Interview: Akhilesh Yadav

‘People can see through the twisting of facts’

Print edition : March 17, 2017

Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Interview with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.

“KAAM Bolta Hai” (work speaks), the principal campaign slogan of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), is veritably an extension of the expression party president and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav uses repeatedly. The young leader employs it not just in an electoral context. He uttered a variation of the expression quite forcefully during an interaction approximately three years ago, at a time when a magazine had branded him as the “worst Chief Minister in India”, saying that his government was pulled in different directions by many super Chief Ministers, including his father and party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav. “I do not want to react to all that. I just listen to the everlasting advice given by the most supreme Yadav of all,” he had said during that interaction. “The supreme Yadav who told the world, karmanyeva adhikaaraste maa phaleshu kathaachana.” He was referring to Krishna and the Bhagvad Gita.

Akhilesh said: “I am just doing my work to the best of my ability and that should speak for itself.” Three years later, after his protracted battle within the party and the government, the overwhelming perception in the media is that Akhilesh Yadav is in control of the party and the government. The Chief Minister was subtly reminded of the interaction that took place three years ago as Frontline conducted an interview with him during his chopper-hopping campaign across the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. Excerpts:

As the election progresses, the campaigning is getting more and more noxious with references to kabaristans and shamshaans as well as Ramzan ki bijli (electricity for Ramzan celebrations) and Deepavali ki bijli (electricity for Deepavali celebrations). Evidently, the election atmosphere is steadily acquiring communal overtones. How do you and the S.P. propose to counter this?

It is appalling that attempts to vitiate the social and political climate in the midst of the elections have emanated from none other than the top leadership of the ruling party at the Centre, including the Prime Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party president. It is clear why they have embarked on this path. Early phases of the election process have been completed and they have realised that there is no gain for them. At our level, the S.P. is committed to not allowing this vile game plan to succeed. We will do everything possible at our command to maintain social and communal harmony. We have already highlighted the pathetic depths to which the BJP has sunk during the campaign by presenting concrete facts and figures. These figures show that as early as February 2015, the government had started work on a Rs.100-crore special project for opening cremation grounds in rural areas. Any objective observer of our government’s work will know that there is no community-based electricity supply here. In the past five years, the S.P. government has improved the electricity situation in Uttar Pradesh like no other government has. The benefits are for the people as a whole.

There is a growing perception that this vitiation of the social climate has restrained the political and electoral momentum that the Akhilesh Yadav factor and the S.P.-Congress combine had in the run-up to the polls.

I do not think so. As far as I can see, people have made up their minds and they are going to opt for a continuation of the development narrative and a younger political leadership. All attempts at communalisation are being gauged on merit by the people and they will give a fitting reply to these political desperadoes.

But the Prime Minister is on record as to how you are looking and sounding desperate in the face of the BJP’s campaign offensive. He has referred to some of your individual television appearances and pointed out that you are looking tired and listless.

I am a normal human being with normal physical abilities. I do not have claims of being a superman like some people in our country’s political space. Nor do I take recourse to special diets, costing lakhs of rupees and probably suffuse with steroids. In any case, I am not an asset to the cosmetics industry that helps you nurture your narcissism through make-up that glosses over the natural human tendency to feel tired when you work hard or have to exert yourself. Again, I am not a brand ambassador for such fashion designing that promotes one’s self-obsession by creating suits with your name written all over them. This obsession with physical appearances is ludicrous, to say the least.

Coming back to your “Kaam Bolta Hai” slogan, there is a view that while it may work well for you personally, it is not true for all the S.P. Ministers, particularly for the incumbent MLAs. There is something called local anti-incumbency and that is seen to be working against the S.P.

There may be stray cases, but as a whole Team S.P. has put in creditable work over the past five years and the majority of the population knows and acknowledges this.

Even those who accept your work in terms of infrastructure, electricity and roads as positive point out that the S.P. government's track record on law and order is abysmal. The serious criminal cases that have come up against people like Gayatri Prajapati, the S.P. candidate in Amethi, are fodder for the opposition’s campaign.

The work of all institutions, including governments, will have limitations. But I can say with certainty that I have tried my level best to understand the deficiencies and limitations and taken steps to overcome them. The launching of the information technology-enabled dial 100 service was a big step in this direction. Also, one needs to address the crime rate in Uttar Pradesh in relation to and in proportion to its population. That is the scientific method, and if you adopt it you will know the crime rate in this large State is much lower than in many other States, including those ruled by the BJP.

The other criticism is about the period when your development narrative unfolded. There is a stream of opinion that you focussed on development only after the S.P.’s defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

This again is an unfounded propaganda that overlooks facts. I request you to just go back to The Hindu’s reporting in early 2013, less than a year after I was voted into office. The Hindu reported then that the government was planning big infrastructure projects worth several thousand crores, including road projects and schemes in IT and ITeS sectors. Again, as any observer of development projects would know, big projects take time to show results. Thus, what we planned and worked on from year one started showing results from the fourth year onwards. It had nothing to do with the 2014 elections or any other extraneous factors. The people of Uttar Pradesh know these details and can see through the twisting of facts by our opponents in the political space and elsewhere.

An interesting facet of the S.P. campaign this time is that the party’s conventional campaign themes based on Other Backward Class (OBC) identity politics, secularism and minority welfare are underplayed. The development narrative has taken centre stage. Will this also not become counterproductive?

This is the age of new politics where politics in the name of identity, welfare, development, social justice and overall human progress has acquired or is acquiring new shapes and dimensions. The S.P. has been committed to social justice and progress right from its inception. There are certain things that we need not emphasise anymore since our supporters and the larger electorate know that it is ingrained in the party. For example, our commitment to minority welfare is time tested. However, our development paradigm is moving to newer areas, assimilating our basic commitment to the fundamental objectives of the party; hence, greater emphasis is placed on that aspect.

Was the internal struggle in the party between the old guard and your team a reflection of this new perspective?

You are well aware that it was not the case. There are no fundamental differences within the party on any vital issue. Some people conspired to create misunderstandings with the help of our political opponents, and they did succeed in creating confusion. I took a resolute stand to save the party as well as my near and dear ones. I think that phase is over. We are all united to achieve our immediate goal of winning the elections.