On a chilly January morning in Lucknow this year, VVIPs and security personnel at 5 Kalidas Marg, the official residence of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, woke up to an unusual sight – quintals of potatoes lying on the road in the high security zone. Similar scenes could also be witnessed outside Raj Bhavan, the official residence of UP governor and the Vidhan Sabha building of the state.
Apparently, farmers who were unhappy with the declaration of Rs 487 per quintal minimum support price for their potato harvest (they were demanding Rs 1,000/quintal) had dumped the crop in front of the VVIP residences to show their anger. As the flabbergasted administration came into action and heads started rolling with the suspension of five policemen, UP agriculture minister Surya Pratap Shahi tried to do damage control, saying it was a conspiracy to defame the Adityanath government.
The UP police eventually succeeded in capturing the ‘culprits’ of this fiasco, and put the blame squarely on people linked to the Samajwadi Party, but the incident was significant as it marked one departure. Yogiji, the hot favourite of the UP electorate, had started losing popularity and facing the ire of the farmers, who controlled the electoral destiny of the state; that too within less than a year of his coming to power.
The not-so-enthusiastic farmers
The plight of potato farmers is evident from the above incident, but it’s not very different from those that grow other crops. In October 2017, sugarcane farmers had burned their crop in front of the UP assembly under the Bhartiya Kisan Union’s banner after the BJP government declared Rs 315/quintal as the MSP for sugarcane, increasing it by only Rs 10. Farmers termed this as a ‘treachery’, as the BJP had promised to fix it at Rs 450/quintal.
Another much-touted poll promise was of a loan waiver for farmers in the state, which helped the saffron party in making inroads among the farmers. Though the government did implement it, spending more than Rs 7,000 crore on the scheme, as per its own admission around 11,700 beneficiaries got a token relief of between Rs 1 to Rs 500 in the process. Further, the recent budget declaration of the Union government regarding assured returns of 50% over costs to farmers is also not being received very enthusiastically.
“The government has promised that it will declare the MSP adding 50% to the input cost of producing a crop in it but their calculations for this are based on wrong methods,” says Dharmendra Malik, the spokesperson of the Bhartiya Kisan Union.
Malik was pointing towards the A2+FL method of cost calculation done by Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices , which does not take into account some significant factors like fixed costs, or rental value of owned land and interest on fixed capital assets like land, farm implements etc owned by the farmer.
“If you say that you are giving us MSP at 1.5 times our input costs but your formulas do not take into account the real input cost then what is our gross benefit out of it,” he asks, adding that the farmers in UP feel cheated on these promises.
“The situation in the countryside is not so well for us anymore, politically” admits a senior BJP functionary in the ‘Braj Prant’, the organisational zone which comprises Agra, Firozabad and nearby districts. “The implementation of farm loan waiver faced certain problems and the new promise of MSP at 1.5 times the input cost in not generating enough enthusiasm,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
While the din over the Modi’s ‘pakoda’ remarks has not yet fully subsided, the situation in UP is getting a bit more complicated on the issue of unemployment. As large-scale government recruitments are not regular, even previously conducted exams are being cancelled. On January 29, the Uttar Pradesh Police Recruitment and Promotion Board cancelled three exams conducted in previous years for filling backlog in police jobs. Those who had worked hard to prepare for them and were expecting to pass were left disappointed.
TET or the Teacher Eligibility Test qualified B.Ed candidates and the shiksha mitras also feel the same way. After the implementation of the Right to Education Act, a large number of teaching jobs opened up in schools, but because of a lack of government pro-activeness, confusion over recruitment manual and minimum eligibilities, a large number of these vacancies could not be filled, or were filled by shiksha mitras or contractual teachers, who were not qualified for the job. While the TET-B.Ed qualified candidates demanded they fill the posts, the shiksha mitras were asking for regularisation. The BJP promised to fulfill demands of both these groups, but has failed to do so since coming to power.
“There are thousands of TET qualified B.Ed candidates in the state [who are] seeking a government job, and around 2,75,000 teaching positions are lying vacant. The TET qualified B.Ed candidates fulfill all conditions required to fill these posts but the government is doing nothing. We worked against the BSP government when it failed in doing it, but our demands were not fulfilled even under the SP government. So in 2017 we went whole-heartedly for BJP. We were hopeful that Yogiji will solve our problems but he too is no different,” says Rishi Mishra, the Mainpuri vice president of TET Sangharsh Morcha.
In July 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that qualifying TET was a necessary condition for filling these jobs, which brought bad news for those shiksha mitras who had not passed this exam. As shiksha mitra organisations ran for help to senior BJP leaders who had promised them regularisation, nothing came of it except assurances. On the other hand, on August 16, 2017, TET Sangharsh Morcha also organised a protest march in Lucknow asking the Adityanath government to start recruitment but no concrete decision has been made till now. “The previous Akhilesh government used to give us only assurances and do nothing and the Yogi government is also doing the same. Our hopes from it are over,” Mishra says, as the dharna of his morcha continues in Lucknow.
