High-octane electoral politics eclipsed major developments during 2017 in Uttar Pradesh where the BJP was on a roll, coming to power with a bang and ending the year by sweeping the civic polls. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath passed his first test with flying colours as the BJP pocketed the civic polls – viewed as a referendum ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 – winning 14 out of 16 mayoral seats in the state, with only the BSP among the Opposition parties recovering lost ground bagging two seats. The saffron surge routed the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, both of which drew a blank. The year began with the erstwhile ruling Samajwadi Party grappling with the worst-ever family feud in the Mulayam Singh Yadav clan which led to the coronation of his son Akhilesh Yadav as the new party boss replacing his father, the 79-year- old party patriarch. Though the bitterness within the SP kept hogging newspaper headlines quite often and cost the party dearly at the hustings, the bickering had a fairy tale ending towards the end of the year with the father-son duo patching up.
Besides the rough and tumble of politics, the year will go down in the pages of history as one that saw a series of train mishaps, an explosion in NTPC boiler in Raebareli claiming over 30 lives and stampedes at some religious places, including Ayodhya, that exposed the chinks in the official machinery. Hooch tragedies in the state, including the one in Azamgarh in July in which around 20 people died after consuming spurious liquor, prompted the government enact a law that provides for death sentence to bootleggers. Uttar Pradesh became the third state, after Delhi and Gujarat, where bootleggers may be sent to the gallows, if consumption of spurious liquor leads to a loss of life.
The year dawned amid hectic electioneering as Uttar Pradesh – the most populous and politically crucial state – witnessed key political masterstrokes in the run up to the assembly elections in February-March that saw the BJP juggernaut steamroll the SP-Congress combine and the BSP. The SP and the Congress had joined hands ahead of the assembly elections, but both parties came a cropper and even Mayawati’s ‘elephant’ – the BSP symbol – could not withstand the saffron surge. The results gave the BJP a landslide victory with 325 of the 403 assembly seats going to it and his allies, riding on the crest of “Na Gundaraj, Na Bhrashtachar, Abki baar BJP Sarkar” wave, leaving the opposition in deep despair. After days of suspense as to who would head the BJP government, saffron-clad priest-turned-politician Yogi Adityanath donned the mantle of the chief minister at the age of 44 and marched ahead with a no-nonsense approach, though some of his tough decisions often not going down well with the masses.
At his action-packed cabinet meetings during his initial days in power, Adityanath took drastic steps to improve law and order and difficult decisions like farm loan waiver. A workaholic, the chief minister toiled beyond normal duty hours, literally burning the mid-night oil, only to get back to his desk early next morning, keeping the bureaucracy on its toes all the while. Adityanath directed his ministers to remove red beacons from their cars, declaring that no politician should flaunt a ‘VIP status’. He also urged all ministers to disclose their assets to the CM secretariat within a fortnight. When his government completed six months in office in September, Adityanath released a detailed ‘white paper’ on the working of previous governments in the state and a status report on his own government’s policies and achievements since he assumed office on March 19. Though he claimed to have fulfilled most of the promises the BJP made during the election campaign, the Opposition stepped up the attack on the ruling party claiming that misses have outnumbered the hits.
The death of 65 children, allegedly due to the lack of oxygen, in a state-run medical college in his native turf Gorakhpur dented Adityanath’s aura. In his first state Cabinet meeting, Adityanath waived farm loans to the tune of Rs 36,000 crore. Described as a populist and quick fix measure to score brownie points, the move was said to have benefited around 86 lakh small and marginal farmers. Four days into office, the chief minister launched a crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses, triggering strong protests from meat traders. Besides unlicenced private slaughterhouses, many government-owned slaughterhouses closed down due to licence issues triggering a hue and cry among ‘kebab’ connoisseurs in the City of Nawabs.
Adityanath installed the anti-Romeo squad with an aim to curb incidents of eve-teasing, public attacks on women, molestation, harassment and rape. But, with his government facing charges of moral policing, he had to order the squads to desist from harassing innocent citizens. The state government cracked the whip by launching inquiries into projects cleared during the previous regimes of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. These included the Gomti River Front project, the Agra-Lucknow Expressway and construction of Lohia Path in Lucknow. The Uttar Pradesh government, in collaboration with the central government, signed the 24×7 ‘Power for All’ agreement to provide electricity to every household in the state by October 2018. Fulfilling the promise made to sugarcane farmers, dues of 93 per cent of cane growers have been paid, according to figures provided by the BJP.
Claiming that his government has removed ‘jungle raj’ from Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath maintained that an atmosphere congenial to industrial development has been created in the state and invited entrepreneurs from abroad to the crime-free state. He also said there has not been a single incident of riot in the state during his regime. An anti-land mafia force has been set up in the state to ensure that Jawahar Bagh kind of violence did not recur. Two policemen and 22 squatters were killed in clashes on June 2 last year at the Jawahar Bagh public park in Mathura. The state capital hosted with great pomp and show the international yoga day on June 21 and organised grand Diwali celebrations at Ayodhya, which once again shot to prominence after day-to-day hearing of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute and efforts of Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar to resolve the vexed issue.
Adityanath paid a visit to Taj Mahal amid controversial remarks by leaders from across the political spectrum. Natural calamities like floods in eastern Uttar Pradesh and drought like situation in Bundelkhand kept the authorities busy in mitigating the sufferings of the affected people. For the first time, Uttar Pradesh gave the country its new president – Ramnath Kovind – who represented the state in the Rajya Sabha before becoming the Bihar governor to finally shift to the Raisina Hills. The state had the dubious distinction of witnessing some major train mishaps this year. In August, 23 passengers were killed and 150 injured when the Utkal Kalinga Express derailed in Muzaffarnagar district. The same month saw the Kaifiyat Express jump rails in Auraiya district in which around 50 passengers were injured.
The back to back tragedies led to a change in the national carrier’s leadership with Suresh Prabhu being replaced by Piyush Goyal and Railway Board chairman AK Mittal making way for Ashok Lohani. The Patna-bound Vasco Da Gama Express train derailed near Manikpur railway station in Chitrakoot district in November, leaving three passengers dead and nine injured. As part of the Swachcha Bharat Mission, the state declared four districts – Shamli, Hapur, Bijnore and Ghaziabad – open defecation free this year.