Youthful chief of India's 'failed' Uttar Pradesh state vows to turn things around
The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh - where a series of rapes and killings has fuelled calls for it to be brought under New Delhi's control - has hit back at critics who have questioned his ability to lead the state, which has a population of 200 million.
With senior members of his administration warning things could get worse unless deep-rooted social problems are tackled, the heat is on Akhilesh Yadav. But he is fighting back.
"Because UP is a big state, politically, it is a very strong state and critics don't want to see a young chief minister here, they think 'let's damage him'," Yadav, 40, said at his residence in the state capital, Lucknow. But the "critics are making me more strong. In a good way I will improve."
Since he became India's youngest state minister two years ago, Yadav has struggled to shake off the impression that he is merely doing the bidding of his powerful father, Mulayam Singh Yadav.
The elder Yadav, a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and federal defence minister, triggered outrage during the recent general election with comments about rape in which he said that "boys will be boys".
But the chief minister said he was in favour of capital punishment for rapists. "The society that respects its women, only that society progresses," said Yadav, once a student in Australia.
The lynching of two girls gained international attention after villagers prevented police from taking the dangling bodies down from a mango tree until the local media had captured them on film.
R. K. Singh, a lawmaker for Prime Minister Nardendra Modi's party, said: "The state has completely failed. It is a fit case for [direct central government rule]."