The former chief minister of the country's most populous Uttar Pradesh state tells TRT World that the ruling BJP ‘has created a wall of hatred,’ which like-minded alliances must demolish.
LUCKNOW, India –– Akhilesh Yadav, 45, is seen as a game-changer politician in the ongoing election. A former chief minister of northern Uttar Pradesh state – the largest and most crucial for any political party – he has cobbled together an alliance in a bid to defeat the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Yadav-led alliance commands wide support from millions of Dalits (India's low caste Hindus), small traders, peasants, farmers and Muslims. In an exclusive interview with TRT World, he spoke about the BJP's five-year rule, the weaknesses of opposition Congress and explained how different political alliances pose a challenge to both BJP and its near-invincible campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
TRT WORLD: Why should people vote for your party or the alliance you have stitched together with the regional parties?
AKHILESH YADAV: There is widespread anger against BJP. People are unhappy. Farmers are sad. BJP's not creating jobs. Unemployment is the major issue and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not addressing it. Recently, in a speech in Aligarh, he said potato farmers will get the most benefits of his government's schemes. Nothing happened on the ground. Farmers are still crying for their dues. Sugar mills are not releasing their payments. So, this time it will be very difficult for BJP to win even in single digit in Uttar Pradesh [UP]. I say this because in recent by-elections in our state, our alliance won all the three parliamentary constituencies.
You often call PM Modi 'a prime minister of one percent Indians'. Why?
AY: See, when PM Modi announced demonetisation in 2017, people loved it initially. They thought more money will come to the poor. It didn't happen. Instead the rich got all the benefits. Poor man's money got into the banks and banks gave it to the business houses. Even on GST [General Services Tax] BJP said it is a simply a taxation procedure. Since Indian market isn't organised, it hurt the small traders. BJP is clearly supporting only one percent of the rich people. Modi is the prime minister of only one percent of India's rich population. He is not the prime minister of rest of the 99 percent poor.
You sent off a bus full of retired army men who, you say, will travel and visit many villages and cities. Simultaneously, you also accuse BJP of misusing Indian Army for politics. Aren't you also doing politics using army as facade?
AY: No, I am not using army for my politics. The bus will go to several places and the veteran soldiers will tell the people how BJP is using an apolitical institution for votes. My party is only providing them the means to reach and inform people. They will not talk about SP.
Regarding BJP, it is not coming out with the data over how many soldiers are serving on the border. Every day, one soldier is getting a bullet on the border. When PM Modi was campaigning for 2014 elections he said, 'if one soldier dies at the border, I will bring ten heads from Pakistan'. That didn't happen. The border is insecure today. BJP says borders are safe because BJP government is at the centre. I say, borders are safe because army is there, not because BJP is at the centre. Army shouldn't be politicised. BJP is taking advantage of whatever army does at the border. Let them talk about the achievement of their five-year rule.
How do you see the polarisation in your state? Lynching over cow protection, Ghar Wapsi programmes (forced conversions of Muslims and Christians into Hinduism), and all that? Is there a realisation that it is giving India a bad name?
AY: I agree those were bad incidents. It gave India a bad name. But it's because of BJP and their allies and Sangh Parivar [a 'family' of several Hindu nationalist organisations]. Nowhere in the world will people kill over what someone is eating or wearing. BJP has cultivated this kind of hatred in society. They have created a wall of hatred. We have to demolish it. BJP has done nothing on the ground for the poor, they just want to contest the election on the communal edge.
That's why they bring religion, caste and everything in politics. Look at what Modi said in the last election. He talked about Diwali and Ramadan, Shamshan [cremation site] and Kabristan [graveyard]. He said electrification is happening in Muslim villages, not Hindu villages. He talked about all these things in the last elections. BJP just doesn't talk about real issues.
Also, people have seen BJP's face at the centre and the state both. Look at the state of BJP's rule in UP. Nowhere in world will a priest [referring to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath] become the head of the state. He is busy doing religious things only. He should focus on governance as well.
SP and BSP have been bitter rivals for years together. How did you end up as political partners?
AY: See, in election and politics news things come. It's for the common issues we have come together – to save the country, to save the constitution. Indian constitution is under attack. That's why SP and BSP are together now. This unity will continue for years to come.
Suppose the BJP falls short of majority and it seeks support from your party or your ally BSP, which has been a BJP partner in the past, will you cash in that scenario? How strong is your understanding with BSP on this?
AY: Both parties will not help BJP. Our alliance is against BJP. In this election, the regional parties will bag more seats. What I am hearing from the newspapers and information from other sources is that Mamataji [Mamata Banerjee] is winning in a big way in West Bengal. KCR [Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao] is going to sweep Telangana and even DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] is doing well in Tamil Nadu. Then, the RJD [Rashtriya Janata Dal] alliance, Congress and other regional parties in Bihar are doing very good. Same is the case in UP where SP, BSP and RLD are doing good. In the first phase, we are sure we are winning all the eight seats.
Congress has placed strong candidates opposite to your alliance in some constituencies. Does it worry you?
AY: It's not a worrying situation. Congress has got no organisation. They may have good candidates but they lack organisation in UP. Their focus is not 2019, actually. Their focus is 2022 assembly elections in UP. They are fighting for assembly elections whereas SP, BSP and RLD are focusing on how to stop BJP in 2019 election. Congress' focus is how to make a party in UP. Their aim is to create an organisation. You don't make a party or organisation during elections.
Congress wanted to be part of an alliance and talks apparently failed. Why?
AY: We were talking during assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh state. Congress was also in talks with BSP then. But, after winning in three states, Congress never spoke with anyone. They never approached us for a possible alliance. After winning in three state assemblies they thought they will sweep UP all alone in general election. It's not going to happen.
Observers say that Congress pitted against your alliance will split votes and perhaps help BJP indirectly. How do see this possible scenario?
AY: Voters are very intelligent. Whoever wants to vote against the BJP will come to the alliance. They will not vote for a party [Congress] that can't defeat BJP alone.
Many people say you are very ambitious. Does it involve becoming future prime minister of India?
AY: [Laughs] No, I am not ambitious. I want to make a new prime minister. My whole struggle is to give India a new prime minister.