Interview: Akhilesh Yadav

‘There is much more work to do’

Print edition : April 13, 2018

S.P. president Akhilesh Yadav after his campaign, in Lucknow on March 9. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Interview with Akhilesh Yadav, national president of the Samajwadi Party.

“KEEP the momentum going. Take your oath in Parliament at the first opportunity. There is a lot more work to do.” That was Samajwadi Party (S.P.) national president Akhilesh Yadav’s advice to Praveen Kumar Nishad and Nagendra Patel, the new Lok Sabha members, as they sat in a celebratory gathering of sorts at his Lucknow residence a day after the party’s momentous electoral triumphs against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the key constituencies of Gorakhpur and Phulpur. Akhilesh Yadav and his senior associates were relishing the big wins, but there were also repeated reminders that the party and its activists should not rest on their laurels. After this meeting, Akhilesh Yadav spoke to Frontline at length on what these byelection results meant to the S.P., Uttar Pradesh, the larger opposition in the State, and India as a whole. Excerpts:

The leadership of the BJP have sought to explain away the byelection results as something that took them by surprise. Their argument is that the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) announced their coming together suddenly in the middle of the campaign and that the BJP was not able to gauge the real import and impact of the alliance on the ground. How would you respond to this?

The very argument exposes the manner in which the BJP, its governments in the State and the Centre, as well as the exalted organisational and political systems under their command, have failed. This is a failure not just in electoral terms but also at the level of governance and the management of government machinery. It is a failure in estimating not only the electoral arithmetic of the coming together of the S.P. and the BSP, but also the emotive voter dissatisfaction with the BJP.

This dissatisfaction has been rising over the past three years and has become a high-pitched one in the past one year, after the ascent of the Yogi Adityanath-led government in the State. With BJP governments both in the State and at the Centre, with the Prime Minister having his Lok Sabha constituency in the State, and with the kind of massive mandate accorded to the party in both the general election and the Assembly election, the people of Uttar Pradesh had every right to expect at least an earnest attempt at fulfilment of the aspirations the electoral promises had generated. But what did they get in return?

The vast agrarian community in the State got a farcical implementation of a loan waiver scheme, which actually turned out to be a cruel joke on them, with farmers getting waivers of ridiculously low amounts. The promise on raising the MSP [minimum support price] of different produce also turned out to be thoroughly disastrous at the level of implementation.

The collapse of the law and order machinery is so palpable that even senior police officers and their relatives are not safe from the assaults of Sangh Parivar outfits and their associates. Robbery, dacoity, rape and murder have also risen to an all-time high, with even relatives of Ministers becoming victims in some cases. Adding to all this is the rampant attempt at communal polarisation even by the Chief Minister and senior Ministers in the Uttar Pradesh government. Naturally, in this situation, communal riots erupted in almost all parts of the State, with the Union Home Ministry itself rating Uttar Pradesh as the most communally violent State in the past one year.

The Union government aggravated this all-round misery through demonetisation and the ill-thought-out implementation of GST [goods and services tax], the everyday economic consequences of which are being borne by the common people even today. This has also broken the back of small-scale industrial and related enterprises and even some medium and high-end establishments.

So, when two important opposition parties of the State with proven record of substantive electoral support come together in this abominable social and economic background, any sensible political establishment or any effective governance mechanism with its numerous intelligence gathering systems should have known that this would have immense potential to tap the dissatisfaction of the voters. And that is exactly what happened in both Gorakhpur and Phulpur.

Make no mistake, this is just not about the arithmetic of two parties coming together and their cumulative votes overcoming that of the BJP. Take a closer look at the voting trends and one can see that there has been a massive erosion of BJP votes in both the seats. The voting pattern in Gorakhpur also shows that electoral affirmation for our candidate is not just the sum total of the past vote shares of the S.P. and the BSP.

Even so, the coming together of the parties was itself shocking to political players and observers. How did it come about? Since the announcement of the association had come around the time the BJP had recorded a massive win in Tripura, it is assumed by some observers that this was a sort of panic response by the S.P. and the BSP.

Do you actually believe that electoral associations or even adjustments are built on such knee-jerk, panic reactions? The fact of the matter is that there is a social, economic and political context that has brought the parties together. It is a context marked by misrule and human misery caused by that misrule. The rank and file of both the parties realise this situation and also understand the importance of this association to address the misery of the people.

Some people have wondered how the rank and file of these two parties, which have been opposed to each other for decades, came together in such a short time and worked so well on the ground, building up an effective election machinery. The answer is in the social, economic and political context and the motivations it has generated.

Please also remember that the political history of the S.P. and the BSP is in many ways linked to the social justice struggles of the marginalised sections of society. Their political philosophers are two social justice-oriented freedom fighters, Ram Manohar Lohia and Bhimrao Ambedkar, who have had vast areas of consonance. Over and above all this, the parties also have a history of joining hands politically and organisationally too, in 1993, which prevented the return of the BJP to power in Uttar Pradesh after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

BSP chief Mayawati has stated that, as of now, this understanding is only for these two byelections. So, is there any guarantee on the longevity of this association? Specifically, will this understanding develop into a concrete political alliance aimed at fighting the next Lok Sabha elections together?

Now, you have yourself quoted the Chief Minister as having said that he and his associates were taken by surprise when the S.P. and the BSP came together in the byelections. Clearly, all political manoeuvres cannot be made public or shared with the media. That was how that element of surprise was maintained in the bypolls. Let me extend that air of suspense for some more time.

As you know, Uttar Pradesh has 80 Lok Sabha constituencies and there is much work to be done in them in terms of political preparations. You will get to know all about our plans and schemes as and when we decide to unravel them. But I suppose there is a clue in the larger social, economic and political situation on the ground that should help political observers and analysts deduce the political orientation or direction of the future.

It is not just opposition political forces that are impacted by it. Look at the recent pronouncements of the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance, such as the Shiv Sena, the Telugu Desam Party or even the Lok Janshakthi Party or the Rajbhar party. They have all raised their voice against the BJP in one way or the other. They have all highlighted the misdemeanours of the top BJP leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

Some have questioned policy direction while others have criticised administrative manoeuvres and some others have roundly castigated the style of functioning. All these essentially emanate from the larger social, economic and political situation. If you analyse properly you can find out where they are springing from and what their core political meaning is.

Many opposition leaders, including Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, have initiated a kind of dinner diplomacy to bring together opposition parties. Do you think this will lead to something tangible and substantive?

It is too early to talk about the nitty-gritty of all this. But our political history has many instances where dinner initiatives have led to tangible and productive cooperation and unity among opposition forces. At times this has happened in spite of the disparate and divergent political ideologies pursued by different players who have come together. So, keep watching this space.

Even as all this happens, there is also a talk among these very participants in the dinner initiatives about the BJP unleashing its dirty tricks department as well as criminal investigation agencies of their governments against some opposition leaders in order to compromise them and ultimately drive them away from an anti-BJP conglomeration.

It is indeed highly possible that you resort to vile tactics or dirty tricks when your so-called acche din (better days) governance has nothing good to show for the people. It can take the form of individual targeting of opposition leaders through one or the other agency or mass targeting of people at large by engineering communal riots and pursuing divisive politics. This may even acquire the form of communal polarisation in the name of the construction of one thing or the other. But I am of the view that this, too, will get exposed and defeated. That is the promise that the results of the Gorakhpur and Phulpur byelections hold out.

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