KT Exclusive: Tackling graft is the biggest challenge

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KT Exclusive: Tackling graft is the biggest challenge

India’s youngest Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is willing to walk the talk.
 He opens up to Khaleej Times on corruption, politics and governance 
and says this is his first and last examination in politics

By Anand Sagar

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Published: Mon 18 Jun 2012, 10:30 AM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 11:44 AM

What is probably most reassuring, and this is rather rare in Indian politics, is that this dynamic young politician — Akhilesh Yadav, the 38-year-old chief minister of Uttar Pradesh — not only knows precisely what all needs to be done to provide some much-needed good governance in this crucial north Indian state but, more importantly, also has several pragmatic ideas and a detailed route-map to ensure just that.

And, as he spoke to Khaleej Times correspondent at his official 5, Kalidas Marg, residence in the UP state capital Lucknow earlier this week, it was clear that Akhilesh is quite determined to prove to the people of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in the country, that he intends to deliver all he has promised.

What, perhaps, will make it easier is that his Samajwadi (Socialist) Party stormed back into power with such a stunning majority (winning 224 of the total 403 state legislative assembly seats) against all possible odds, earlier this year. After all, securing such a convincing single-party majority is becoming equally rare in Indian politics in this new age of coalition politics, cobbled opportunistic alliances and the almost inevitable fractured mandates.

Of course, a lot of what he promises lies in the future. Of course, it won’t be easy to minimise the systemic inertia in the bureaucracy that he has inherited and to maximise political transparency and public accountability. And, of course, he too will have his mix of successes and setbacks. But then, going by the various public-interest schemes and provisions in his first state budget which he has already presented it’s undoubtedly a beginning well made.

That Akhilesh is so willing to be tested in his pursuit of providing good governance is what counts. That he is certainly his own best critic when he admits candidly, “my entire future political career depends on how I perform right now,” matter even more. But it still remains to be seen to what extent he eventually meets his objectives for he has yet to complete his first 100 days in office — which he shall on June 24.

And for starters, to add to his credibility and credit, Akhilesh, a progressive young politician and a diehard socialist, bears the full weight of his political legacy lightly. And he does all this with a warm, infectious, smile and courteous manners to match. He has already triumphed thrice from UP as a member of the Lok Sabha (the lower elected House of India’s bicameral national parliament) and is the son of influential Samajwadi Party supremo and sitting MP Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has himself thrice been chief minister of UP. Not surprisingly, it all enhances his political appeal in the eyes of not only his own supporters but his political opponents’ as well.

The same can hardly be said of the other ‘star’ politician from a rival political party that Akhilesh is most often compared with — Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress. The latter too is a scion of a powerful political family from this state — the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty — and is the son of Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi and a sitting MP from Amethi in UP. But the rout of the Congress (and almost all others) in the wake of the dramatic SP onslaught in the recent state polls has already begun to realign various political equations. And for this, as Akhilesh says, “The Congress Party and Rahul Gandhi can hardly blame anyone else…in politics you need to go beyond mere political rhetoric and public posturing.”

That Akhilesh, the country’s youngest chief minister, is willing to match his actions to his words is a measure of his own public commitment and political credibility. That he also knows that nothing less would do is also just as well.

Excerpts from the interview:

KhaleejTimes: Now that you and your Samajwadi Party (SP) have already secured such a spectacular mandate, is there some ‘nervousness’ that you may have actually promised too much to too many?

Akhilesh Yadav: To begin with we are not nervous at all…all that we have promised in our manifesto is what we intend to accomplish over a tenure of five years. I have covered most of it in my very first budget and, hopefully, everything else too would be covered before the end of my first term as chief minister.

You are on the verge of completing your first 100 days in office, so what has been the biggest challenge you have confronted so far?

That’s easy to answer. The biggest challenge is to tackle organised, systemic, corruption and obviously it will take some time to remove it…or reduce it. Much of it has actually been inherited from my predecessor Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party government…which functioned whimsically and entirely in self-interest instead of public interest. It was definitely not a government ‘for the people’ and to make matters worse it bankrupted the state treasury. My second big challenge is to now identify the right kind of bureaucrats and officials at the top who will deliver what we want…and to ensure that if they fail or misuse their authority and power they are held accountable. But I can assure of one thing… there will be no political vendetta.

But the SP itself has had a rather controversial public image in the past; you have struggled and managed to change it which is why today you have this massive mandate. But can you now safely sustain it?

I know. We were accused of ‘hooliganism’ — Gunda Raj — and of fostering lawlessness. A lot of it was just vicious political propaganda but still we have now managed to effectively counter this public perception. I have myself tried consciously to ensure we chose our party candidates more carefully so that our party’s image is not tarnished again. And if at all it is, tough action would be taken against all those found guilty on this count. As you may know we have already removed or suspended more than 48 government officials in less than 100 days. And as and when required more such action will follow. The state Lok Ayukta (ombudsman) has been adequately empowered. Some are already in jail…more will go to jail. We are fully assisting the Central Bureau of Investigation and other inquiry agencies to investigate all such cases of corruption or ‘looting’ of public funds.

