‘Rahul asks people questions,but forgets they have questions for him too’

SP scion Akhilesh Yadav tells The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on Walk the Talk that Samajwadi Party has worked hard to shed its ‘goonda-raj’ image.

Written by Shekhar Gupta | Published: February 27, 2012 3:38 am

With UP in the midst of a decisive election,Akhilesh Yadav,president of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh,tells The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on Walk the Talk on NDTV 24×7 that the Samajwadi Party has worked hard to shed its ‘goonda-raj’ image

We are at Lucknow’s Lohia Park and my guest today is one of Lohia’s youngest followers,Akhilesh Yadav. Youngest,latest,and I would say most promising.

I might be the youngest and I have been chosen from the Lohia stable,but we have learnt socialism from books and study camps. I remember learning a lot from what Janeshwar Mishraji told us in these camps.

But had Lohiaji still been with us,I think he would have changed socialism with changing times.

I am sure he would have changed some things,but the principles of socialism,such as removing inequality,would have stayed on.

You are a symbol of the change which has taken place in socialism. You are speaking in Hindi,but you have a foreign education and a very good command over the English language as well.

Lohiaji was not against any language and neither are we. All we are saying is that day-to-day work should be done in the common man’s language. The technology to operate computers in Hindi or Malayalam is available,so we can use that to reach the common man.

But unfortunately,jobs would be available in English.

That is true,but as we use more of our own language,more and more job opportunities will become available in Hindi as well. But if someone wants to learn English or speak it,we have no objection.

We have been roaming around in your state and we found that the poorest of the poor have money to fill their stomachs,but are not left with enough money to admit their children to an English-medium private school. There is an aspirational upsurge here.

That is true. You will see a lot of private schools in villages here. They are thriving only because government schools could not provide good quality education. Had they done that,we would not have seen an increase in the number of private or convent schools.

We saw an Einstein Public School and even a Rani of Jhansi Convent School in Lalganj.

Village folk aspire to benefit from development. They feel that learning English is the only way to prosperity. That is why convent schools have increased here.

So would you allow people their choices?

Definitely. If people want to study in English medium,that is their choice. But we want the official language to be Hindi.

Your own education shows a very modern approach to life. You went to Military School in Dholpur.

Then I was in Mysore for some time for engineering,then Sydney.

All your schoolmates must now be in the armed forces. Why not you?

I could go to Military School because it was cheap and close to my house. And I admit I should have applied for the armed forces too. Some of my schoolmates fought the Kargil war. When they read my name in the papers,they tell me how much I have progressed.

What kind of progress are you speaking about here?

Our hard work in the region has increased the party’s strength. I am simply carrying out the responsibility the party has entrusted me with.

But Akhilesh,the truth is that only the other day you were down in the dumps. Everybody thought the SP was devastated,finished. I recall the day your wife lost the election and that too to an old faithful of your party. Describe that day to us.

I was not expecting a defeat in the Firozabad by-election. Everybody thought the Samajwadi Party would win from there. It was an election of conspiracy.

Take me back to that day,what were you feeling on that day?

When the results were declared,I said this is the worst. There can be nothing worse than this.

Were you low because you pitchforked your wife into that battle? She is not a political being.

It was not my decision,it was the party’s choice to field Dimple. By-elections are always tough to win and that is the only reason I agreed to the party’s choice. If I had wanted her to contest,I would have fielded her from Kannauj because I know people there and I have worked a lot there. I was upset by the defeat but I told Dimple and the party cadre that this defeat was necessary. I wouldn’t have learnt a lot of things otherwise.

What did that experience teach you?

I learnt that anything can happen in an election and you must be prepared for anything. Your own people can go against you.

But tell me something,you have carried out a lot of reforms in your party. And the biggest thing you have done is to break from the past in many areas. How much did that defeat contribute to strengthening that mindset,that the party has to make a radical departure?

