Governments are judged on their performance. But for a government which is only a year old, it must be assessed both on its performance and intention. As the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh turns a year old on 19 March, some of its policy decisions stand out, despite shortcomings in their implementations.
The first was its crackdown on abattoirs. In the developed world like the US and Europe, you can see meat shops, but you will not see animals being slaughtered in residential localities.
In India, butchers slaughter animals in public. Yogi's decision to regulate slaughterhouses was correct. But he acted without a plan, without giving notice, uprooting butchers of their livelihood.
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Communalism, Public Harassment of Women Remain
Since butchers are mostly Muslims, it was seen as a communal move because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) raises Muslim issues which mobilise Hindu voters. Yogi's past role in mobilisation of Hindus played a part in this perception.
In many towns, police extracted bribes even from butchers whose abattoirs were legal. India is a spiritual nation. But cops have sold their souls. In any town, policemen extract hafta even from poor street vendors.
Yogi’s second big decision was to establish the so-called ‘anti-Romeo squads’ in police stations, keeping in mind that public harassment of women across India is a fact of daily life. Again, his government failed to evolve a plan – first, by not preparing a list of dos and don’ts for cops who are largely illiterate about our constitutional values of liberty and equality. Boys and girls out together were stopped by cops, sometimes dragged to police stations. For a moment, we appeared to be part of a ‘police state.’
The state of Uttar Pradesh treated even adult citizens as criminals and suspects. A serious problem with this policy was also a characteristic of Indian culture in which men see women as their property. The ‘anti-Romeo squads’ were supported by the constituency of citizens who are patriarchal and think that men mustn't get close to women. This serves the BJP's cultural ideology, and its vote bank.
Public harassment in UP hasn't stopped; only change in social attitude can stop this completely.
UP Heading Towards Becoming a ‘Police State’
The chief minister's third decision is the policy of ‘encounters.’ In India, encounters mean: cops arrest a criminal, ask him to run, and shoot him dead. Sometimes, cops fire at another cop to make it look like a genuine encounter.
This is not Bollywood; it is reality.
On 15 February, Yogi told the Uttar Pradesh Assembly that 40 criminals were killed during 1,200 encounters during his rule. Even by a cursory look, the sheer number of encounters means that the police are involved in deliberate murders.
Former police officer Prakash Singh wrote recently that the guidelines are clear. One, the National Police Commission requires a judicial inquiry in all cases where two or more persons are killed in police firing.
Two, the National Human Rights Commission requires that a magisterial inquiry must be held in all cases of death involving police action.
Three, the Supreme Court has ruled that an independent probe must be held in encounters by the CID or a team from another police station.
It's unclear if the Yogi government is following these guidelines. In India, police regularly misuse their power. As per a report, the NHRC registered 1,782 fake encounter cases across India during 2000-2017; of these, UP alone accounts for 44.55 percent.
Once corrupt practices are embedded into government departments, it is difficult to eradicate them. The risk is that the Yogi government is creating a corrupt police state which will haunt the citizens of Uttar Pradesh in the long term. This rot will set in, in the institutions of the Indian republic.
Yogi Govt’s Education Reforms Have Potential
In the 12th month of Yogi in power, about 66.37 lakh students began taking the class 10 and class 12 board examinations. He launched a crackdown against mass scale cheating in examinations and curbed the education mafia. As a result, a million students dropped out of these examinations.
Though it sounds cruel, the Yogi government’s crackdown against cheating must be implemented throughout India. Each year, schools across India are reproducing mediocrity and ignorance, which derails India’s rise in the world.
Unlike many of his policies such as those on the abattoirs and anti-Romeo squads, it appears that the Yogi government has thought through its policy on education and examinations.
The crackdown against cheating is planned to be supported by the retraining of teachers. Also, the chief minister is to announce a policy of free education up to class 12, which will benefit all communities. In India, free education usually means no school fees. But free education must mean more: free books, free clothes, free meals, free hostels – at the very least for those from below-poverty-line (BPL) families.
Speaking in Shahjahanpur on 25 February, Yogi had said: “Contrary to the dynastic politics, casteism and politics of appeasement practised by the previous government in the past one-and-half decades, Uttar Pradesh has witnessed development in the past 11 months of BJP rule.”
This statement is misleading. His own government has engaged in politics of appeasement, notably by doubling the subsidy for Hindu pilgrims visiting Mansarovar – at a time the BJP is taking credit for ending the Haj subsidy. He has made many promises, which can be judged only in the future.
A Need for Moderation & Greater Scrutiny
Yogi was appointed as chief mister in a controversial context, especially because of his ability to polarise the electorate. Yogi's own efforts in communal consolidation of Hindus – for example, by raising Hindutva issues in Karnataka – are for everyone to see. It remains to be seen if politics can have a moderating influence on him.
Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organisation founded by Yogi, has been making headlines for attacking Muslims. It seems that the chief minister has tried to restrain them. Yet, with the rise of the BJP, especially polarising leaders like Yogi, Muslim fundamentalists are on the defensive, albeit temporarily. This has opened up spaces for liberal Muslims and Muslim women to speak up. This was not possible under the so-called ‘secular rulers.’
It is a mistake for Yogi to claim that development has taken place in Uttar Pradesh in the past 11 months of the BJP rule. The only development that is visible across India is the exercise of road building. It was initiated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
BJP leaders can claim credit, but the governments of Manmohan Singh, Akhilesh Yadav, Nitish Kumar and many others can take credit for this equally. Beyond this, the Indian economy is sluggish. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks like a non-performing asset.
If any BJP leader were to use slogans of Modi's ‘Achhe Din’ and ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas,’ the BJP would certainly lose the next elections. People serve political parties – not people. Accepting his Nobel prize for literature, Albert Camus had famously said that a writer “cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it.”
In modern times, governments are too big, too complex, and have the resources to mislead people. As the Yogi government enters its second year, there is a greater need for scrutiny.
(Tufail Ahmad is a Senior Fellow for Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He tweets as @tufailelif. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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