Akhilesh Yadav interview – ‘If jaat-dharam wins, we’ll have to ask: why build expressway?’

UP chief minister and SP chief on the CM vs PM clash, alliance with Congress and the power of political messaging. Excerpts from a conversation on the last day of campaigning.

Written by Vandita Mishra | Updated: March 9, 2017 9:07 am
Uttar Pradesh Elections 2017, UP Polls 2017, Akhilesh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav interview, Akhilesh interview, Akhilesh Gayatri Prajapati, Akhilesh Congress, Akhilesh Yadav, Akhilesh BJP, Modi Akhilesh Yadav, India news Akhilesh Yadav with his wife Dimple, Samajwadi Party MP from Kannauj, at the chief minister’s residence in Lucknow. (Vishal Srivastav)

UP chief minister and SP chief speaks to VANDITA MISHRA on CM vs PM clash, alliance with Congress and the power of political messaging. Excerpts from a conversation on the last day of campaigning

Your minister Gayatri Prajapati, accused in a rape case, is on the run. The governor has written you a letter questioning his continuance in the ministry — he has been criticised for the timing. Given that you have, in the last five years and in this campaign, tried to counter the allegation of goonda raj levelled against the SP and its government, isn’t this an embarrassment?

I have asked the police and the district magistrate to take action. The police are searching for him, they will find him. I agree this has symbolic significance. I have asked them to intensify their efforts. It will send out the wrong message otherwise. I do not say the governor’s letter was inappropriate. The governor keeps writing letters to me. He has written thousands of them, on all sorts of issues. I reply to each one. No other governor would have written as many letters to a chief minister.

This election, for the most part, seemed to be a clash between you and Narendra Modi, chief minister vs prime minister. Did it seem that way to you too?

I will say this: If the prime minister had not come to Uttar Pradesh, the BJP would have been wiped out. At least because of him, the BJP fought.

He made misleading statements, raised irrelevant issues. He spoke about the Badayun case, called it our karnama (misdemeanour). But he does not seem to know what the CBI, a central agency, said on the matter. He said SP ke log thana chala rahe hain (SP has taken over the police station). The PM is trying to suggest that Yadavs control the police station. But what about the IAS, IPS officers, the zila (district) heads? Are they below the thana, or above it? What about Dial 100 [helpline]? The Centre stopped funds for police modernisation, so I created Dial 100 from my own [state] funds. The phone call does not come to the thana. It comes to Lucknow and we have created a response system here, which includes women.

Venkat Changavalli, under whose leadership 108 [ambulance] services started in Hyderabad, was brought in as adviser. We put together a team of IPS officers which went to the US, saw the software [for 911]. They went to Singapore, to see how they do it there and then travelled across UP. We gave 3,000 cars to the police and we kept women at the call centres which work round the clock. The PM also spoke of discrimination in supply of electricity at Ramzan and Holi. I gave out data that shows there was no such thing.

I am not competing with the PM. Mera sapna bada nahin hai (I don’t have bigger dreams). I don’t dream of Delhi. I only want to take the Agra-Lucknow expressway further up to Ghazipur — 60 per cent of the land for that has already been acquired. I have distributed 18 lakh laptops already, there have been no complaints, no discrimination. You can see the names [of beneficiaries]. The PM spoke of a cheating mafia in the state. But the person most responsible for it shared the rally stage with him in Gonda.

The PM does not seem to know how UP’s GDP has risen, that it is going to be a manufacturing hub for electronic devices, that we have invited Baba Ramdev for setting up food processing units. He does not seem to know that we built the expressway and the metro in record time, that there are four metro projects, at Kanpur, Lucknow, Ghaziabad and Noida.

All BJP leaders are hiding behind the prime minister. And he speaks such language — SCAM, Ka-Sa-B…

This election has also been a war of images, a race by increasingly sophisticated political communication machines to influence perceptions. The SP has enthusiastically joined that game, but do you feel overtaken on this count by the BJP?

I have said that corruption is not only paise ka len den (the give and take of money). Vaada khilafi (breaking promises) is also corruption. Corruption is also appearing too much on TV. Those who claim to be finishing off black money in India, how is it that they are also appearing much more on TV? The BJP wanted more Mayawati on TV, to send out the message that she is their main rival, not I. So TV would show her speeches live, not mine. Earlier, on the same day as the incident in Bulandshahr [rape of a woman and her minor daughter in July 2016], there was an incident of molestation in Gurgaon, yet the media blacked out the latter crime.

Travelling in UP during the campaign, it sometimes seemed that the BJP had packaged demonetisation to its own advantage and taken it to the people, while its rival parties had fallen short of effectively conveying their critique.

Gareeb ko pata nahin hai (the poor don’t have enough information). He probably likes the step (demonetisation) because Modi is telling him, maine dhanna sethon ka paisa nikala hai (I have brought out the black money of the rich and corrupt).

