On July 22, 2021, Akhilesh Yadav, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and president of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), embarked on a Statewide journey in his “campaign rath”. The launch of the “rath yatra” marked the beginning of the S.P.’s “election outreach” programme. When Frontline contacted him for a telephone interview at the end of the day’s journey, Akhilesh Yadav shared his perspectives on contemporary political issues and about the 2022 Assembly elections in the State.
You launched the Samajwadi Party’s election outreach programmes today with a “rath yatra”. What are the main issues you plan to focus onduring the campaign? How would you evaluate the response of the people?
The main issues for the forthcoming elections are written in big, bold letters across every aspect of the social and economic life of Uttar Pradesh. What we have got from the Adityanath government in the past five years is total mismanagement of the State bringing intense misery to the people, especially the marginalised sections of society. With the advent of the COVID pandemic, the impact and dimensions of this misrule have magnified many times over, and people across the State are convinced that this no-good party [Bharatiya Janata Party] and its government have to go. The BJP seems to have realised this situation. The rampant, serial violations of democracy and the physical assaults on people at large and on significant sections of the media unleashed by the party and its government in the State is a testimony to this realisation. Even a casual look at the political controversies that have erupted in Uttar Pradesh in July will reveal this. It started with widespread violence, including assaults and kidnapping of opposition candidates by the ruling BJP and the police, during the July 3 and July 8 local body election for the posts of district panchayat presidents and block parmukhs respectively. The state-sponsored violence was so blatant that even serving officers were deployed for the attack. At many places media personnel were beaten black and blue when they tried to cover the kidnapping and capture the scenes of lawlessness.
Such was the scale of violence that many independent bodies, including the Editors Guild of India, were compelled to issue statement against the violence. A group of 87 former bureaucrats also called out the Uttar Pradesh administration for its blatant violation of the rule of law and the breakdown of governance.
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Their open letter highlighted the government’s use of criminal charges to crush dissent, extrajudicial killings in the State, legitimisation of vigilantes and shortcomings in COVID-19 management. What they said in their open letter is practically the report card of this government. It is a failure written in all caps [capital letters]. Now, in an effort to cover up these failures and distract people’s attention communally, Chief Minister Adityanath has come up this a new population policy, which in essence, is a mere election ploy with foreboding divisive potential.
You fought the 2016 Assembly election on the slogan “Kaam Bolta Hain” (work speaks). But that development-oriented slogan was defeated by a noxious communal campaign, with references to ‘kabaristans’ and ‘shamshaans’, which was led from the front by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Adityanath. This time, their communalisation efforts have started fairly early through the population policy and the campaign around it. How do you propose to counter it?
I am of the view that people have seen through these pathetic communalisation exercises. The impact of COVID has created a new awareness based on public health concerns, employment, agricultural reform and rights of all sections of society, including farmers, teachers, students and women. And in this atmosphere of new awareness, the “ Kaam Bolta Hain ” slogan has gained new traction.
But the local body elections have shown that elections can be stolen. When the first round of results of the local body elections came out, the S.P. was considered to be the unambiguous winner. But when it reached the stage of taking office-bearer positions, opposition parties were hounded out. How do you deal with situations like this?
Here too, we will be relying heavily on people’s power, which will be channelised in such a manner that such blatant violation of democratic values does not happen. The flagrant violations by the government are getting noticed widely. History has shown us how high-handed repression and cover-up tactics will not work all the time.
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You fought the last two elections in the State forging seemingly big organisational alliances, first with the Congress for the Assembly election and later with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for the Lok Sabha election. Both failed on account of various factors, including the vitiation of the social climate through the aggressive communal campaign that the BJP leadership let loose. Do you think it will be possible for the S.P. to move ahead in the forthcoming election without strong organisational alliances, especially in the context of persistent communal politics?
We have learnt our lessons from past experiences, including electoral alliances. All of us know politics is not at all about arithmetic. There have been numerous times when two plus two did not produce four in politics. Sometimes it could be just two and a half and sometimes five. What I am seeing now is a silent build-up of social alliances against the BJP and its government cutting across barriers of political organisations. There is no doubt that the S.P. is the principal opposition to this government, both in terms of mobilisation volumes and emotional spirit. This is what will give us an upper hand in the next Assembly election.