enterprises in the state”.
It has only been a fortnight since the younger Yadav took the reigns as CM, but observers of UP politics have largely concluded that the rule of the SP is soon becoming synonymous with a ‘Goonda Raj’ (goonda rule) as it was in 2002 to 2007. In spite of Yadav’s campaign promises and his eventual pledge upon taking office of “purging UP and the SP of its anti-social elements” there has been a string of crimes committed by goondas associated with the SP. These crimes has made even scholars and commentators enthusiastic about a rejuvenated SP’s return to power revolt at the fact that the “Goonda Raj may yet be alive and well.” An example would be an attack waged upon and threats issued to journalists in Jhansi by SP workers, who were upset that their candidate in the locality had lost the elections.
Likewise, media reports have revealed that throughout UP, SP workers or volunteers obstructed roads and destroyed vehicles in areas where SP candidates had been defeated. The post-election goonda mayhem claimed the life of a child in Sambhal who was shot dead by a bullet fired by SP workers celebrating their candidate’s victory. Even Yadav’s swearing in ceremony at the La Martiniere Boys’ College was overshadowed by the horrific image of overzealous sloganeering SP workers who rowdily broke through security barriers and literally ripped apart the stage. Most recently a SP leader was arrested for “settling scores” through firing at a Chirgaon Block Development Officer (BDO) S. K. Srivastava who had accused the SP leader of attempting to rig the 2010 legislative council election.
Yadav’s Promises and his Band of Goondas
In spite of Yadav’s regular assurances to “protect” Dalit iconography and communities in UP, the past fortnight has witnessed SP supporters tearing down statues of the Dalit icon B. R. Ambedkar and torching Dalit homes in the BSP stronghold Bhambia and a series of grievous and fatal clashes have ensued between SP and BSP workers. While investigations are yet to be conducted, the “new” SP seems to have revived its tradition of patronizing local strongmen or members of the mafia who have in turn “appropriated the party’s name”. This has allowed goondas who act as ‘SP leaders’ to harass ordinary folks to pay a ‘goonda tax’ or protection money. In fact, a young resident of Kanpur was compelled to commit suicide after taking a beating by a self-styled ‘SP leader’ for failing to pay a ‘goonda tax’ of 30 rupees. Moreover, political commentators have pointed to the attack on another government official, the Assistant Regional Transport Officer (RTO) R. K. Singh, who was investigating illegal mining in Jalaun on March 18 as being evidence of the SP’s patronage of the mining mafia.
Yadav’s campaign promise of purging of “anti-social elements” from the SP appears to have been compromised by his appointment of Kunwar Raghuraj Pratap Singh or “Raja Bhaiya” as the Minister of Prisons. Ironically, the newly minted Minister of Prisons has been charged under the Goonda Act and the now defunct Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and has 48 murder cases, 32 extortion cases and 12 kidnapping cases amongst other multiple civil and criminal charges pending against him. Raja Bhaiya is not an anomaly in Yadav’s “new” development driven government; he is merely a part of a cadre of the SP tainted with pending criminal charges who were distributed portfolios on March 19 by Yadav. The members of Yadav’s cabinet include the likes of Senior Minister Azam Khan and Minister of the Public Works Department Shivpal Yadav both of whom have 7 pending criminal cases and State Minister Mehboob Ali who has 15 criminal cases pending against him.
The yet short span that the “agent of change” Yadav has had in office leaves observers of politics in UP merely hopeful that he will adopt a posture of convincing the electorate of the SP’s ability to marginalize “anti-social elements” while holding 50 portfolios under himself including key portfolios. Yadav’s defining image of a new generation of Indian leaders that was reinforced by the SP’s defeat of the Congress campaign spearheaded by Rahul Gandhi will be linked in the near future with his ability to be the “undisputed leader of the SP government in UP” that has had to fall back on its goonda associates and members while delivering the SP’s post-election promises to “crack the whip on unruly cadres.”
Vinay Kumar Pathak is an Associate Research Fellow with the Contemporary Islam Programme at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.