But why did parties such as yours find it difficult to put across their own message to the poor?

Hamne bahut samajhaya. Par gareeb sapnon mein chala jaata hai, bada sapna sabko achcha lagta hai (we tried to explain the effects of demonetisation, but the poor lapse into dreams, people are seduced by grandiose dreams). Log samjhaane se nahin, behkaane se vote de dete hain (voters are swayed more by spin than argument). In my speeches, I gave the example of Khajanchi (the child born to a woman waiting in a bank queue in Kanpur in December 2016). I also said that note kala ya safed nahin hota, len-den kala aur safed hota hai (it is not currency that is black of white but transactions that can be discoloured).

So do you think you lost the perception war on demonetisation to the BJP?

Bahut zyada laabh nahin hoga (they will not gain much from it). In any case, if they themselves had been so confident on demonetisation, why would they have tried to communalise the campaign? They wouldn’t have doled out tickets according to minute calculations of caste.

Going ahead, how do you see the role of new communication technologies in political campaigns? Will the political campaign be increasingly hijacked by hype and spin?

In this election, more than any other, I saw young people in rural areas wear jeans, flash their mobiles. This is a new generation, comfortable with WhatsApp, Google, all forms of social media. It will bring in more transparency. People are more aspirational, they will also know more of the truth. Parties will use [the new technologies] for propaganda, of course. But now MLAs are using WhatsApp, village pradhans are forming groups. Recently, a woman pradhan tweeted me for the first time. In a democracy, more information is more awareness and more informed decision-making. We have faced the perils of wrong information too — we have seen rioting start because of it. But by and large, the free flow of information is good for everyone. At the same time, TV is different, can be controlled. TV pe zyada aana bhrashtachaar hota hai (to appear too much on TV is to be corrupt). We [the SP] took to social media because they weren’t covering us live.

Was this a communally polarised election?

They [BJP] couldn’t communalise it. The last election was the BJP’s best election — they promised achhe din, sabka saath sabka vikas. In 2014, the BJP swept, mopping up new voters. But even at that time, the SP held on to a respectable vote share. Now, we have the Congress with us, bahut zyaada nahin, par fayada hoga (not too much, but we will gain from the alliance with Congress). And there is the development vote, at least a little, if not much, but the election will turn on it. Earlier, most of the jokes on social media were on others. Now, we all know who they are mostly about. I have asked my people to compile the donkey jokes.

It is the Congress and its leader who have been the butt of jokes. When you look back at the alliance, and the number of seats you conceded, any regrets?

It was the right decision. We sent out the message that we can form the government. And that is why the PM also seemed so bothered. He taunted us in his speeches: “God mein baitha liya hai”, “yaar bana liya hai” (we are sitting on each other’s lap).

Do you see the alliance with the Congress extending beyond UP, to the national level?

I don’t want to go to the national level, I am okay in the state. We will strengthen and grow our party here and wherever there is scope in other states.

Will the SP-Congress alliance hold for the 2019 parliamentary polls?

It holds for now. The rest, we will decide after March 11.

What, for you, is the unfinished work from this term?

For me, it is infrastructure first. [If I come back] I will take the expressway to Ghazipur, there will be connectivity, north to south. We will connect all district headquarters by four-lane highways. Because, as they say, if you can double the speed, you can triple the economy.

UP politics has seen tumult in different phases — Mandir and Mandal rearranged politics of the 1990s, and in the 2000s it seemed to change again. How would you characterise UP politics today?

Maine himmat se kaha, kaam bolta hai (I was courageous enough to say that my work speaks for me). I have brought the politics of development here. Now the people must decide. This election is important for UP’s future. If tomorrow jaat-dharam (caste and community maths) wins, then we will be forced to ask ourselves: Why should we make the expressway?

I used to say that it is necessary for Rahul to be successful. Then people will say, the young can also deliver. We have common stakes. Now, I had to prove myself. And I chose to do it through my work.

You speak of development for all. But UP is also a state of institutional prejudice and entrenched inequality. Looking ahead, what is the special and specific challenge for the state vis a vis the minority?

I gave them haq (rights). For instance, in our scheme, the Samajwadi Pension Yojana, where money is deposited in women’s accounts, we said everyone will get the benefit according to their proportion in the population. It was challenged in court, and the Supreme Court called it a “beautiful scheme”. In welfare schemes, we have set aside 20 per cent for the Muslims.

This election began with tumult in your family; you were seen to take on your father for control of the party. Now, with the election winding down, another family member, Sadhana Gupta, has spoken out, suggesting more conflicting and unrequited political ambitions within.

This was a seven-phase election, and this has come just before the seventh phase. I will say three things. One, in the Mahabharata, the seventh citadel (of the chakravyuha) was the most impenetrable. Two, it takes seven steps around the fire for the marriage ceremony to be completed. Three, Delhi se door rahoge toh sukhi rahoge (he who maintains distance from Delhi remains the happiest).

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