It runs deep
There isn’t any great mystery behind why IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal has been suspended promptly by the usually lethargic Akhilesh Yadav government. Take on the entrenched interests and the punishment follows. And as a ruling SP MLA made it clear, it is democracy—UP style. Three thoughts.
First, the sheer brazenness of the SP government and its defenders is striking. It is widely believed that the party lost the 2007 elections because of the lawlessness it encouraged with its supporters running amok in the state. People hoped that Akhilesh Yadav would deliver a different government which upheld the rule of law (within the limitations this term is understood in that blighted state). Nothing could be further from the truth. From virtually the day it has assumed power, the SP government has encouraged lawlessness with it supporter’s believing that the good old days are back. There have been multiple incidences of communal violence where the government response has been very ineffective. In other cases, the representatives of the ruling party routinely threaten government officials and go unpunished. Indeed, it would be charitable to describe it as Akhilesh’s government; the state is run by the larger Yadav clan in alliance with Azam Khan with Mulyam Singh presiding over as the benevolent dictator. So much for the promise of change. And the promise of youth. The conclusion may be harsh but it is inescapable at this point: SP is simply too incorrigible to ever deliver effective governance.
Second, it is certainly gratifying that the local IAS officers are demanding ‘justice’ for the suspended officer. However, it should not be forgotten that this is an exception rather than the rule. It is in states like Uttar Pradesh (UP) where the administrative backbone of India has truly rusted. IAS officers have little authority to stand up for their colleagues because they have happily participated in the same machinations and have repeatedly sacrificed probity for power and pelf. No wonder, the likes of Narendra Bhati treat them with utter contempt.
Finally, if the word ‘secularism’ has acquired a negative connotation in certain quarters, then a significant share of the blame must lie with the parties which swear by this ideology. Witness how insulting the rhetoric is towards Muslims: They will automatically start rioting if anything illegal is associated with some members of the community. And witness how Muslims are exploited when the ‘secular’ ruling formation wants to protect the lawbreakers who are associated with the party. The utter contempt in which secularism—an important ideal for the Indian republic—is treated provides credibility to those who argue that it is merely a ‘veil’ to hide bad governance and vested interests.
With a population of over 100 million and strikingly high rates of poverty, UP is a state which needs change and a new development model. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the current government can deliver on that front. Or even ensure basic law and order. But then as Pratap Bhanu Mehta argued in a different context, its people do have the vote.