Because we lost that election,a lot of things were said about the party. So we took the decision that some people must leave the party. Netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav) always feels that we should not remove anybody from the party. It was necessary to stop people like D P Yadav. He is a big name and somewhere down the line,the loss to the party would have been immense. But we felt that the party should send out a positive message. We want to form a government here,so the common man should be influenced by the policies and work of the Samajwadi Party. Nobody will remember our work if such people come in to the party.

That kind of reputation was best left behind.

Yes,we still have a long way to go. Even now people are accusing the party of not having changed.

Even now the advertisements against SP say ‘do not forget the goonda raj of the Samajwadi Party’. Because there is a legacy of those five years.

Because of some outsiders who had come to the party,the party got that stamp.

…that the party patronises criminals.

Yes. At that time we needed numbers as we did not have enough seats. But for five years now,we have worked hard. In these five years,no one from Uttar Pradesh can say that a Samajwadi Party worker has troubled a common man. We have left the old image behind. Others are accusing us of being our old self only because elections are on. I assure you that if any person from the Samajwadi Party breaks the law,we will take action against that person.

Are you saying the Samajwadi Party has now cleaned up its act?

Absolutely,and we will keep trying to keep the bad influences away from the party.

When you were doing this,did someone in the party say,‘Akhilesh,this is UP politics. Do not try all this. It is not going to work’.

Yes,some people did say that what I was doing was not right. But I spoke to Netaji and senior party leaders about it. They too saw the need to clear out such people from the party.

What is your opinion on the one most debatable decision your party took—to bring Kalyan Singh inside the party tent?

When he came to the party,I was an MP. I was not consulted on that decision,but if I had been asked,I would have definitely said that we should not take him in the party.

And how big was the loss to the party?

That was a big loss. Because of that decision,my wife lost the election. It was a big election in Firozabad. The whole country was watching that election and we lost it. I do not want to delve into the details of the conspiracy hatched against us,but we learnt a lot from that experience and began rebuilding the party.

Between you and your father,who listens to whom?

I listen to my father but I tell him what I think. And it has happened many times that he has told me to go ahead with what I think.

But what about the other things that have happened,like the Mohan Singh issue. Or even Azam Khan.

We always respect Mohan Singhji. The truth is that the entire party respects him.

So tell me,if you come to power,will the SP shed its tag of being a Muslim-Yadav party? You have said that your party no longer patronises criminals. But will it expand beyond the Muslim-Yadav formula?

Even today we are fielding candidates who are beyond caste. For example,from Lucknow,we are fielding Abhishek Mishra,who was an IIM professor. He quit because we called him here.

What did you say to him that made him come?

He used to keep saying that he wants to serve the country and work in UP politics. So I said,“How can you do that by being in IIM-Ahmedabad? You cannot bring prosperity and development to UP from there. You contest the elections. Be among people and then we will take things ahead from there.” He was influenced by that and the party ideology and Netaji and today he is contesting the elections.

Have you brought more talent like that?

Yes,I am fielding Jyoti Yadav,who was the UP Ranji cricket team captain. I am bringing in youth too. Arun Verma is one of those,from Sultanpur,and even from Azamgarh,we are fielding a candidate who is well-educated and has done a Ph.D. We have tried to field young and educated candidates who understand the current situation.

One problem that every new leader has to deal with is to deal with the generation of uncles. You had a very famous uncle in your party,Mr Amar Singh.

When I conduct rallies,I often meet him and even today,I address him as ‘uncle’. He told me that he was the one who made me party president and eventually I removed him. I told him that he will always remain my uncle. Some senior leaders had opposed that move but when the results began showing,they accepted that the move was necessary.

But why was it necessary for him to go out of the party?

Netaji would always say that this is a party and it has to take everyone’s support. But somewhere Amar Singh was angry with the party and he accepted that he should leave the party and that is why he left. None of us wanted him out. Netaji always said that we should reform people in the party. Removing them is not a way to reform.

Did you get the sense that he had overshadowed the party and your father?

No,definitely not,because Netaji’s way of working is different from that of Amar Singh. He did disagree with us on some aspects. But we did not want him to leave. He himself wanted to do so.

You are the youngest political leader making a bid for power now in UP. Give me a reading about the next youngest,Rahul Gandhi,who is your rival right now.