Neha Dixit chronicles the crime fiction that is Adityanath’s encounter raj
S.R. Darapuri is of the view that UP’s Act to control organised crime violates constitution and human rights
In any sane democracy, the death of over 60 children in a few days would have been a career-ending event. Not here, notes Swati Chaturvedi
Healthcare and law and order
The state of healthcare in the state has never been praiseworthy but the status of rot came to the limelight in August last year when 61 children died of lack of oxygen in just three days at Baba Raghav Das Medical College and Hospital, in CM Adityanath’s own constituency – Gorakhpur. Total number of deaths for the month of August in this hospital alone was 290. While the government tried to hush up the issue, putting the blame on a doctor and the hospital’s oxygen supplier, the lack of seriousness in its handling of the whole issue earned it severe criticism from across the nation.
In fact, while speaking at King George’s Medical University in April last year, Adityanath himself admitted that the state needed five lakh new doctors and that patients were being fleeced in the name of treatment. UP currently has a below national average performance in terms of macro health indicators like number of people served by one doctor, infant mortality rate etc, but not much seems to have happened in the last 11 months to correct these figures despite CM’s admittance of the problem.
Another baggage that the Adityanath government inherited was high crime rates. BJP promised a fearless government or “bhaymukt shasan” during elections but data indicates a worsening situation on that front. Even if we completely ignore the spike in incidents of communal violence since the BJP came to power, the picture in terms of other petty crimes is also not appealing. As per the own figures of UP police, between March 15 and June 15, 2017, the state witnessed a 13% increase in facility cases, 20% increase in loot, 44% increase in kidnapping and 40% increase in rape cases. The government’s initial efforts of curbing crimes against women through anti-romeo squads also failed to gather momentum after reports of extortion by such squads started surfacing.
Apart from these challenges, Adityanath also faces allegations of ‘casteism’. People in Gorakhpur used to say that “Yogi Adityanath remains a Thakur leader for nine months and becomes Hindu leader for three months in a year”. After becoming the chief minister, he has faced severe criticism for overtly favoring Thakurs for senior positions. The case of Uttar Pradesh DGP could be an example. First, Sulkhan Singh, a Thakur, was made the DGP of UP police by the Adityanath government, but after his retirement, another Thakur IPS, O.P. Singh, was appointed at the top cop position. Singh is a 1983 batch officer and has been appointed bypassing 1982 batch senior officers like Rajnikant Mishra and Surya Kumar Shukla. This decision seems to have not gone down well with the ‘Brahmin lobby’ in UP.
Preparations for 2019
In light of these developments, the Adityanath government appears to be generating anger among some of the sections that brought the BJP to power in 2017. If we take a look at the recently-concluded elections in Gujarat, then the two things that adversely affected BJP’s performance were rural distress and joblessness among the youth. These were the two sections which supported the party in the state in the 2014 and 2017 elections and losing that support base may spell trouble for the party, especially in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
To counter this, the party seems to have adopted a two-pronged strategy, which includes an image makeover for CM Adityanath. One part of it is projecting the image of a ‘tough leader’ who walks the talk on ideological and law and order issues. The spurt in incidences of communal violence, inciting comments by the party leaders and lackadaisical attitude of the government in controlling them in order to continue the environment of communal polarisation shows the government’s commitment towards Hindutva. However, the image of a ‘strong leader’ cannot be built if the CM appears to be doing nothing on the law and order front.
It is perhaps due to this reason that the Adityanath government has projected a new tool to counter crimes – encounters. Till January 10, Uttar Pradesh police under Adityanath had conducted around 900 encounters. In mid-January itself, 18 encounters were done within 48 hours. While this may show CM Adityanath’s tough stance on crime, the state police recently got rebuked by the National Human Rights Commission after reports of a ‘fake encounter’ in Noida surfaced in the media.
The second part of this strategy focusses on giving a boost to the assumption that BJP is a pro-development party; an assumption which has taken a hit recently. The UP Investors Summit 2018 held on February 21-22 in Lucknow by the BJP government is an attempt in this direction. With 18 central minister apart from the president, PM, governor, UP chief minister and almost all big names from the business world, the event was a huge extravaganza with 5,000 delegates, seven partner countries and 100 plus speakers.
The government claimed to have signed more than a thousand MoUs committing investments worth Rs 4.28 trillion during the very first day of the event, with the defence sector attracting the biggest investment commitment. However, signing of MoUs doesn’t mean actual investments and past experience tells us that most of the times, the real investment that actually comes in a state after such events is far less in comparison to the commitment made. During the proceedings of day one, Essel Group chairman Subhash Chandra himself said that he had committed investment worth Rs 30,000 crore in the past but could invest only around Rs 3,000 crore in the state.
Will the strategy to take excessive recourse to encounters help in controlling crimes? Will the events like investors summit boost job creation and intensify industrialisation in UP? Or will the youth and farmers forget their issues of unemployment and livelihood and remain engaged in Hindu-Muslim conflicts? The answers to these questions lie in future, but one thing is clear – the BJP is going to polls in 2019 with simply these solutions on offer.
Rajan Pandey is an independent journalist and author of Battleground UP: Politics in the Land of Ram.