In April, the BJP sprung a surprise by picking Keshav Prasad Maurya, first-time MP from Phulpur in Allahabad, as president of the party unit in Uttar Pradesh, a state which is headed to polls in 2017 and where the party has high stakes. Maurya, 46, an old RSS hand, is known to be vocal on issues such as cow protection and nationalism. With the party not declaring a CM candidate, Maurya will have to play caste combinations carefully as he manages the election campaign.
Shyamlal Yadav: After the defeat in Bihar, what is the BJP counting on for a victory in Uttar Pradesh?
There are two regional parties in UP – Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). The governments of both these parties have been bad for the state. As the president of the UP BJP, I have travelled across the state and met people and party workers. I can say with confidence that the 2014 success (the NDA won 73 out of 80 seats in UP in the general elections) will be repeated in 2017 (polls are expected early next year).
Sheela Bhatt: You were confident before the Bihar elections too. But like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad joined hands to defeat your party, what if the BSP and the Congress come together in UP?
The Congress has no standing in UP. The BSP cannot become a competition for the BJP by joining hands with the Congress. But yes, the SP is our competition and we are working to take them on. Under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav, the SP government has become a burden for the people of the state. Just look at the protests and other political activities conducted by the Congress and BSP… you can’t compare them with what we have done. BSP leaders have done nothing in the past years except for calling press conferences and giving statements in newspapers.
Sandeep Singh: The SP seems to be in resurgent mode after the 2014 general elections. They have been focusing on development and growth. Do you see a threat there?
The only difference between the SP of 2014 and 2016 is that the assets of its members would have increased. Go to any village in Uttar Pradesh and you will find that even the person who makes banners for the SP is a rich man. Land mafia, mining mafia, liquor mafia, they are all prospering under the SP government. Law and order is a big problem in UP, yet 55 per cent of positions in the police force are vacant. The problem is so grave that gundas are not afraid of the police. There are over 1,500 cases of policemen being beaten up by them. Over 150 policemen have died during Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure.
Liz Mathew: Caste plays a big role in UP politics. When you were made UP BJP chief, many Brahmin leaders in the party were upset.
The BJP is not a caste-based party. In the past, we have had great leaders in UP from both backward and upper castes. The Congress does all its political calculations on the basis of caste and the nation is tired of it. Akhilesh Yadav hasn’t been fair to people from his own caste, unless they are from Saifai, Etawah and Mainpuri. No BJP worker thinks in terms of caste. The BJP is one unit, one family, and if we weren’t so, the support that you see for the party in the state would not have been possible.
Watch Video: Idea Exchange With Keshav Prasad Maurya
Anand Mishra: Is it enough to bank on Prime Minister Modi’s popularity for votes in UP? In Bihar, where you didn’t have a CM face, you lost.
The reason we find ourselves in a favourable situation in UP is because the BJP stands as one… Yes, I agree that we were taken aback by the Bihar results — it’s another matter that jungle raj is back in the state — but we won in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, where we didn’t have a CM face. Yes, we had a CM face in Assam, but that’s how it works. It depends on the situation.
Shyamlal Yadav: You accuse your rival parties of dynasty politics. Recently, however, Pankaj Singh (Rajnath Singh’s son), Gopal Tandon (Lalji Tandon’s) and Rajveer Singh (Kalyan Singh’s) found a place in your team of office-bearers.
See, Pankaj Singh has been a party worker for the past 20 years. He has worked for the party without ever fighting elections. If someone has been working for the party for that long, I don’t see it as dynasty politics. Similarly, Rajveer Singh and Gopal Tandon… If they have worked for the party and proved their worth, then we consider them for posts. If the family member of anyone in the BJP has worked for the party for 10, 15 or 20 years, is he supposed to go to the BSP, SP or Congress? You know about the Gandhi family as well as the situation in Mulayam Singh’s family and how people in their families get preference in terms of getting tickets. But the BJP doesn’t work like that.
Sheela Bhatt: You were appointed UP BJP chief though you have a serious criminal case against you. (Maurya was named an accused along with three others in the 2011 murder of a farmer. The four were acquitted on May 21, 2015, after six witnesses in the case turned hostile.)
