Interview with Mulayam Singh Yadav
Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav has taken over the reins of Uttar Pradesh for the third time. This Lohiaite, who takes pride in his modest rural origin, was accompanied to the oath-taking ceremony by his erstwhile political enemies - Kalyan Singh, Ajit Singh, Jagdambika Pal and Pramod Tiwari - and the Mumbai glitterati and representatives of prominent industrial houses - Amitabh Bachchan, accompanied by wife and children; Tina Ambani and her industrialist husband Anil Ambani; Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej; and Subrata Roy of the Sahara India group to name just a few. The omnipresent S.P. leader Amar Singh hovered around the new Chief Minister.
The venue of the ceremony, the sprawling Laxman Mela grounds on the banks of the river Gomti in Lucknow, reverberated with the slogan jiska jalwa kayam hai, uska naam Mulayam hai (The man who maintains his glory is called Mulayam). As Mulayam Singh hugged National Democratic Alliance convener and Defence Minister George Fernandes, yet another surprise presence, on reaching the venue, with the glitterati watching, the distinction between the socialist and the socialite got blurred.
Does this suggest the make-over of the dharati-putra (son of the soil) into a suave, manipulative politician who knows how to keep high society on his side? In this interview to Purnima S. Tripathi, his first after taking oath, Mulayam Singh tried to answer some of these questions. He is undaunted by the contradictions of his changed political situation; what makes him nervous is the people's expectations, especially after the disastrous rule of Mayawati. Excerpts:
You have become the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh after a gap of eight years. Your political rivals are now supporting your government. Does this make you worry about the stability of your government?
No, I am not worried about the stability of this government because we have all come together after careful planning and on the basis of a common minimum programme, which is to rid the State of the terror of Mayawati's regime and save it from communal forces. It is true that Kalyan Singh, Ajit Singh and I were in rival camps earlier, but now the situation has changed. The changed situation prepared a common meeting ground for all of us.
Is it not ironical that you ordered the firing on kar sevaks to prevent them from reaching the Babri structure in 1990, but you are now sharing the platform with Kalyan Singh who presided over the demolition of the Babri Masjid?
Kalyan Singh did that as a Chief Minister of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He is no longer in that party. He is as much opposed to the BJP as any of us. In the previous elections he worked with us to defeat the BJP. He is totally against the BJP and has vowed to finish off that party. Even Gandhiji had said that one must give the sinner at least one chance to reform. Kalyan Singh has proved his anti-BJP credentials now.
Are the voters, especially your Muslim supporters, going to be convinced with this argument?
The voters are convinced. The Chiraigaon by-election result has proved that they have no problem accepting Kalyan Singh with us.
What about Ajit Singh? You have a decade-long history of rivalry with him and it got personal in 1989 when you defeated him to the Chief Minister's post? He has still not forgiven you for that.
We have had our political differences, but there was nothing personal in it. Our basic ideologies are the same. His father, Chaudhary Charan Singh, was my political guru and I have great regard for him. Besides, in the present political situation, he is in the anti-BJP camp, he is openly and fully with us. If there are minor differences they will be handled collectively. We have got together to save Uttar Pradesh and as long as that is our priority, hum sab sath sath hain (we are all together).
Ajit Singh has suggested the formation of a coordination committee on the lines of the NDA. Are you for it?
It is a good suggestion and once I prove the majority on the floor of the House, we shall sit together to evolve such a mechanism, which will become a meeting ground for all of us.
Your government will be dependent on the support of many small parties and the Congress(I). The Congress(I) had pulled down your government in 1991. The smaller parties too would want their price in return for support. Are you not daunted by the prospect of being under pressure all the time by an unwieldy coalition?
I'm not bothered about that because I don't succumb to pressure easily. But yes, adjustments and compromises may have to be made at times. That cannot be avoided.
Would the compromises include making Raja Bhaiya a Minister again?Let us not talk about that now.
You still do not have the numbers to prove your majority on the floor of the House? You only have 198 MLAs supporting you. How do you plan to cobble together a majority?
(Laughs mischievously) That we shall manage. Any number of BSP MLAs are willing to support us.
Mayawati has said that this will not be an S.P. government but a BJP government. Even otherwise there is an impression that the BJP supported the formation of your government. Your comments.
Isse jyada galat to kuchch ho hi nahin sakta (there cannot be anything more way off the mark than this). I have always opposed the BJP and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. The government was formed because nobody, not even the BJP, wanted another election so early. As for Mayawati, she has formed the government three times with BJP support. She has no moral right to talk like this now.What do you see as your challenges?
Putting Uttar Pradesh back on the rails. The financial situation is in a mess, the treasury is empty, the law and order machinery has broken down, the administrative infrastructure has collapsed, farmers are suffering, youth is unhappy, unemployment is a major problem, and the power crisis is grave. I don't know from where to begin. There are problems galore all around me.
Which one of these do you see as the biggest challenge?
Meeting people's expectations. The misrule of the last so many years has frustrated the people and they have such high expectations of us that it scares me. It makes me nervous.
Your first two tenures have been marked by serious social unrest. During your first stint, the Ayodhya movement was at its peak and it culminated in the firing on kar sevaks. The second tenure saw an alarming rise in caste tensions besides the firing on Uttaranchal activists. There is an impression that your presence creates polarisation along caste and communal lines. What will you do to ensure that this does not happen again?
The BJP had a big role to play in the instances you have quoted. I'm sure the BJP will try and instigate trouble again. But unlike in the past, they will not succeed this time because they have lost their credibility now. People have lost faith in them and will not be swayed by what they say. I have always believed in maintaining the rule of law and will not allow anyone to make a mockery of law.
The presence of well-known industrialists at the swearing-in ceremony generated curiosity. What does it indicate?
The economy of Uttar Pradesh is a shambles. Development has come to a standstill. I invited these industrialists to the State so that they would get interested in investing here. My first priority would be to arrange for resources for the State's development.
You are sitting here surrounded by flowers, bouquets and sweets. How does it feel to become the Chief Minister of India's largest State once again?
Surprisingly enough, it is a humbling experience. The overwhelming support I have received is moving. It has made me aware of the high expectations of the people and my responsibility towards them.