New Delhi: Mindful of the political significance of Uttar Pradesh in the next general election, scheduled to be held in 2014, the opposition led by former chief minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has sought to pin the Samajwadi Party government down on its seeming inability to maintain law and order.
The latest instance is the stampede that killed more than 30 people at Allahabad railway station during the Kumbh religious festival.
BSP legislators in the state assembly marked the opening day of the budget session by protesting against the perceived failure of chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s government to ensure public safety.
The uproarious scenes in the House signalled clearly that the BSP plans to intensify its attack on the government over the law and order issue, an area in which the Mayawati government is seen to have performed better during its 2007-12 tenure.
Mayawati recently sought presidential rule in the state, saying it has plunged into “anarchy”.
A.K. Verma, professor of political science at Christ Church College, Kanpur, said law and order will be a key issue in the Lok Sabha election.
“It will be a disadvantage for the Samajwadi Party in the election,” Verma said.
The SP denied that law and order had deteriorated and said it wouldn’t affect the party’s prospects in the elections.
“There is no law and order issue in Uttar Pradesh,” said Mohan Singh, spokesperson of the ruling SP. “It’s a campaign by the opposition through the television and print media. This was never an issue in the election and it will never be. The election will be on the basis of the work, especially the welfare schemes introduced by the SP government.”
Uttar Pradesh sends 80 lawmakers, more than any other state, to the 545-member Lok Sabha and is hence seen as the country’s most politically crucial one.
Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are also set to be aggressive on this front.
The state has seen 13 communal riots in which 24 people were killed since the new government came to power in March 2012, according to Akhilesh Pratap Singh, a Congress legislator.
“Most of these were sponsored by MPs (members of Parliament) or MLAs (members of the legislative assembly) of the ruling party,” he said. There has also been an increase in rapes, murders and other crimes, Singh said.
Party colleague and fellow legislator Vivek Singh said the Congress party will make the deteriorating law and order situation a key electoral issue.
“The people of Uttar Pradesh have already started regretting voting the SP into power. The situation is very bad in the state. The SP, which has come into power giving high expectations, has completely failed on all fronts. Too much politicization has weakened the administration,” Vivek Singh said.
The relationship of the SP, the BSP and the Congress is complicated by the latter’s dependence on them at the Centre. Both the SP and the BSP lend issue-based support to the Congress, ensuring that the ruling United Progressive Alliance remains in power and can get legislation through Parliament.
Still, SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief minister’s father, has said that he expects national elections to be held this year itself and hasn’t ruled out forming a third political front in competition with the Congress and the BJP.
In the 2012 election, the SP won a landslide victory with 224 out of 403 seats. The BSP won only 80, the BJP 47 and the Congress 28.
BJP state president and legislator Lakshmikant Bajpai said: “The BJP has geared up to launch a serious attack on Akhilesh Yadav’s government after the presentation of the assembly budget on 19 February. Our party will raise the issue of the Kumbh tragedy, law and order, safety for women, appeasement of minorities and government’s false promises for unemployment doles to the youth and waiving of farm loans in state.”
In her last press conference as chief minister in March, Mayawati referred to the SP’s poor record on law and order and warned that such a situation could come about again.
Verma said there was a feeling among the people, even in rural areas, that the SP government had failed on the law and order front.
“Akhilesh Yadav seems to have lost grip of the situation. As a consequence of too much political intervention, the police and the administration also appear to be in a state of withdrawal,” he said. “Suddenly there is a realization or remembrance of Mayawati as she had handled the situation better. Despite the other criticism against her government, people feel that she was a good administrator.”
Sahil Makkar contributed to this story.