I have been proven not guilty in the case that you are talking about. Keshav Prasad is not a criminal, neither does he have a criminal mindset. I will always fight against criminals. Unfortunately, a person was killed and that accident was portrayed as murder. The case was a political conspiracy against me so that I don’t speak or protest against the BSP.
Coomi Kapoor: The BSP, SP and Congress have CM faces. Won’t the lack of a CM candidate be a handicap for the BJP?
The Congress has declared its candidate, but it’s of no use because the party is dead in UP. The BSP hasn’t declared any candidate because as long as Behenji (Mayawati) is around, no other person can even think of standing against her. As far as the SP is concerned, there will be someone from the family. If I talk about the BSP, then let’s just say that Behenji keeps amassing wealth and the poor man in UP is still poor. She thrives on any incident that harms the Dalits… She has never done anything to help the Dalit or the poor. She wants to buy their votes, sell their votes…
Harish Damodaran: Why are parties not speaking about the problems of sugarcane farmers?
It’s the BJP that takes up most of these fights, whether it’s for wheat or sugarcane farmers. Look at Haryana, where there’s a BJP government. There is not a single rupee outstanding to farmers. But why are there unpaid dues in UP? The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana is a significant scheme for farmers, but Akhilesh Yadav has not taken a single step towards implementing the plan. At auction houses for farmers, there is no trading. Whatever pro-farmer steps you see have been taken by the Centre…
Anyway, if there is no law and order, how will there be any industry? If a big industrialist comes to UP to invest in land and business, he is not even sure his land will stay secure. Land-grabbing is rampant. There is no attention being paid to farmers, and until that happens, there will be no progress in UP.
Speaking about youth employment, there are more than 700 engineering colleges in the state from which 1,65,000 students graduate every year. If the government cannot provide employment to even 1,600 of them, then does Akhilesh Yadav deserve to run the government?
He has never taken up development with any seriousness. At the recent inter-state council meeting (in July), the chief minister of UP was missing. If he had come, he would have had to show some plans for progress. Seven state highways of UP which have been converted into national highways have not been granted a no-objection certificate for completion by the government, because if they get completed before 2017, what will happen to the cycle (the SP’s symbol)? The administration’s only interest is to ensure that the credit for projects goes to the SP. They print huge ads in newspapers claiming credit. The public can see through all this.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: In the last two years of the BJP government at the Centre, there has been no major increase in employment levels. A report by the Labour Ministry shows that levels have, in fact, fallen.
See, the problems you are talking about differ from state to state, and so they are the state government’s responsibility. Akhilesh Yadav has never taken the issue seriously… If we speak about electricity, the state with the most power outages is Uttar Pradesh. Until industry and investment come, there isn’t much a government can do to alleviate unemployment. But you need to develop an environment that encourages investors. If investors are going to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and other states, who is at fault? Akhilesh Yadav. He has failed as a CM and has betrayed the youth of the state.
Maneesh Chhibber: For some time now, your party has been trying to engage with the Dalits and other backward castes. But with incidents such as Una in BJP-ruled Gujarat (July 11, when Dalits were beaten up for skinning a dead cow), what makes you think the Dalits will support you?
Such incidents are deplorable and I completely oppose them… The BJP never discriminates on the basis of caste or religion. We have always believed in sabka saath, sabka vikas. We are not opposed to Muslims nor do we want them to leave the country. We recognise that India has many parts and people in each of these parts have as much right to live here as anyone else. It is also our responsibility to uplift the disenfranchised and ensure that everyone progresses together. Elements from the Opposition go among people and spread misinformation. They go to the Muslims and say ‘Beware, the BJP is coming. Vote for us or they will destroy you’. During the elections they said Modiji would drive away the Muslims if he came to power. Today, Muslims can see the progress the country is making and feel secure. We have developed excellent relations with neighbouring Muslim nations — of course, if Pakistan does some mischief, India will have to address it. But within the country, if any person from any caste or community faces harassment, there are ample provisions in the law to ensure that justice is done.
