Is Uttar Pradesh slipping out of Akhilesh Yadav's hands? Even as the beseiged 41-year-old chief minister firefights criticism in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha drubbing the Samajwadi Party (SP) received last month, the jury is out on his possible eclipse by his overbearing uncles and demanding father and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.
And so, even as he tries hard to infuse some semblance of control in the moribund bureaucracy and party leadership, changing his cabinet colleagues, sacking ministers and transferring bureaucrats, it appears to be too little and too late. That Akhilesh Yadav is slowly being sidelined from important decision-making was evident on Friday when in his third budget, he was "coerced" to bury his pet projects - Kanya Vidya Dhan, free laptops to those clearing Class 12 and an unemployment allowance - for which no funds were allotted for 2014-15.
This is a significant signal from the SP leadership, admits a state leader close to the chief minister. While there have been charges of backseat driving ever since the environment engineer-turned-politician took over as the state's youngest chief minister in 2012, the budget this time round is the most "emphatic document" of the SP leadership's "restlessness and open assertiveness" against Akhilesh Yadav's scheme of things and style of functioning, said a knowledgeable source.
State BJP spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak dittoed this. "There cannot be a sharper and clearer rebuke for Akhilesh Yadav than the scrapping of his free laptop project, something on which he swept to power with 224 of the 403 seats in 2012," he pointed out. Yadav senior was never comfortable with the laptop dole and, at the first opportunity, called for its shelving.
A few days ago, Mining Minister Gayatri Prajapati had spoken openly of the need to do away with the scheme, only to be ticked by the chief minister who said it was the "personal opinion" of his cabinet colleague. Two weeks down, Akhilesh Yadav had to eat the humble pie and yield to the party leadership's diktat.
The party agreed that these schemes had not helped it electorally and needed to be buried.
Akhilesh Yadav is also being blamed for the drift in the bureaucracy. "The chief minister is a nice boss but not a tough task master." a senior IAS officer noted, adding that most officials take him "lightly and non-seriously".
More than 250 IAS, IPS, PCS and PPS officials have been transferred in the last one month.
"By sacking officials and transferring them for a spurt in crimes is not an answer. He himself holds the home portfolio in which case he himself should quit," said Swamy Prasad Maurya of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and leader of the opposition in the state assembly.
The government under Akhilesh Yadav is sinking fast and would be decimated in the 2017 assembly polls," Maurya told IANS, scoffing at the claims of good governance.
Politically too Akhilesh Yadav's leadership has failed to inspire confidence in the cadres. He holds the state president's post and the recent poor showing at the Lok Sabha polls cannot be glossed over, a senior SP leader said.
A resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), fresh from its landslide of 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state, is breathing down the government's neck, holding demonstrations on the power crisis gripping the state and plunging the state assembly into turmoil over failing law and order in the state. The SP could manage only five, with the Congress and the Aapna Dal claiming two each.
Akhilesh Yadav's ambitious plans for infrastructure development too have not borne enough fruit. The IT city in Lucknow got delayed for several months for want of bidders, the eight-lane "game changer" expressway between Agra and Lucknow remained a non-starter with private companies not showing interest, forcing the state government to take it in its own hands. The project has been allocated more than Rs.3,000 crore in the 2014-15 budget.
IT companies are seething in anger with the shelving of the laptop scheme, while another ambitious scheme of free tablet PCs for those who clear Class 10 pass never saw the light of the day.
The exit of a friendly governor from Raj Bhavan and a "hostile" government taking over in Delhi are added worries that Akhilesh Yadav will have to contend with. With such odds stacked against him, recent pronouncements of police modernization, overhaul of the power sector and re-energizing the bureaucracy look hollow and worthless for now! The only consolation: assembly polls are still two years away.