Interview: Akhilesh Yadav

‘A mass movement against BJP’s hoodwinking’

Print edition : October 23, 2020

Akhilesh Yadav, president of the Samajwadi Party and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Photo: PTI

Interview with Akhilesh Yadav, president of the Samajwadi Party and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.

Akhilesh Yadav, president of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, is convinced that with the enacting of the new farm laws, more and more common people, especially the marginalised sections of society, have started seeing through the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s hoodwinking tactics. “It is evident that the BJP’s primary concern is to promote a few select capitalists even at the cost of the larger interests of the country. This realisation is spreading fast among the people, especially the farming community. The passage of these Bills will ultimately turn out to be the BJP’s own patan-patra [certificate of collapse]. The prevarication of BJP’s leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on this issue is not going to save it from collapse,” Akhilesh Yadav told Frontline in an online interaction. Excerpts:

From the time the Centre moved the farm Bills in the Lok Sabha you have been protesting against them and pointing out that their ramifications would isolate the BJP and its governments from the people. You had also said that the signals of this disillusionment among people can be seen in the manner in which long-standing allies such as the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) pulled out from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Still, there is also the perception that the S.P. itself is not active on the ground in building up a mass movement against the Acts.

The Narendra Modi led BJP-NDA regime was under the impression that it had come prepared to push a spate of draconian laws during the monsoon session of Parliament. It was with this intent that the ruling party did away with the question hour and zero hour of Parliament. They thought that the passage of the farm Bills in this climate would be a political cakewalk. But, the public outrage the Bills generated, especially among the agrarian class, was so powerful that the SAD, one of the BJP’s long-standing allies, was forced to leave the Union Cabinet and the NDA itself. This, by itself, is not going to bring down the Modi government or deplete its huge majority in the Lok Sabha, but there is little doubt that this signifies a growing momentum of the mass movement against the political and governance hoodwinking of the BJP. The leadership and rank and file of the S.P. are very much in tune with this mass movement.

Still, there is an impression of the lack of an effective opposition...

If, as you say, there is an impression that the S.P. is not active on the ground, all that I would state is that there are many extraneous factors that are going into creating, sustaining and spreading that misinformation. Even 10 per cent of our mass struggles are not being covered by the media. In fact, at many places the S.P. cadre and volunteers have been brutally attacked by the police. The Modi regime is one that goes to any extent to have its own command and control over institutions and, as you may well know, the media is no different. There is a concerted effort to keep out regional parties from the purview of widespread coverage, and this is certainly one of the factors that has gone into creating the impression that you were talking about. And, of course, all these machinations are primarily aimed at facilitating the interests of a few rich people.

You have repeatedly raised this point about vested interests being behind the farm Bills. But BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Modi, have been saying that the opposition is trying to mislead people...

Even a cursory perusal of the track record of this government will show how the vested interests of a few select capitalists are the primary concern of this government. The regime of the Narendra Modi-led BJP-NDA for over five years is marked by targeted and sustained selling of the country’s resources. At the State level BJP governments like the one in Uttar Pradesh, led by Yogi Adityanath, follow the same bechu sarkar [selling off government assets] policy. Between them, the State and Union governments have sold mandis (markets), highway tolls, government malls, ITIs, polytechnics, airports, railways and insurance companies. This massive privatisation drive in aid of a few capitalists, who are evidently among the BJP’s favourites, have also resulted in reduction of job opportunities for the youth.

What the farm Bills have done is to expose this trait thoroughly before the people, especially the farming community. The nature and impact of these Bills is such that it will make the farmer a menial labourer and divest him of the ownership of land. At the operational level, the abolition of the Agricultural Produce Market Committees [APMC] and the lack of guarantee on Minimum Support Price [MSP] are bound to force the farmer to selling his crop at one-off, distress prices. Over and above this, the removal of wheat and paddy crops from the Essential Commodities Act will compel the farmer to sell his crop on the terms set by big agents and business houses. The S.P. is committed to fight against this series of unjust measures. Our party will not let the voice of farmers be suppressed.

Many agricultural scientists and economists point out that mechanisms like the APMC are obsolete. They argue that such mechanisms need to be reformed. The supporters of the farm laws say the spirit of these Acts is in keeping with this felt need for reforms.

I do not think that anyone would deny the need for large-scale reforms in our agricultural sector. But there are ways and means to go about it. To start with, the initiation of reforms has to be democratic and transparent. You should not bring it through the backdoor and then bulldoze it through without proper discussions and by denying a proper division of votes in Parliament.

And as for agrarian reforms, I think it would be good to look at the track record of a number of State governments, including the S.P.-led government in Uttar Pradesh in 2012-17. Our government initiated a number of reforms, including those in the APMC system. At its core was the aim that it should benefit farmers. It had measures to shorten the supply chain by providing the interface between farmers and consumers. We developed 584 agriculture marketing hubs with a budget of Rs.164.79 crore along with five dedicated farmers’ markets, in Lucknow, Jhansi, Kannauj, Kasganj and Saifai. The modern “apna bazars” that we set up at over 30 centres followed a comprehensive development philosophy and, besides agricultural products, there were arrangements to make available handloom products and unique folk culture creations. Our government also changed the policy and laws for setting up cold storages and warehouses with the objective of boosting agri-processing and storage. We started a massive infrastructure project to develop agriculture mandis along the Agra-Lucknow and Purvanchal Expressways. The buildings that were being built on these highways can still be seen at various stages of completion. They are ignored by the Yogi Adityanath government and present a picture of desolation. Such disregard for the good work of others is something that the BJP leadership should give up at the earliest. But for that you will have to imbibe and internalise some democratic values.

All parties stress the importance of the M.S. Swaminathan Commission report (2004-06) on improving the agricultural sector and the lot of farmers, but they speak about it only when they are in the opposition and lose their enthusiasm when they come to power. What are the reasons for it?

The Swaminathan Commission report is a comprehensive analysis of our agricultural sector and it has manifold elements. I do not think it is possible for any government to implement the report at one go. On our part, the S.P. government of the 2012-17 period had tried to implement some key aspects of the report.

 

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