High-octane electoral politics eclipsed major developments during 2017 in Uttar Pradesh where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was on a roll, coming to power with a bang and ending the year by sweeping the civic polls.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath passed his first test with flying colours as BJP pocketed the civic polls – viewed as a referendum ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 – winning 14 out of 16 mayoral seats in the state, with only the BSP among the Opposition parties recovering lost ground by bagging two seats.
The saffron surge routed the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, both of which drew a blank.
The Samajwadi Party Family Feud
The year began with the erstwhile ruling Samajwadi Party grappling with the ugly family feud in the Mulayam Singh Yadav clan which led to elevation of his son Akhilesh Yadav as the new party boss replacing his father, the 79-year-old party patriarch.
Though the bitterness within the SP kept hogging headlines quite often, and cost the party dearly at the hustings, the bickering had a fairytale ending towards the end of the year with the father-son duo patching up.
Tragedies and Mishaps
Besides the rough tide of politics, the year will go down in the pages of history as one that saw a series of train mishaps, an explosion in NTPC boiler in Rae Bareli claiming over 30 lives and stampedes at some religious places, including Ayodhya, that exposed the chinks in the official machinery.
Hooch tragedies in the state, including the one in Azamgarh in July in which around 20 people died after consuming spurious liquor, prompted the government to enact a law that provides for death sentence to bootleggers.
Uttar Pradesh became the third state, after Delhi and Gujarat, where bootleggers may be sent to the gallows, if consumption of spurious liquor leads to a loss of life.
Natural calamities like floods in eastern Uttar Pradesh and drought-like situation in Bundelkhand kept the authorities busy with rehabilitating those affected.
The state had the dubious distinction of witnessing some major train mishaps this year.
In August, 23 passengers were killed and 150 injured when the Utkal Kalinga Express derailed in Muzaffarnagar district.
The same month saw the Kaifiyat Express jump rails in Auraiya district in which around 50 passengers were injured.
The back to back tragedies led to a change in the national carrier's leadership with Suresh Prabhu being replaced by Piyush Goyal and Railway Board chairman AK Mittal making way for Ashok Lohani.
The Patna-bound Vasco Da Gama Express train derailed near Manikpur railway station in Chitrakoot district in November, leaving three passengers dead and nine injured.
The year dawned amid hectic electioneering as Uttar Pradesh – the most populous and politically crucial state – witnessed key political masterstrokes in the run up to the assembly elections in February-March that saw the BJP juggernaut steamroll the SP-Congress partnership and the BSP.
The SP and the Congress had joined hands ahead of the assembly elections, but both parties came a cropper and even Mayawati's 'elephant' – the BSP symbol – could not take on the saffron surge.
The results gave the BJP a landslide victory with 325 of the 403 assembly seats going to it and his allies, riding on the crest of "Na Gundaraj, Na Bhrashtachar, Abki baar BJP Sarkar (No vandalism, No corruption, it’s time for Modi government)" wave, leaving the opposition in deep despair.
After days of suspense as to who would head the BJP government, saffron-clad priest-turned-politician Yogi Adityanath donned the mantle of the chief minister at the age of 44 and marched ahead with a no-nonsense approach, though some of his tough decisions have not gone down well with the masses often.
Priest-Turned-Politician Chief Minister’s Govt
At his action-packed cabinet meetings during his initial days in power, Adityanath took drastic steps to improve law and order and difficult decisions like farm loan waiver.
Now, although the government claims to have waived off loans of debt-ridden farmers, the reality has not quite supported these claims as only 12 lakh farmers were able to access the scheme, despite the CM’s claims that this would benefit 86 lakh farmers in the state. From those who got the loan waiver, there were some cases of farmers getting as low as 1 paisa worth of waiver.
Though he claimed to have fulfilled most of the promises the BJP made during the election campaign, the Opposition stepped up the attack on the ruling party claiming that misses have outnumbered the hits.
The death of 1,317 children, allegedly due to the lack of oxygen and encephilitis, in a state-run medical college in his native turf Gorakhpur dented Adityanath's aura.
Four days into office, the chief minister launched a crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses, triggering strong protests from meat traders. Besides unlicenced private slaughterhouses, many government-owned slaughterhouses closed down due to licence issues triggering a hue and cry among 'kebab' connoisseurs in the City of Nawabs.
Adityanath installed the anti-Romeo squad with an aim to curb incidents of eve-teasing, public attacks on women, molestation, harassment and rape. But, with his government facing charges of moral policing, he had to order the squads to desist from harassing innocent citizens.
The state government cracked the whip by launching inquiries into projects cleared during the previous regimes of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. These included the Gomti River Front project, the Agra-Lucknow Expressway and construction of Lohia Path in Lucknow.
Claiming that his government has removed 'jungle raj' from Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath claimed that an atmosphere congenial to industrial development has been created in the state and invited entrepreneurs from abroad to the crime-free state. He also said there has not been a single incident of riot in the state during his regime. These claims were later rubbished when data from the home ministry showed 60 incidents of communal violence and 16 deaths in the state as of May this year, which is said to be the highest in the country.
The state capital hosted the international yoga day on 21 June with great pomp and show, and organised grand Diwali celebrations at Ayodhya, which once again shot to prominence after day-to-day hearing of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute and efforts of Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar to resolve the vexed issue.
(This story has been published in an arrangement with the Press Trust of India and has been edited for length.)
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