Over the recent decades two persistent electoral campaigns against any government in Uttar Pradesh had been built around issues of corruption and law-and-order challenges. Political power had either been lost or gained on discourse around these subjects. Now in the run-up to the 2022 assembly polls, as opposition parties try to build momentum against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, chief minister Yogi Adityanath so far seems to stand out in comparison to his predecessors in office.
Though rival parties have often levelled charges of corruption under Yogi rule, allegations against the man himself have not found many takers. The most recent case of an alleged large-scale scam that has now hit the state is that of pulse oximeters and infrared thermometers being purchased at inflated prices during the Covid-19 crisis.
While the reality of the 'scam' is still to be established, CM Adityanath has moved ahead ordering a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) in the case, thus, reflecting the intent that the government has nothing to hide and no one to shield.
Clearly, so far, the sanyasi-turned-chief minister seems to have been largely successful in not just preserving his image as an honest politician, but has also tried to cement his reputation as an “anti-corruption crusader”. His recent stern approach in cases of corruption against some top officers is a further indicator that the government wants to be seen as pursuing a zero-tolerance policy against corruption.
But even before these latest developments, where even a serving IPS officer was booked on murder charges in the very same district where he was till recently serving as the superintendent of police, the effort to carve out an “honest CM” image began quite early, at the outset of the BJP government’s tenure in 2017.
BEGINNING OF YOGI RAJ AND MR. CLEAN PERCEPTION
In March 2017, as political power changed hands in Uttar Pradesh, it was not just the BJP coming back to rule after almost 15 years, it was also about a different kind of politician occupying the chief minister’s office. Yogi Adityanath was so different from people who had occupied the chair in the past, or those within the BJP, who had ambitions for the top job.
As the saffron-clad mahant became the chief minister, the first message that went across was of the mythologically established notion about a Hindu saint being distant from wealth and worldly accumulations. In the days to come, Yogi Adityananth as CM carefully went ahead, further building on this image, as a man just dedicated to governance.
His round-the-clock work schedule, meetings extending till late in night and immediate intervention in the dirtiest of all departments, the mining department, set the pace for him. In the very first Vidhan Sabha session as chief minister in April 2017, Yogi Adityananth had said, “UP’s mining minister’s earnings appear to have gone up more than the state government’s revenue during the previous regime."
He was referring to the soft underbelly of corruption during the Akhilesh Yadav government where Gayatri Prajapati, as minister of mining department, had come to symbolise corruption at the highest level of governance.
The BJP government went ahead amending the Mining Act, bringing greater transparency in allocation of mining contracts and government tenders across departments. Three years down the line, the mining sector no longer has the same perception in the state.
OFFICERS UNDER SCANNER, SYSTEM PRUNED
As days went by and Yogi Adityanath firmed his grip on governance, it was time to set the house in order. A senior bureaucrat working closely with him since 2017, tells how strict the CM is in his meetings with officers, especially the ones on field duty in various districts. The message to them is clear: “Corruption and impropriety in office will not be tolerated."
Mrityunjay Kumar, the principal media adviser to the chief minister, says, “The Yogi Adityanath government’s track record so far is a testimony to the policy of zero tolerance to corruption. More than 600 officers and government employees have faced punitive action over the past two years for corruption charges. More than 250 officers and employees of various departments have also been given compulsory retirement following complaints of corruption and laxity in duty."
Another big step taken towards checking corruption in government offices was brought by emphasising on “ease of doing business”. The Nivesh Mitra portal was launched and promoted to bring around 123 such services online, from where no-objection certificates (NoCs) were required before starting an industry or business. So, as the process went online, the government claims, the scope of corruption was drastically reduced.
With UP jumping to second position from the previous 12th in the ease of doing business rankings recently released by the central government, it might be the proof needed to gauge the success of the Yogi government’s efforts.
THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE
At the moment the Uttar Pradesh CM and his government are again in the news for a series of actions announced against top serving bureaucrats. Serving IPS and IAS officers have been slapped with FIRs. The most glaring example is of IPS Mani Lal Patidar, who till recently was serving as SP of Mahoba district, but now has been suspended and booked for murder for allegedly threatening and getting a businessman killed when he refused to bribe the officer.
The bureaucracy in the state has been left rattled as orders for FIRs and departmental action have been announced against other top police and administrative officers as well in relation to corruption charges. The decision to announce an SIT probe in the alleged scam in the purchase of pulse oximeters and thermometers is also likely to see the axe falling on several officers and employees across the districts.
The question is has the UP CM suddenly upped the ante on corruption with eyes on the future and upcoming polls? The BJP’s top brass does not agree. Vijay Bahadur Pathak, MLC and BJP state vice-president, says “The question is not of electoral calculations. It is all about our party’s established commitment to policy of zero tolerance towards corruption. Yogi ji as chief minister has championed the cause and the people of Uttar Pradesh will naturally recognise this commitment to weed out corruption."