The coming together of long-standing rivals SP and BSP in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh has given this parliamentary election a new dimension, a new frisson. Akhilesh Yadav, national president of the SP, who holds up one end of UP’s Mahagathbandhan, talks about how it happened, what lies in store, in an interview to The Indian Express.
It is being said that this national election will hinge on Uttar Pradesh. Do you think the result will be decided in your state?
If the BJP government was formed at the Centre in 2014, it was because of Uttar Pradesh. If the (BJP) win in UP had not been so big, then it might not have been a BJP government, but an NDA government. This time, if they are losing seats here, the question is, where will the numbers come from.
The people of UP are angry because this is the first prime minister who made promises and did the exact opposite of what he said. They said they will provide 2 crore jobs every year; they took away jobs with the noteban and GST. They said they will double (farmers’) incomes, give cheaper fertiliser. They told the youth, you are not getting jobs but making pakodas is also employment. They said they will build smart cities, and right now in UP, the High Court has taken note of the deaths happening due to the saand (bull). In the last month, 11 people have died in Lucknow, the court has given a deadline to clear the city of animals. I built a world-class Expressway from Agra to Lucknow, there have been 160 accidents on it only due to animals.
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Those who showed people dreams of smart cities, Digital India, they are not able to control the animals on the streets.
Your party and BSP came together ahead of this election, formed the Mahagathbandhan. The PM calls it Mahamilavat and BJP holds it up to say this election is about Modi vs All. Isn’t your alliance, in fact, founded on a confession, that you cannot take on Modi singly?
I would put it another way. The BJP’s strength and foundation is based on lies and hatred. But it has also been said by the media that the BJP is adept at social engineering. In UP, the BJP struck an understanding with the Apna Dal, with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s party and many leaders of other parties were also taken in by the BJP. So, will you then say that the BJP was weak, had nothing of its own?
Our gathbandhan was formed because PM Modi came to UP and said he is (from) a backward (caste). People have understood that he is not. Samajik nyay se bada parivartan ho jaye, uss disha mein hum dono, teeno, mil kar kaam kar rahe hain (The two, three, of us are working to bring changes through social justice).
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Mamata Banerjee has said the BJP’s rise in West Bengal in a short span of time was made possible by the near collapse of the Congress and Left. To what do you attribute the BJP’s surge in UP, though it was from a different starting point?
The Bengal circumstances are not there in U P. In UP, from Day 1, the BJP started with a politics of hate, stoked caste and religious conflict. Can the country’s Prime Minister speak like this? Could anyone imagine that this would also be talked about — where electricity has reached first, and where later? That there will be accusations that we gave electricity more on Ramzan than on Diwali? Today, the government has all the data, let them see if we provided electricity selectively.
Kya kabristan ki boundary pe politics hogi? Kya pradhan mantri kahenge ki thaane mein ek hi jaati ke log rehte hain (Will we spar on the boundaries of burial grounds now? Can the PM say things like only one caste is represented in the police station)? Arrey, you tell me, in UP, if there is even one DM or SP today who is a Yadav.
These people made castes turn on each other and after they formed the government, they said that they would set up a commission to probe how many Yadavs are in government jobs. They found that there weren’t too many, it turned out some other caste was over-represented. That report has still not been made public.
If you look at the 2014 election, we were fighting on the issue of development. We made the Expressway, the Metro, a cancer institute, medical colleges, increased the number of MBBS seats, completed large infrastructure projects. But the BJP was fighting the election on caste and religion. Isliye humne kaha ki yeh gathbandhan zameen ka, gareeb logon ka gathbandhan hai jinke adhikaron ko chheena jaa raha hai (So we said this is an alliance on the ground, of the poor, of those whose rights are being taken away).
Bus, humne BJP se seekh liya, BJP ka hee formula un pe laga diya (So we learnt from the BJP, applied the BJP formula back on the BJP).
It is not just your political opponent who says you presided over Yadav raj. Among the people, particularly among non-Yadav OBCs, there is a perception that jobs and development were monopolised by one caste group.
See, we don’t have the kind of power the BJP has. The power to distract. They know which issue to use and when. This issue has been created by them. This is what their functionaries said, from the Governor downwards. This is what they spread on social media. They would go to villages and say that all the jobs have been taken by Yadavs and Muslims.
But the people have come to know the truth. And the result of that came when we contested and won the (by)poll in Gorakhpur against those who were in government, who thought they couldn’t lose. The truth came out in five years.
