New Delhi: Among the ruling politicians to enhance their reputations as efficient administrators, during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been Yogi Adityanath, the 48-year-old saffron-clad Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
In the past three months, Adityanath has managed to silence dissidents in his party, critics of his saffron agenda and even the opposition. He has also earned praise from regular and unexpected quarters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi while inaugurating the Uttar Pradesh Rojgar Yojana on 26 June, lauded Adityanath saying UP has fought Covid better than even the US and urged other states to follow suit.
Even the resident editor of Pakistan-based Dawn newspaper, Fahd Husain has praised Uttar Pradesh’s handling of the pandemic.
While Indian state of UP has lower mortality rate than Pakistan, Maharashtra has higher rate despite younger population & higher GDP/capita. We must know what UP did right & Maharashtra did wrong to learn right lessons (2/2)#COVIDー19 @zfrmrza @DrMusadikMalik @Rashidlangrial
— Fahd Husain (@Fahdhusain) June 7, 2020
Adityanath has been proactive in his handling of the crisis. He was the first chief minister to send buses to transport migrant workers looking to reach home during the lockdown — he sent 1,000 buses to the UP-Delhi border in late March.
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In all, he transported 35 lakh migrant workers in around 12,000 buses. Adityanath was also the first chief minister to send buses, 300 in all, to bring back students stranded at coaching centres in Kota, Rajasthan.
And with the lockdown taking a serious toll on the economy, the UP administration made a number of efforts to soften the blow. It controversially suspended labour laws, barring two, for a period of three years, in a bid to help industries get back on their feet.
The state was also among the first to constitute a committee to woo foreign investment and the chief minister signed an MoU with the industry for employment generation of 1 crore jobs, which was inaugurated by Modi.
Before Covid, a chief minister under fire
Before the onset of the pandemic, Adityanath had been grappling with dissent in the state, with a number of BJP MLAs upset that the civil service was running the show in the state. Around 100 BJP MLAs staged a sit-in protest against the chief minister on the floor of the state assembly building in December.
The MLAs complained that officials do not listen to them nor do they act on their suggestions. The dissent was led by Nand Kishore Gujjar, the party MLA from Loni.
Then in April, in the middle of the lockdown, leaked phone conversations purportedly of BJP MLA Rakesh Rathore from Sitapur reinforced the notion that all was not well within the BJP, particularly over Aditynath’s style of governance.
One of the leaked clips had Rathore saying that he would write a letter of recommendation but it won’t be any use as the administration doesn’t value his words. “Only if you are a pandit or a Rajput will your work get done,” Rathore, an OBC, is heard saying.
Eventually, the BJP high command stepped in and issued a show cause notice against Rathore.
Then, on 21 April, the BJP mayor of Agra, Navin Jain, wrote to the chief minister saying that the city would become another Wuhan if the district administration didn’t take strict measures. He raised the lack of quarantine facilities in Agra and the lack of proper testing.
Days later on 27 April, the BJP MLA from Aligarh Dalvir Singh bypassed the chief minister, writing directly to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who is the party’s UP incharge, alleging mismanagement at the local Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in the city.
After a BJP leader’s death in Meerut, the region’s MP Rajendra Aggrawal complained to the chief minister, accusing the chief medical officer (CMO) and the district magistrate (DM) of mismanagement. The principal secretary to the chief minister, and Adityanath himself had to call and pacify Aggrawal.
Tough administration and delivery silenced critics
After several complaints from elected BJP representatives against his officials, the chief minister changed tack. In May, he formed a committee of ministers to monitor efforts to contain the state’s Covid spread, besides his official crack team of 11 secretaries.
The team of 11 secretaries had caused anger among BJP MLAs and ministers.
The chief minister, however, struck a balance. A civil servant in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) told ThePrint that Adityanath has been meeting his team of 11 at 11 am every morning for the last three months.
“He is very particular about it. In the detailed meeting, he takes stock of events and plans the necessary course correction,” the officer said.
The panel of ministers, though, meets sporadically. The officer quoted above said that the central empowered group of ministers meets twice a week.
Despite doubts over its numbers and allegations of lack of transparency, UP has kept its Covid-19 numbers comparatively low. As of 2 July, UP has recorded 24,056 cases, with 6,709 active cases and 718 deaths.
According to this report, UP is only the fifth state to cross the 7-lakh tests mark — the other four being Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. The state had conducted 7.07 lakh tests as of 30 June.
The state’s positivity rate is 3.2 per cent as against the national average of 6.5 per cent. The state is now planning to conduct 30,000 tests a day, which would make the highest in the country.
CM wins over partymen
Adityanath’s governance is now winning appreciation from his Cabinet colleagues. Water Resources Minister Mahendra Singh told ThePrint that Adityanath’s proactiveness and detailed planning saved a large population from dying.
“By March, he constituted his bureaucratic team for capacity building of health infrastructure, testing, PPE and ventilators,” Singh said. “He also ordered the setting up of 7,000 community kitchens.”
Another senior BJP leader told ThePrint, “If you look at the performance of several chief ministers during covid, Yogi, despite having a lack of experience in governance showed more mettle than most others.
“He has behaved like a mature, composite and an able administrator,” he added. “He may have acquired his administration skills from the Goraknath Peeth, where his janta darbar was famous for its speedy redressal of complaints.”
The BJP leader further said that while Karnataka Chief Minister Yeddiyurappa has earned much praise for his work, it is Adityanath who is the party’s real star in the crisis.
“Yediyurappa is an experienced politician, a mass leader and has hands-on governance experience. He also has a 30-year head-start on Yogi in public life,” the leader added. “He performed well because of his experience just like Ashok Gehot and Pinarayi Vijayan. But as a first-time chief minister, Yogi has surprised everyone.”
A Lucknow-based civil servant who worked closely with former CM Akhilesh Yadav told ThePrint, “He (Adityanath) has stunned the bureaucracy with his total involvement and by guiding them in every situation. He personally monitors every aspect of the Covid fight and takes feedback from different people.”
Not everyone, however, is buying the success story.
Congress leader Akhilesh Pratap Singh accused the state administration of making “tall claims” about the situation.
“Testing is low and hence there are fewer positive cases,” Singh said. “This has become a PR exercise for Yogi and he is crushing opposition voices. There are 20 districts where there are no ventilators,” he claimed.
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