From GB Pant to Yogi, how UP CMs reflect India’s political journey

Shyamlal Yadav’s ‘At the Heart of Power’ also serves well as a riveting saga of our democracy

GN Bureau | June 24, 2024

#Uttar Pradesh   #Politics   #Shyamlal Yadav   #Charan Singh   #VP Singh   #Yogi Adityanath  
(Photo: Governance Now)
(Photo: Governance Now)

At the Heart of Power: The Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh
By Shyamlal Yadav
Rupa Publications, 320 pages, Rs 395
Uttar Pradesh is not only the most populous state, it is unarguably the most important state in Indian politics. In the table of world nations, only seven countries have more people (Bangladesh, ranking eighth, is smaller than Uttar Pradesh in terms of population). Given this size, it has an astounding diversity – of religions, cultures and landscapes, with a rich history. It should be called the microcosm of India – excerpt that there is nothing micro about it.

What started with the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, has continued in the present times of the incumbent PM, Narendra Modi: the road to power at the centre goes through the state of Uttar Pradesh. Either they hail from the state, or they represent the state in the Lok Sabha, or they go on to become the prime minister after having been the chief minister of this state (as was the case with Charan Singh and VP Singh).

The 21 chief ministers Uttar Pradesh has so far, from Goving Ballabh Pant to Yogi Adityanath, represent a broad spectrum of our political leaders – freedom fighters, organisers, charismatic. They also represent a wide variety of ideologies – only the Left is missing here.

Given this background, there was a need for an introductory work on the CMs of the bellwether state of Indian politics. Shyamlal Yadav, a renowned journalist currently with The Indian Express, has filled that gap with his book, ‘At the Heart of Power: The Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh’.

Also read: A review of one of Shyamlal Yadav’s previous books, ‘Journalism through RTI’

There are three points worth noting here: Firstly, brief as the chapters are, they pack all the drama and colour which are the hallmarks of Indian politics. Secondly, Yadav has covered the politics of the state as a reporter for long years, and his account has the flavour of the hustle and bustle captured by a witness. As for the previous generations of CMs, he has (it seems) collected anecdotes from the previous generations of reporters. In other words, this is not a desk editor’s compilation. Thirdly, in these highly polarised times, some would have a proclivity to take sides and some would end up doing so unknowingly, but Yadav has presented his account in as objective way as possible.  

A chapter is devoted to each of the chief ministers, presenting in gist the contours of their biography and political career. Some of them have been subjects of full book-length biographies. Political scientist Paul R Brass has written a three-volume biography of Charan Singh, while at least three biographies have been devoted to VP Singh. However, there are so many leaders in this book that are nearly forgotten – at least the new generation would have barely heard of. Yet, they have played crucial role in shaping our democracy. There were times when they hogged headline. This book will help news junkies among the youngsters familiarise themselves with the likes of Dr. Sampurnanand, Sucheta Kripalani, Kamalapati Tripathi, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna and Narayan Dutt Tiwari. Then there are some accidental CMs and placeholders too.

Also read: A review of Charan Singh’s biography by Paul R Brass

The journey of Uttar Pradesh from GB Pant to Yogi Adityanath is also the evolution of Indian polity from Independence to the present day. In under-300 pages, ‘At the Heart of Power’ is also a highly readable, meticulously researched and well told story of India’s politics – as it is practised in the state most critical for it.



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