With the election season heating up in Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is banking on an improved law and order situation in the state to help him combat a resurgent Samajwadi Party (SP).
As per surveys, the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP is closing the gap and gaining momentum. Meanwhile, in his speeches and interviews, Adityanath has been highlighting the law and order as one of the topmost achievements of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
On January 2, while laying the foundation stone for a sports university in Meerut in western UP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed that under the Adityanath government the law and order situation in UP has improved.
During the past 4.5 years, bulldozers have razed unauthorized properties of mafias, causing pain to those patronising them.
Law and order has featured among the top three factors which are likely to influence voting patterns. Twenty-one percent of respondents in the Jan Ki Baat survey said they would vote based on the law and order situation. This is a clear departure from the past when other factors gained prominence — so much that law and order was not a prominent electoral issue.
When it comes to law and order, the perception about the SP is not a favourable one. In a 2017 post-poll survey done in the state, the SP ranked third after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as better equipped in maintaining law and order.
Mayawati has a comparatively better image than Yadav when it comes to maintaining law and order. After all, in 2002 she arrested and sent to jail Kunda MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh (aka Raja bhaiyya). According to a Lokniti post-poll survey, 14 percent of respondents said that the law and order situation had deteriorated under Mayawati’s rule; 33 percent felt that way under Yadav’s tenure.
Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that serious crimes such as murder (-23 percent), kidnapping (-19 percent), rioting (-24 percent), rape (-43 percent) have witnessed a decline during Adityanath’s tenure. However, the state’s share of crimes in India has increased from 9.67 percent in 2016 to 11 percent in 2020.
There has been visible action against criminals, especially against history-sheeters such as Atiq Ahmed, and Mukhtar Ansari, whose illegal properties have been seized. Gangster Vikas Dubey, who was arrested for killing eight cops, was killed in an encounter in 2020.
It is alleged that the Adityanath administration has targeted minority communities through these actions, which has led to resentment. The Dubey encounter case has also angered the influential Brahmin community who have been traditionally backing the BJP.
That said, an improved law and order situation normally portends well for business, and the economy.
However, a blip in the law and order statistics is the ~142 percent increase in atrocities against SC/ ST. At a time when the BJP is wooing the Dalits from a weakening BSP, this could damage the saffron party’s prospects.
Human right activists have criticised the high number of encounters during the current BJP government. The policy of ‘thok do’ (finish off) as an open call to deal with criminals followed by Operation Langda has rubbed a section of people the wrong way. The administration claims that criminal gangs have either been eliminated or forced to shift to other states in view of the relentless action that the police force has taken in the last five years.
The Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Ordinance, 2020 is a hit among the majority community. This Act puts a stop to the anti-CAA protests, and helped the Adityanath government recover monies from perpetrators. It has helped the Chief Minister establish his image as a strong administrator.
Will an improved law and order situation propel the BJP to retain power in the all-important state of UP? No one issue wins elections for any party; it is a myriad of issues such as development, caste dynamics, popularity of the leadership, unemployment, price rise, etc. which impacts results.
Elections are all about narrative, perception and timing. While the BJP would like to reiterate how the law and order situation has improved in Uttar Pradesh over the last five years, the party’s gameplan can work or backfire depending on how the people perceive it.
Amitabh Tiwari is a former corporate and investment banker-turned political strategist and commentator. Twitter: @politicalbaaba.Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.