Do you feel this perception, that the SP favours the Yadavs, needs to be addressed?
This election is not about that. It has gone far ahead.
The SP-BSP partnership can be said to have been forged in adversity. People are asking what happens after? When the polls are over?
People have also told me that Ambedkarji and Lohiaji came close to working together, but time and circumstances did not give them a chance. Then, Netaji and Kanshi Ramji worked together. The state’s politics changed, but it was these same forces that broke up that alliance. This time, when there was talk on the alliance, I said even if I have to walk two steps behind (the BSP) I will do it. This is a gathbandhan for the future of this country.
What happens when state polls come?
The alliance will stay.
You and Mayawati will both be chief ministerial candidates?
That is not decided yet. If we thought so far ahead, this gathbandhan would not have been there. I don’t think about what will happen tomorrow. The alliance is based on what is going to happen today. Our politics is not based on posts, today or tomorrow.
The criticism of the alliance is also this, that you are not thinking ahead, leaving too many things for later?
I have just reminded you of Lohia and Ambedkar. This is the alliance of the poor. And it was not just our leaders, our workers wanted to work together because of the injustices and false cases. I saw this in Gorakhpur. The BJP government had said they will do away with pending cases, that there will be new courts. But, lakhs more (cases) were lodged, against Dalits, backwards and minorities, with serious charges like NSA.
Don’t you think the contradictions and tensions on the ground between the two groups, the Yadavs and Jatavs, will return to haunt?
There are so many contradictions within the upper castes but nobody talks about those. Don’t you know that in Khalilabad, a Brahmin MP beat up a Kshatriya MLA with his shoe? Now, if a Yadav had beaten up someone, how big would the news have been! There are some issues in society that are hundreds of years old. They will go slowly.
And who are the people who have been killed in encounters? There was a fake encounter in Noida, a Yadav was killed and the accused has still not been arrested. In Muzaffarnagar, a Muslim was killed in an encounter. A Rajbhar boy was killed in Azamgarh. This government has got the maximum number of notices (on encounters). Whenever a government comes which functions properly, these officers will go to jail.
Those being killed in encounters all belong to backward castes. Thoko-neeti chal rahi hai (it’s a policy of hit jobs). Not just the chowkidar, but the thokidar also has to be removed.
On questions on the Mahagathbandhan’s agenda, you hark back to Lohia and Ambedkar, or you say things will resolve themselves slowly. But your opponent has an organised machine in the present moment.
There is nothing special about the BJP. They have only cheated the country. When the BJP came to power, the country was under a debt of Rs 35 lakh crore. In the last five years, it has gone up to Rs 70 lakh crore. Where did this Rs 35 lakh crore go? Who got it? The farmers did not get it, nor the poor, or the youth. On the noteban, they said they will wipe out black money and corruption. Kya shauchalaya mein paani hai, kya bina paise ke shauchalaya ban gaya (Is there water in the toilet, was it constructed without a bribe)?
I had also built a feedback mechanism, We found the satisfaction level with our government was 90 per cent. I had given 18 lakh laptops. There is a Brahmin whose family in Sikandara got 17 laptops from the government, and he told me, I didn’t vote for you in 2017 but after that, I have felt cheated and so I will vote for you in 2019.
Even those who travelled on the Expressway did not vote for us. I ask you: Was there a special Yadav lane on the Expressway? People did not vote for me despite the Expressway because they were waiting for the bullet train perhaps. Now that it has not come, they have come back (to the SP).
Do you fear that, even today, they might prefer to wait for the bullet train?
But the PM has not taken the name of the bullet train even once this time. He has not spoken about achhe din, Gujarat model. He has not spoken about advantages of GST and Smart Cities, Make in India, Digital India.
Apart from those disillusioned with BJP’s promises, who are your voters?
The poor, those whose rights and honour are being taken away. Desh mein ab yeh ho raha hai ki aabadi mein jo kam hai, woh zyada labh utha rahe hain. Jo aabadi mein zyada hain unhe kam mil raha hai haq aur samman (In this country, those who are few in number are getting more benefits, and the numerically more get less – rights as well as dignity).
The government has spent money on Aadhaar and on the census, it has the data. We are saying the caste census numbers should be made public. Jab kabhi humein mauka milega toh aankde bhi baahar aayenge aur humari koshish hogi ki aabadi ke hisaab se logon ko haq aur samman mile (Whenever we get the opportunity, we will ensure the figures are outed and then we will try that rights and respect are accorded proportionately).
