Three years on, Akhilesh pushes development

Amid an usually acrimonious budget session of the Uttar Pradesh legislature, Akhilesh Yadav completes three years as chief minister of India’s most populous state on March 15.

The Samajwadi Party dislodged Mayawati in an unexpected landslide victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2012. Credited with scripting the coup, Yadav became the party’s poster boy. Senior Samajwadi Party leaders and some of family members wanted party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav to head the government. A resolute Mulayam Singh Yadav, however, won the day for his son.

Yadav has managed to bat well on the political pitch. His hits and misses, in new initiatives and policy flip-flops, square up his report card. Big projects like the Agra-Lucknow expressway, Lucknow metro rail, an ambitious overhaul of the energy sector, linking all district headquarters with four-lane roads are Yadav’s success stories. The failures stack up in the form of discontinued populist pre-poll schemes  like free laptops and an unemployment dole, deteriorating law and order, and the crisis in the state’s sugar industry.

Notwithstanding allegations about Yadav losing grip on the official machinery, he has managed to keep the state’s finances in check. He enjoys a clean reputation with no major allegation of corruption against his government. Uttar Pradesh continues to be revenue surplus, a trend that started in 2006-07 when the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was in power. The budget deficit is rising under Yadav, but mainly because of rising capital expenditure on infrastructure projects, especially in the last two years.

The priority accorded by Yadav to infrastructure during an economic slowdown that has kept the private sector away from large projects has forced the state to fund several projects on its own. The government has planned big investments in energy, apart from projects in agriculture, urban development, health, education and skill development.

The state’s fiscal deficit and public debt are under check. A worry is the fiscal deficit has been on the rise, although it is below the mandated level of 3 per cent. Market borrowings and loans from financial institutions have been climbing, while the state’s dependence on loans from the Centre has come down. Yadav, who also holds the finance portfolio, presented the state’s budget estimated at Rs 3,02,687 crore for 2015-16.

Over time, Yadav has learnt to walk the tightrope between development and populism. The journey has not been easy. The Samajwadi Party did not shed the election mode after winning the 2102 assembly polls because Mulayam Singh Yadav had his eyes set on the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and a possible prime ministership, an ambition he has nurtured for long.

The Yadav government started to fulfill its pre-poll promises by launching populist schemes like free laptops, an unemployment allowance, a farm loan waiver and the Kanya Vidya Dhan.

Yadav also introduced ‘openness’ in governance, in stark contrast to the Mayawati regime. Sceptics accused Yadav of not having control over ministers and bureaucrats. The communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 were the low point for Yadav’s law and order record.

The emergence of Narendra Modi on the national scene saw the Samajwadi Party losing miserably to a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The party managed to win only five seats and that too only by members of Yadav’s family.

Wiser after the loss, Yadav dismantled and pruned several populist schemes and shifted focus towards development. “Yadav has been successful in pulling out infrastructure sector projects from mere political symbolism, which marked the previous Mayawati regime. He has not only launched development and social welfare projects, but has also asserted his political authority,” analyst Sudhir Panwar told Business Standard. However, he said the state government had not been able to brush off the perception about Uttar Pradesh in the minds of investors.

Unveiling the UP Development Agenda for 2015-16 here last month, Yadav said the first two years of his regime were spent on fulfilling pre-poll promises. He added his focus was on development now. All flagship projects are to be completed before the state goes to polls in 2017.