11 months on, Akhilesh Yadav begins calling the shots

Lucknow, Feb 9 (IANS) Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is finally walking out of father Mulayam Singh Yadav's shadow, carefully building the state's business profile, looking into the nitty-gritty of key government schemes and rejigging the bureaucracy and his council of ministers. As an aide put it, 'Bhaiyyaji' is finally calling the shots.

The 39-year-old, who took over the reins of India's most politically significant and populous state of 200 million people last March, has had a tough one year - battling allegations that he was unable to shake off the influence of his father, the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) chief, or his 'uncles'. Mulayam Singh's brother, PWD Minister Shivpal Singh Yadav, and senior SP leader, Urban Development Minister Mohammed Azam Khan, have been frequent embarrassments with their public utterances.

Now, it appears, Akhilesh Yadav is determined to come into his own as events of the last month have shown.

He shunted Anil Kumar Gupta from the all powerful post of the Infrastructure and Industrial Development Commissioner (IIDC) and holding six other charges to an insignificant board of revenue member post. In a bid to make sure that the state's business profile was enhanced, he personally oversaw preparations and fine-tuned major policies at the CII Global Partnership Summit in Agra.

"He changed the officially planned schedule and openly interacted with the business delegates and industry captains for several hours, taking us by surprise" a senior official told IANS.

Creatively too, insiders said, the chief minister has taken the "reins in his own hands" and decides on the publicity "make up" of government schemes like the Kanya Vidya Dhan Yojna, Hamari Beti, Unka Bhavishya and personally sits for the creatives.

"The CM is very particular about the image of the state government and about how well the information is disseminated to the masses," said an official.

He has also rejigged the state bureaucracy and police, transferring more than 30 high-ranking officials.

"Akhilesh Yadav knows that time is running out for him fast as he nears the first year as chief minister. He now wants to set the agenda," said one of his secretaries.

To create an investment-friendly environment in the state, the chief minister's office is working in close tandem with the office of the chief secretary. Visits of foreign delegations are being streamlined so that the chief minister gets to meet them.

In the last few months, more than a dozen foreign business delegations, diplomats and business heads have met him. These include billionaire Bill Gates, his wife Melinda Gates as well as the envoys of key countries like the US, Britain, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

"The chief minister seriously wants a makeover of the image of the state," said Prabhat Mittal, managing director of Uttar Pradesh Electronics Corporation Limited, which oversaw the bidding process of the Rs.2,800 crore global tender of 1.5 million laptops to be distributed free to students who has passed Class 12.

The process, part of the SP poll manifesto promise, won kudos from Hewlett-Packard India, which won the bid.

"I must admit that when we filed for the tender, we were very apprehensive from what we had heard about UP from industry sources. But the transparency and smooth processing of the whole process has left me pleasantly surprised," Ajay Sehgal, country sales manager, told IANS.

Politically too, insiders said, Akhilesh Yadav has started asserting himself.

On Thursday, he added one cabinet minister and 10 ministers to his 11-month government. "The induction of young ministers like Vijay Mishra and Nitin Agarwal sure has the Akhilesh stamp," said a senior SP leader.

The chief minister knows that any further delay in setting the agenda could be ominous for his political career in the long term and is now looking for deliverables.

Opposition leaders said it might be too late.

"Akhilesh was always seen as someone who is clean and well meaning but in the past one year he has lost that aura," said Bharatiya Janata Party's Vijay Bahadur Pathak.

The Bahujan Samaj Party's Swamy Prasad Maurya was more critical.

"The chief minister's performance has been criticised by his father and others openly. There are so many chief ministers in the state. UP is completely messed up," he said.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at mohit.d@ians.in)

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