In the Samajwadi Pension Yojana, for women, we were giving benefits according to the proportion in the population. This can be replicated in other welfare schemes.
A criticism of the gathbandhan is that, in the end, you fall back on caste numbers.
It is the PM who came to UP and said he is from a backward caste. And when Mayawati ji pointed out that he does not belong to a backward caste, and that he changed his caste on paper, he has been saying he is from the ‘poor’ caste. Now, which new caste is this? It is not part of the Mandal Commission report. He can’t fool the people.
Now let’s compare the work. He was CM in Gujarat for 15 years, he must have done something… How many Expressways did he build? How many metro trains? The metro in which he travelled with the South Korean president from Delhi to Noida was given by the Samajwadi government. The solar plant he inaugurated in Mirzapur, that was also given by us. Where he sat on a swing with the Chinese president, you can see that riverfront, and compare it with the one built by the Samajwadis.
But the media does not give us credit. During the Air Force drill, when the Mirage, Hercules, and Sukhoi aircraft land on the Expressway, all prominent channels cover it, but not one names the SP or its government. What can be a bigger misfortune for us?
Do you think the election has changed after Pulwama and Balakot?
The BJP has tried hard, but the truth is out ever since they got scared of a jawan (Tej Bahadur Yadav, former BSF jawan, was given the SP ticket from Varanasi, but his nomination was rejected by the EC on technical grounds). What was his fault? That he spoke up on the poor quality of food.
I have friends who are officers in the Army, my wife is from an Army background, my father was defence minister. We can’t be nationalists if we ask questions? Is asking for the truth wrong in a democracy?
Shouldn’t the country know, shouldn’t the government tell, how much RDX there was at Pulwama, and how it got here? What was the route? Forget what happened to Pakistan. Just tell us what was the route the RDX took.
In your rallies, you do not mention the lynchings that have taken place in the name of the cow — Mohammad Akhlaq’s killing by a mob in Dadri had drawn the nation’s attention in 2015.
In my speech in Sonbhadra, I said, look what the thoko neeti has done. That is why I say we should remove the thokidar too.
When you talk about the thoko neeti or thokidar, it is encounters you talk about, not lynchings. When I say nafrat (hate), people know what I mean. Samajhdaar ko ishara kaafi hai (the wise need only a signal).
Let’s talk about the Congress. Why are they are not part of your alliance?
Congress gathbandhan mein do seat ke saath hai (it has two seats in the gathbandhan).
You have given them those two seats. They are not part of the gathbandhan.
The Congress and BJP are the same. All the issues in the country — corruption, unemployment, poverty — what is the reason? If they had not followed wrong policies, our country would have been khushhaal (prosperous).
Has Priyanka Gandhi’s entry made a difference?
They want to re-make their party, not oust the BJP. Congress leadership, their style of working, their borrowed candidates — they don’t want to stop the BJP.
You tried to bring in changes within your party. You said you wouldn’t give tickets to criminals. Now in Ghazipur, Afzal Ansari is the alliance candidate from the BSP. You had taken a stand against his brother Mukhtar Ansari.
You should see a copy of the FIR against the UP chief minister (Yogi Adityanath). There are cases against him.
But were you not supposed to be the political alternative?
You should also see the FIR against the Deputy CM (Keshav Prasad Maurya).
Has the SP made mistakes the BJP is taking advantage of?
The SP has not made mistakes. We have been fighting the BJP from day one. BJP se humne jaatiyon ki ginti seekh lee. Woh jaatiyan ginte thay. Kyunki desh ki sabse zyada jaatiwaadi party toh BJP hai. Yeh humne UP mein dekha hai (We have learnt to do caste headcounts from the BJP. It is the BJP that is the most casteist party, we have seen that in UP).
You have been coy on the question of the gathbandhan’s PM candidate. Will it be Mayawati? You have been working with her, what have you discovered about her that you didn’t know?
The gathbandhan will make that decision on May 23. But I will say this. Mayawati ji has been UP CM several times. She has the experience. She has taken important decisions. We see discipline in her programmes.
Haalanki itni abhi charcha nahi hui unse (there hasn’t been that much conversation between us) but I can say for sure that she wants to work — for the poor and the Dalit, for the backward, while taking along the forward castes. I feel she has taken politics in a new direction. And the gathbandhan has shown a wider path.