Liz Mathew: You said the BJP had development as its agenda. The party is taking out tiranga yatras. Why not a kisan yatra or a progress yatra also?
When the government completed two years, PM Modi spoke in Saharanpur about the progress we have made. The BJP also ran a campaign, Gram Uday to Bharat Uday, in which party leaders went to 40,000 out of 55,000 village councils and informed them of the steps taken by the government to improve the lives of women, farmers, the poor and other sections of society. So in that sense, the progress yatra has already started and this will stop only when we have achieved all our goals. But I would like to say that if Uttar Pradesh gets left behind, the progress of the nation will go lacking. As for the tiranga yatra, I welcome it because it ensures that we celebrate Independence Day with the public.
Anand Mishra: You said you were confident of a BJP win in UP. But while Mulayam Singh Yadav can bank on the Yadav vote, the Jatavs will vote for Mayawati, the Congress has projected Sheila Dikshit for the Brahmin vote and Nitish Kumar is continuously campaigning against the BJP. Also, assuming the Muslims are unlikely to vote for the BJP, where do you see the votes coming from?
What you said about Mulayam and the votes he gets, they are not his to keep. The area I was voted from, let me tell you, people there are very angry with the Akhilesh regime. So we will get a large number of votes from the Yadavs. As for the Jatavs, Behenji herself became rich, but there has been no upliftment of the poor living on the streets. Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat for 12 years, see his bank account; Behenji wasn’t CM for so long, see her bank account. The point is that people, regardless of caste or creed, do not want corruption and scams. They all want progress and good lives, which will never be possible under the SP. Because all they can create is chaos and violence. If we talk about the Dadri case, why was there so much mismanagement of the samples sent to the government lab?
Maneesh Chhibber: You have raised the Dadri case. Why should people take law into their own hands and beat up and kill somebody who allegedly had beef in his fridge?
That was an extremely unfortunate incident and I consider it a failure on the part of the UP government. It is the government’s responsibility to maintain law and order, not the public’s. The state government should have realised these are sensitive issues and should have taken steps to prevent such incidents. And even if such incidents occur, these should be dealt with swiftly and effectively. This is something the state government has not been able to do, and I think even the administrative officials are aware that the SP won’t return to power this time. If Akhlaq’s family had, in fact, consumed beef, then the law should have been allowed to take its course. And the people who are guilty of the crime should also be punished. While this was eventually done, it was after a long delay. Akhilesh has not fulfilled his duties as CM and we’ll soon be bidding him farewell.
Sandeep Singh: You seem convinced that Akhilesh will be voted out, but does the BJP have a plan for the state?
What is needed to revive the state is an environment free of fear, some good governance, proper law and order, opportunities for youth and no corruption. We also need to improve the lot of our farmers. They should get full value for their crops. We need investment in education also. In five years, we will make a lot of progress.
Sheela Bhatt: On the Akhlaq killing, is it justified to file a case against his family after the father has been so heinously beaten and slain, even if, assuming, they broke the law?
Such incidents in Uttar Pradesh are deplorable, but the rule of law has to be maintained. If I do something wrong, I should be punished for it. Everyone needs to be accountable to the law, whether it’s Keshav Prasad Maurya or a family. There are a lot of deaths in this country and I would not like to comment on those. If the government had been more vigilant, none of this would have happened.
Ashutosh Bhardwaj: The RSS recently held a big conference in Kanpur and sent a senior member to Lucknow. What expectations of help do you have from them in the coming election year?
The RSS has been around since 1925. I myself am a swayamsevak and we have certain duties. We serve the people, not a particular community.
Shyamlal Yadav: Do you think that if the Mayawati government hadn’t come to power in the last 10-15 years, the Dalits would have been as empowered as they are today?
If you ever meet Mayawati, you should ask her this. In reality, she hasn’t done any such thing. All she has done is create a wall between Dalits and non-Dalits and incite fights between them. It’s not enough to get them to do daily wage work. She has only filled her coffers. I’m sure she thought up to a few months ago that she will be forming the government, but now it has become clear to everybody, including her, that that’s not going to happen.