When you are in politics,you have to maintain political discipline. But when someone says something about your party,you have to give them a fitting reply. I remember during the by-election,the Congress party was committed solely to the defeat of the Samajwadi Party.

But give me a reading of him,because he is also becoming a grassroots politician now.

He is doing work and is also having lunches with Dalit families. But doing that and proclaiming that he has done so is not a good thing.

Have you had food with a Dalit family?

For years,I was fed by a Dalit boy. I found out four or five years later that he was a Dalit. I never asked him his caste. He would make tea for me in South Avenue in Delhi. We do not make a big issue out of being fed by Dalits.

Give me your reading of him (Rahul). You are now a political animal,so you have to analyse your competition.

He is a good man. When he speaks to the masses and asks them questions,somewhere he forgets that the masses have questions for him too. For 40 years,the Congress ruled and yet there was no development. It is easy to accuse other parties of corruption. He is shying away from such questions. Unless he confronts these questions,he will not be successful.

So where do you see him ending up in this election?

The results have not been declared,but from what I hear,Congress will finish fourth in the state.

What could the Congress have done to perform better?

The BSP government has been unjust to the people. They know that this is due to the Congress. If the Congress had wished,Uttar Pradesh would not have been in the dumps. The NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) scheme was a complete loot and even today,murders are taking place because of that. All of Lucknow is covered in stone and statues worth thousands of crores. This devastation could have been stopped by the Congress. This is why people are not voting for the Congress. They have to pay for inflation and corruption.

But is he (Rahul) somebody you could do business with?

There is no need for that now. We want to win by a majority.

Ultimately,numbers will decide what happens,but is the Congress a party you could work with? You will not work with the BJP and as of now,neither will you work with the BSP.

Several times,the Congress has not stood by us.

Lohia was the most anti-Congress person in history.

But Lohiaji also said that if the Congress is weak,then we can forge an alliance with them because the Samajwadi Party cannot come to an agreement with the BJP. And SP proved itself during the nuclear deal.

But do you see the Congress as a hostile party forever?

It is difficult to say how things will be in the future. We want the nation to progress. UP should also prosper. It is lagging behind in almost all aspects.

That is very sad. If you come to power,what will happen in the first six months?

We assure the people that we will begin development in Uttar Pradesh.

And you will invest in modern education now?

Absolutely. Amity University was built in UP because of the Samajwadi Party as were other medical colleges. We will build on that.

And what about infrastructure?

UP cannot progress without work on its infrastructure.

One major achievement is the construction of the Yamuna Expressway. I have not seen a highway like that in India.

I agree that the road is good. But that was achieved by taking all land from farmers between Noida and Agra. If similar roads are built till Lucknow and subsequently Varanasi,then I think it will mean development for UP.

Will you extend such a highway to eastern UP?

Why not? As long as farmers get correct prices for their land,there is no harm in doing that. Today,a highway that can be made for Rs 10 is made for Rs 1,000. At the end of the day,only the state loses.

But you will be building more highways and power plants?

Yes,we had built power plants earlier as well. The Reliance power plant we had built in Shahjahanpur is providing 600 MW electricity today.

UP has too little infrastructure. A state of UP’s size should have three international airports.

I agree with you. If we come to power,we will make way for better infrastructure. If we make airports,then people accuse us of making it in our village. But UP needs a big international airport. We need to carry forward all of Netaji’s development projects.

And you need industry in UP.

Yes,we have to work on a PPP model and find a socialist way to do that.

But socialism is a science and it has to evolve with time.

We have no objections to equality and prosperity. Samajwadi Party had formed a development council and the suggestions we got from the country’s biggest industrialists have helped the state. If we come to power,we will ensure that big infrastructure projects help UP. Each district has its own economy,like Firozabad has glass works. We will make sure that those economies grow. UP became the country’s largest sugarcane producer during our rule. We will also focus on agriculture.

The Congress says the elephant ate the sugarcane.

And I say,who let the elephant grow fat by eating all of UP’s money?

Transcribed by Pranay Parab

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