Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's declaration on 14 April—B R Ambedkar's birthday—that the birth and death anniversaries of the inspiring leaders would not be observed as holidays anymore should be welcomed by all who believe in good governance.
It is but rarely that our political leaders come up with decisions that square with good governance objectives. That is because often good governance policies do not make good politics. Naturally, our leaders go for what they assume is good politics over what they know would make for good administration.
Akhilesh Yadav announced more than half a dozen holidays one after another to curry favour with specific caste and community groups.
The number of holidays observed in different states in general, and in Uttar Pradesh in particular, has virtually made the state administrations dysfunctional over the years. Ever since the introduction of the five-day week at the Centre in the Rajiv Gandhi era—which many state governments replicated due to the pressure of the local bureaucracy—the working days of the governments had already shrunk by one-third.
Add to it, gazetted holidays (17) and restricted holidays (three) enjoyed by every government official. Then throw in personal leave entitlement (privilege leave, casual leave and medical leave) that works out to almost 60 days annually. But that is not all. Many state leaders have been indiscriminatingly indulging in what is known as "holiday politics" to consolidate their vote bank. These states have much more than the 17 gazetted holidays declared by the Centre—it may or may not be a coincidence that these states also happen to be known for their deplorable administrative functioning.
For example, Haryana has declared 36 public holidays for 2017, more than double that of the Central government number. But Uttar Pradesh, possibly the worst governed state in the country traditionally, topped the list with 39 gazetted holidays and a whole list of restricted holidays for different regions of the state for the year 2017.
As a standard practice, a holiday is granted by the state to the people to enable them to celebrate significant religious festivals together. The state also declares holidays in recognition of the presumed historical significance of an event, practice or anniversary. It is seen by some as an institutionalised imposition, and even as an effort at creating a cultural uniformity, but, by and large, those on the government roll welcome holidays as another opportunity to get paid for doing no work. For most of them, the more holidays, the merrier.
Successive Uttar Pradesh governments have pandered to this sentiment in the most brazen manner. But one chief minister who must take the lion's share of the blame was Akhilesh Yadav who, during his five years in power (2012-17), announced more than half a dozen holidays one after another to curry favour with specific caste and community groups.
Yogi Adityanath has rightly taken the position that holidays on the birth and death anniversaries of inspirational leaders are counter-productive...
When his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, was the chief minister in 2004, he had declared 24 gazetted holidays in Uttar Pradesh (that number was almost at par with most other states). The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2007 and its leader Mayawati acted on predictable lines: she declared the birth and death anniversary days (15 March and 9 October respectively) of Kanshi Ram, the founder of the BSP, as public holidays.
When Akhilesh Yadav assumed power in 2012, he overturned Mayawati's decision, but to appease the Dalit sentiment, he declared 6 December, the death anniversary of B R Ambedkar, the inspirational leader of the Dalit community, as a holiday (Ambedkar's birthday had already been declared as a national holiday).
Akhilesh Yadav probably figured that by declaring every caste or community festival as a holiday he would win over their political support. As a result, Uttar Pradesh saw a spate of new holidays during his reign—Parashuram Jayanti, Guru Govind Singh Jayanti, Maharaja Agrasen Jayanti, Maharishi Valmiki Jayanti and the like. He also announced the birthday of former prime minister Chandrashekhar (17 April) as a holiday hoping that Rajputs (the caste that he belonged to) would rally behind him. To further consolidate the Thakur vote base behind him (they constitute 8% of Uttar Pradesh's electorate), Akhilesh Yadav declared 9 May, the birthday of Rajput warrior Maharana Pratap, as a holiday.
In his bid to wean away a section of the Dalit vote from Mayawati, Yadav declared 24 June, the birthday of Karpoori Thakur, a former chief minister of Bihar and a barber by caste, as a gazetted holiday. In a conference of 17 backward castes in February this year, he declared the birth anniversary of Maharishi Nishadraj (5 April) as a gazetted holiday.
The Chief Minister must extend this policy to the government offices which are today virtually dysfunctional because of a holiday every other day.
To appease the Jat sentiment, Yadav declared the birthday of Charan Singh (23 December) a holiday. To woo the Patel\Kurmi vote (which constituted 7% of the UP electorate and which had been assiduously cultivated by the BJP), Akhilesh Yadav went to the extent of declaring the birthday of the tallest leader belonging to the community, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, as a holiday (the BJP government at the centre had declared 31 October to be observed as a national unity day as a tribute to the "iron man' of India", but it had not declared a national holiday).
It helped that the same day is also the birthday of another towering leader of our freedom movement, Acharya Narendra Dev, who incidentally belonged to the influential Kayastha caste. Yadav duly sold it to Kayasthas to get their support.
Turning his attention to the minority vote, Akhilesh Yadav announced the birthday of Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Nawaz Urs ( to woo Shia and Sunni Muslims respectively) as holidays.
Akhilesh Yadav clearly thought that bestowing these holidays would earn him the electoral support of different castes and communities, and thus a better shot at power. But the results of the UP state elections on 11 March, which gave Akhilesh Yadav's party a humiliating drubbing, sent out a message loud and clear: short-sighted policies do not make good politics.
Yogi Adityanath, with a massive majority behind him, does not need to embrace low politics. He has rightly taken the position that holidays on the birth and death anniversaries of inspirational leaders (in fact, some of the leaders chosen by the Akhilesh government were hardly inspirational) are counter-productive—the day is not spent commemorating the good work of the leader, but spending leisurely time in cinema halls or malls. It defeats the very purpose of declaring a holiday on such occasions.
The Chief Minister correctly thinks that such a day would be better spent by organising special two-hour programmes highlighting the contribution of such leaders to the society, state and the country and spending the rest of the day doing normal activity.
Of course, Yogi Adityanath has made the first move only with regard to schools in UP—where the number of working days in a year has come down to barely 120 as against the national stipulation of 220 days.
That is a good beginning but if the Chief Minister wants the full import of his momentous decision to be realised, he must extend this policy to the government offices which are today virtually dysfunctional because of a holiday every other day.
Will Yogi Adityanath succeed in making the intransigent bureaucracy of the state fall in line?