The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is a big cricket fan. He is himself bestowed with prolific cricketing skills demonstrated by his performances in matches between the government and the bureaucrats. The young leader has many man of the match and man of the series trophies to his name.
Akhilesh Yadav plays new age cricket in which openers try to score as many runs as possible during the initial overs. This is unlike the old style of the game that mandated saving wickets for the death overs.
However, the chief minister was playing against his style on the political pitch. As a result, the game seems to have slipped from his hands. After all, these are changed times.
Five years ago, Mulayam Singh Yadav's eldest son had come to power riding on the high hopes of the electorate. But, the harsher realities of politics had started to put a reality check on these expectations within the first six months of his tenure.
One of the senior bureaucrats in the state, who is currently considered as one of the most trusted lieutenants of Akhilesh Yadav, had not found his favour at that time. It was this official who had famously stated that there are five-and-a-half chief ministers governing the state (Mulayam, Shivpal, Ram Gopal, Anita Singh, Sadhna Gupta and Akhilesh Yadav as the remaining half).
The political developments of the past three months have elicited a reactionary approach from the chief minister on more than one occasion. He has openly confronted some of the decisions taken by his uncle Shivpal Yadav and father Mulayam Singh Yadav. Many of these decisions were later revoked.
In short, Akhilesh Yadav has tried to give a message that he was fighting for his loyalists and asserting himself from a decisive position. However, he seems to be trying to save a field that has already been ruined by birds.
The first six months of the Akhilesh Yadav government were crucial. The fact was not missed by anybody that Samajwadi Party had won elections due to Akhilesh's charisma. He worked hard during the campaign. His cycle yatras across villages and small cities were instrumental in creating a favourable atmosphere for the party. The result was evident as people of the state rewarded Akhilesh with a thumping majority of 225 Assembly seats.
But, the chief minister has consistently floundered ever since. One can attribute his failures partly to the pressure of proving himself as a good son and an obedient nephew.
In the process, he allowed things to slip out of his hands on administrative as well as political fronts. Akhilesh Yadav needed to bat on the front foot during the initial six months, something which he is doing in the slog overs (last six months) of his current innings as chief minister.
Losing the plot at the beginning
It was clear in the initial phases of the current government that the real power was wielded by the so-called five chief ministers. The state suffered around 48 large and small communal riots in the first six months of Akhilesh's rule. This fact was even admitted by the government on the floor of the Vidhan Sabha.
Barely three months of Akhilesh Yadav's tenure had passed when the state was rattled by a sensational robbery just across the street from the State Assembly. The robbers gunned down a bank employee at Hazratganj Bazaar in broad daylight and drove away with Rs 32 lakh in cash.
This was not the only incident, putting a big question mark over state's law-and-order situation under the current dispensation. In fact, the issue has turned out to be an albatross around the neck for the government.
The gaffes on the bureaucratic front were no less embarrassing. Anita Singh was handed over the most important bureaucratic post of the state Principal Secretary. She reaped the fruits of her close association with the SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Soon, Anita Singh's word became the writ of the government largely due to Mulayam's strong backing. There were reports that she was not even on talking terms with the chief minister.
Akhilesh Yadav gave the impression of being a weak leader even on political turf. His Council of Ministers was handpicked by Mulayam Singh Yadav. Almost all of the plum posts and ministries went to senior Yadav's old loyalists. Even Ambika Chaudhary was obliged, notwithstanding the fact that he was beaten in the elections.
The chief minister had little say in party affairs. The old guard continued to dictate terms in the Samajwadi Party. It was as if Akhilesh Yadav was living in fool's paradise. Apart from being the head of the government, he was also the state president of the party for five years. Yet, he did not take even a single initiative for party's overhaul.
Perhaps, Akhilesh Yadav was under the false impression that merely staying at the post of the state president would keep the party, as well as the government, under his control. But, things turned out to be different.
The chief minister lost his sang-froid only recently when Mulayam Singh sacked him unceremoniously from the post of the party state president and handed over the responsibility to Shivpal Yadav.
Akhilesh could neither reward his own people in the government nor in the party. Even the regular transfers of officials were ordered by Mulayam Singh Yadav, Shivpal Yadav or Ram Gopal Yadav. The chief minister was nothing more than a silent spectator. There were rumours that Mulayam's wife Sadhna Singh also had a considerable say in many administrative decisions.
The Noida-NCR region is the highest revenue generating area of the state. Even here, things were under Ram Gopal Yadav's control.
The chief minister was reduced to a mere mask of the party. Everybody in the party is aware of this fact. Four of Akhilesh Yadav's close confidants are state ministers, but none of them are in the party. The chief minister failed to ensure their reinstatement.
Akhilesh hardly misses any opportunity to take potshots at Amar Singh. However, his opposition has not prevented the latter from growing stronger within the party organisation.
This is an open secret in Lucknow's power corridors that Amar Singh has re-established himself as one of the most influential general secretaries of the party. People in Lucknow darbar often say in jest that not even the post of party's national president is out of bounds for him.
The same can be said about the state transport minister Gayatri Prajapati. He has recently been appointed as party's national secretary by Mulayam Singh. Prajapati took ministerial oath as many as four times over the last five years. This speaks volumes about the real stature of the chief minister in his own government.
Seat controversy leading to party's division?
There is hardly any reason to believe that Akhilesh will go the extent of breaking the party on the question of seat allocation. A closer scrutiny of the list of 325 candidates released by Mulayam Singh Yadav reveals 47 current MLAs and ministers have not been given tickets this time. This comes down to about 14.5% of the total contestants announced by the party.
Almost every party denies tickets to around 20% of incumbents in every election. Factors like winnability, projecting the next generation leaders and current political circumstances play an important role in such decisions.
Out of the 47 leaders who have been excluded from the list, only 15-20 are hardcore Akhilesh supporters. Furthermore, every candidate who has lost the opportunity to contest elections under the party's banner is now portraying himself as a chief minister-loyalist. This is their only way to register protest and hope for at least some benefit.
So will Akhilesh take a drastic step for the sake of mere 15-20 loyalists? This will be clear soon.
Pinch hitting in slog overs can often lead to a collapse of the innings and ultimately the defeat of the team.