Lucknow, June 7: Akhilesh Yadav, the 43-year-old Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, has weathered many a crisis on the family and political fronts in the last four years. But the Mathura carnage that claimed 29 lives could hurt him the most in the run-up to assembly polls in the state early next year.
The Mathura violence last week, even Yadav's most ardent admirers admit in private, has "brought to his doorstep the biggest challenge" to his four-year-old rule.
"From other small things to Muzaffarnagar riots, Bhaiyya-ji (as he is known) has faced a lot, but Mathura seems to be the deepest wound of all," a close aide told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Pointing to the many developmental works and projects being done in the state, he rued that all has been undone by the violence at Mathura's Jawaharbagh Park last week in which two police bravehearts too died. While Akhilesh was unusually quick to admit the gaping holes in the state's intelligence set-up, which first let him down in Muzaffarnagar and now in Mathura, the damage seem to has been done.
Law and order in Uttar Pradesh has always made the headlines for all the wrong reasons but senior police officers have not only defended the incidents that have rocked the Samajwadi Party (SP) boat ever since it took office in March 2012, but have also spoken out openly of many "path-breaking and trend-setter projects like the Dial-100 being rolled out under Akhilesh Yadav.
The barbaric attack on its men and their deaths, however seem to have shaken the police force completely and irreversibly. In what were earlier murmurs, police officers are now openly talking about how they are paying with their lives while people like Ram Briksha Yadav, the leader of the cult that killed the policemen, were counting "political brownies" by sheltering such blatantly anti-social elements.
And so, it is not surpring that Akhilesh has been trolled on social networking sites like never before, with people of the state and even elsewhere trashing Yadav junior for the "breakdown of law and order in the state".
The palpable anger in the force can be gauged by the emotional outburst of a serving police officer who narrated his bond with the late Mathura Superintendent of Police Mukul Dwivedi and ended up by stating: "Bye Mukul, don't meet me ever again and one last thing, never be born in place like this ever."
The state government's spin doctors concede that "Mathura was an open wound which will bleed much beyond the assembly polls".
"The perception of 'jungle raj' in the state has got more credence and such talk is no longer about political allegations of the opposition. The world over has seen on television how and what happened," a worried officer told IANS.
The morale of both the police and the ruling party's cadre is at an ebb and even while optimists publicly vouch for the 'netagiri' of Akhilesh and say that "this too shall pass", in private they are candid enough to admit that "Mathura ki laptein, siyaasi taur par khatarnaak hain (The flames from Mathura are ominous for the state government)."
Politicaly, Mathura seems to be a perfect narrative for the opposition parties to begin their campaign for the 2017 polls. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo and four-time UP chief minister Mayawati, who is often remembered for good law and order during her government, has sharpened her attack on the arch rival Samajwadi Party and has sought Akhilesh Yadav's resignation.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), restless to end its 14-year-old 'van waas' (exile), is already on the war path. National spokesman Srikant Sharma, showing unusual alarcity, rushed to Mathura and the party sent many of its lawmakers, including local MP Hema Malini, to the spot. Party president Amit Shah, during his two-day tour over the weekend openly targeted the Samajwadi Party and went on to say that he had "no hesitation in saying that crime was at its nadir in UP than anywhere else in the country."
The state unit of the party has already announced protests at all 75 district headquarters this week. Generally one to keep out of state politics in UP, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has openly expressed his displeasure at the "sliding law and order in the state".
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), trying to gain a foothold in the state, has already sent a delegation to meet families of the slain police officers.
The chief minister, a senior political observer says, needs to understand that mere lip-service, mumbling out assurances and doling out financial assistance were neither a solution nor the way ahead. And even if he does act, a senior minister said, "it would be seen as too little, too late and a knee-jerk reaction".
For some time now, Akhilesh Yadav has been sporting grey hair on his sideburns. Some thought it to be a fashion statement or a willful attempt to break the youth image and look mature. After the Mathura tragedy, the greying hair might have a different story to tell.