Surely, considering that you still have many of the powerful old guard in your government in prominent positions, it won’t be easy to do what you say you will?

True. But you see even before I became CM my party had trusted me by appointing me as the president of its state unit… it was felt that I will be able to reorganise and revamp it. One newspaper mentioned that I was working with my father’s old team… I agree. But also I always consult and take political advice from my party’s senior leaders…I’m also cautious to ensure they do not feel that I or my younger colleagues in government are in any way deliberately trying to ‘upstage’ them. But there are always new situations and new realities…there must therefore always also be new ideas and approaches which is the hallmark of any good governance.

Is there really a major ‘generational shift’ in your style of political management and in your government? To what extent do you think you are your father’s son? If yes, how? If no, how?

This party was founded by my father who struggled to bring it to power (which he did thrice) and it’s true that in many ways we are following his advice and his directions…but, also, I am learning how best to adapt and to adopt new political solutions to be able to respond to and resolve the various problems which we confront.

Does such ‘feudal’ dynastic politics really have a role and relevance in modern India?

No. no…you are looking at it so negatively. Look at it this way…no other political party can offer such a viable combination of the old and the experienced and the young and the bold… and that, in fact, is personally my biggest advantage, my party’s biggest strength. For instance Netaji (as my father is popularly known) can always deal with opponents like Mayawati and combat others who belong to his generation…while I can better connect with and handle Gen X. What could be better?

How do you react to the countrywide anti-corruption campaign launched by social activists like Anna Hazare and the yoga teacher-turned-political guru Baba Ramdev?

Both are today big names in Indian politics. Both are highly respected and both can play a crucial transformational role… because the people are so completely fed up with rampant corruption and the ever-rising influence of muscle and money power (especially in politics) which is wrecking almost every sphere of our society. Something needs to be done and now…and we need people who can carry on such a crusade. The good thing is that we do have many such people.

Does it mean India needs more young politicians like you in positions of power?

Yes. But in any democracy it’s actually always all about performance and not really about power.

Take my own case… I know that this is my first and last exam in politics. It’s a chance of a lifetime that I can neither afford to nor intend to lose. It’s also my first big opportunity to now do what I know I can and must as chief minister…that’s the responsibility which comes with this job. But now suppose that I fail in this ‘exam’ what then? Obviously, I’ll be out. I must therefore perform well and deliver promptly on my promises…I have no other choice. And I never compromise with my convictions or my commitments. If I give you my word, I shall always keep it…

What are your passions beyond politics?

I love sports, especially football and cricket, and music. I listen to any kind of good Indian or western music and often I listen to captivating ghazal singers like the great Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali.

But, as you can see, right now I really have no time for anything else except politics 24/7 — there’s so much to be done to improve the overall situation in this state and I have to make sure that it does.- news@khaleejtimes.com

If I were the PM, I would...

KhaleejTimes: What, if you were the prime minister of India, are the first five things you’d like to do?

Akhilesh Yadav: Must you ask me this at this moment? Well, you see right now all I have is a mandate to run and manage this state not this country. But, in my opinion, as far as any prime minister of this country is concerned I think the PM must concentrate on ensuring that firm economic fundamentals are put in place.

And given the excruciating plight of many farmers in many parts of the country, their problems must be resolved on a priority basis simply because of the large number of people involved — as many as 70 per cent of our billion-plus population — and they must be given the relief they deserve and the right kind of incentives to carry on. We are essentially an agrarian society and they play a very vital role in our economy. The progress of this country depends directly on their progress and their welfare. We have, as such, already outlined several specific and detailed proposals in our Samajwadi Party manifesto and these have already been incorporated into our government’s budgetary provisions.

Why do think the country is getting into such an economic mess? If I were the PM I would also have worked aggressively for widening our manufacturing industry base and increased both production and employment in key sectors.

The good thing is that at least as far as the infrastructure is concerned, we are doing well at both the national and the state level. Of course, a lot more still needs to be done.

Also, as you can guess, with a Master’s in Environmental Engineering (from Sydney) that for me would be another major area of emphasis. And given the rising global concerns there are a number of initiatives which need to be taken immediately to protect our environment.

Above all, there must be an end to the kind of outrageous corruption scams and scandals which are being exposed almost on a daily round-the-clock basis! The people are fed up and will not tolerate any government or political party which fails either to remove such corruption…or at least to reduce it. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the Centre has a lot to answer for…and come the 2014 parliamentary elections in India, it will surely be held accountable by the people for all its acts of commission and omission. After all, shouldn’t we all get the kind of good government and governance that we deserve?


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