Gangster Vikas Dubey’s death has caused a ‘manthan’ in the treacherous political ocean of Uttar Pradesh, and Samajwadi Party leader and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, it seems, has identified this as the window to launch his campaign for the assembly election that is little less than two years from now. Dubey’s hit-and-gun saga that ran for a full week, thanks to the TRP-hungry TV news channels, has brought to the fore a confluence of issues that matter in Uttar Pradesh’s politics—from chief minister Yogi Adityanath government’s handling of law and order to police-politician-muscleman nexus—and give Akhilesh the opportunity he has been looking for ever since his party’s abysmal loss in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Akhilesh’s scathing attack on the Yogi government is likely to unnerve the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and may force it to reorient its political energy towards countering the former CM and his party.
Was he waiting in the wings?
Political battles can exhaust leaders and parties. And when the public memory is so short-lived, it is wise to choose the timing of your battles.
Akhilesh has been silent since he lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The talk is that he doesn’t want to waste his political energy and money so much ahead of the next election in UP. But now it is midterm. The assembly election is due in 2022. This would be the right time for him to become politically articulate and loud. With the dodgy encounter of Vikas Dubey, Akhilesh, who is going through an identity crisis politically has finally found a legitimate issue to rake up before the public to shame the BJP, the party which has been the primary reason for his political fall besides the ‘gathbandan’ with Mayawati and the Congress. Which is why his insistence on making Vikas Dubey’s call records of the last five years public makes sense politically and automatically puts him on a higher pedestal from where he can try to pitch his upright image. If he ups the ante now, he gets the much-needed momentum for the 2022 campaign, especially since Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party appears clueless.
Uttar Pradesh has always maintained a very ‘Wild Wild West’ image in India where bahubalis, mafias and trigger-happy dabangg cops are still a reality. The politician-criminal-police nexus is not hard to imagine in Uttar Pradesh. Vikas Dubey is a classic exhibit to showcase this.
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Dubey’s case tells why no political party in the state can claim not being part of this nexus. Akhilesh too has a burdensome legacy of ‘gundaraj’ to unload. His father, though inactive now, patronised many such bahubalis. Akhilesh has broken ranks with his father and uncle on earlier occasions. He can do that again by making the lawlessness in UP an issue and carve a legacy of his own.
Yogi Adityanath, the ‘tough monk’, came to power in 2017 by promising a crime-free Uttar Pradesh that had been ruined in the hands of the Congress, SP and BSP. But the reality is far from this idyllic promise. 38,000 of the 78,000 human rights violations brought before the National Human Rights Commission in 2017-18 were from Uttar Pradesh, the first year of the Yogi government.
In 2018, Akhilesh had termed Adityanath’s ‘encounter policy’ to curb crime in the state as ‘thok do neeti’.
Akhilesh lost the plot as not only was he overconfident of a Lok Sabha win—based on data projections that proved completely wrong—but also because he was too comfortable for his own good with his position in the mahagathbandhan. Today, the SP leader is on his own and has nothing to lose as his position in UP’s politics is at its weakest. It’s do or die from here.
The anti-Thakur sentiment
Akhilesh Yadav can also ride the anti-thakur sentiment that is on the rise in Uttar Pradesh. Popularly being dubbed as Thakurvad, Uttar Pradesh has seen a resurgence of the upper caste Hindus who felt neglected by earlier governments due to the appeasement of SCs, STs, OBCs and Muslims. In the Uttar Pradesh assembly, overall representation of the upper caste Hindus increased from 32.7 per cent in 2012 to 44.4 per cent in 2017. In the same assembly election, the BJP distributed half of its tickets to 48.2 per cent upper-caste candidates against 31.2 per cent OBC and Jat candidates. Among this category too, the non-Jatav and non-Yadav OBCs received only token representation.
Increasing the creamy layer income ceiling for the OBC category from Rs 6 lakh to Rs 8 lakh per annum for central government jobs has furthered this sentiment. This may serve Akhilesh if he plans to use the discontent among this section to his advantage.
Although the possibility of lower castes voters trusting a Yadav seems less likely, the recent spate of BSP leaders quitting the party and joining SP in recent months is a trend that Akhilesh should milk. He needs to build on this image and take advantage of the BSP’s slide amongst the lower caste voters.
As a last ditch effort, Akhilesh needs to pursue the issue of ‘Vikas Dubey epitomising the lawlessness in Uttar Pradesh’. And if he manages to convince people that UP sits on a ticking bomb in that can turn into anarchy, the Yogi government will have to drink the ‘vish’ (poison) of unfulfilled promises and corruption from this ‘manthan’.
When Akhilesh first became the CM in 2012, India, and UP in particular, were untouched by the Modi wave. The younger Yadav had emerged from the shadow of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. Today, he has Modi and Yogi to tackle with a near absent Mulayam. ‘Vikas Dubey’ might just be the formula he was looking for.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.
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