Will ‘development’ speak for itself again in UP?

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The slogan kaam bolta hai (Work speaks for itself) may not have yielded expected results for the Samajwadi Party and its Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in the recently-concluded assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, work on most of the mega projects initiated by the SP regime is not likely to be affected after the Bharatiya Janata Party government gets going.

Work on the first phase of the Metro train is continuing at a fast pace on the stretch between the airport and the railway station in Lucknow. The officials, engineers and workmen involved in the task are hopeful that the Metro stretch between Transport Nagar (close to the Lucknow airport) to Charbagh (railway station) would be opened for commercial run by March 27, the date fixed by the outgoing Government.

UP election

The Lucknow Metro is the most visible among the dozens of projects initiated by the SP government, and in fact the party had, in its election campaign, even claimed that the Lucknow Metro had been 'completed' in record time. And this had prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take a dig at the SP, saying that he would like to come to Lucknow and take a ride in the Metro with Akhilesh Yadav -- if the Metro was ready to run at all.

Five years could admittedly be not enough for more than a dozen mega projects to be initiated, completed and opened for the public, regardless of the composition and complexion of any Government. The SP government appeared to be in a hurry to launch several projects especially after 2014 when Akhilesh had settled down in his work, but the remainder term of his government was just not enough for all projects to be commissioned. During most of 2016 and the election campaign in January-February, Akhilesh was candid enough to admit that he was inaugurating the projects regardless of the state of their completion so that he could beat the "election code of conduct" deadline.

Unfortunately for him, the hurried inauguration of incomplete projects such as the Lucknow Metro, Lucknow-Agra Expressway, Awadh Shilp Gram (handicraft and cultural complex), Gomti riverfront development in Lucknow, Dial-100 (police response system) and some others did not pay the expected dividends. Not only the half-completed state of these projects came to be known by more and more people, the intent of the ruling party to take electoral mileage out of this regardless of their completion went against the SP.

Akhilesh's disappointment at the mega projects' failure to win him the election is obvious -- he said at a post-result press conference that the people of the state probably wanted the bullet train instead of the Metro train. "Maybe the people didn't like the expressway we built, maybe they voted in hope of a bullet train in UP," he said. Hoping that the next government will do 'better than us', Akhilesh sounded as if he had been humble in accepting defeat, but clearly he is deeply hurt by the electoral failure of his so-called 'development plank'.

Many spokesmen of the SP and its ally Congress, have been saying that the UP results are a 'defeat of development'. However, responses of people with no political affiliation, indicates that claiming credit for any sort of development has never been profitable for any political party in the past. The spectacular failure of the 'India Shining' campaign in the run-up to the 2004 Lok Sabha election is remembered as a case in point.

According to J P Shukla, veteran political analyst, apparently, people expect ruling parties to do some work that is visible, for which claiming credit is never profitable. "Building roads, parks, memorials and monuments may have added to certain cities' splendour but it did not help the Bahujan Samaj Party acquire electoral gains," he remembers.

Will it weigh upon the new BJP government and the chief minister, so much so that they will shy away from starting something ambitiously new and grand? According to indications, the BJP government is not likely to launch mega schemes but the focus could be on timely and qualitative completion of existing, half-ready projects. "The Lucknow Metro project is partly Centre-funded, and completing it on time is assured, and other projects where external finance is involved, too will be taken up after a routine review," according to a BJP leader who did not wish to be named at least until after the new chief minister is named.

Work on the Lucknow-Agra Expressway, too, is continuing with the only difference being that its completion may take a little more time than proposed. Work on other projects, however, has slowed down and probably awaits directives from the new government.
With the failure of the kaam bolta hai slogan fresh in the minds of the BJP leaders, the party is not likely to go for a similar campaign in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Instead, the party would like its development agenda to speak for itself, with the focus likely to be on improving the state of governance, tightening of the police and law and order machinery, and creating an environment of fair decision-making devoid of caste or community biases, according to party leaders. A major decision regarding small farmers' loan waiver could be a beginning.

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