IT’S A RAINY Thursday in Lucknow. As the gates open of the 5 Kalidas Marg residence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to let our vehicle in, we are greeted with smiles from youngsters of the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha, the youth wing of the Samajwadi Party (SP), gathered outside to wave at his Land Cruiser as it departs for the day. For now, it’s parked in the portico, and the security guards around it guide me to the visitors’ room. It’s noon and Open is on time for the interview, but Shashi Kant Sharma, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, has dropped by to meet the Chief Minister, so I must wait. “Sir has taken a five-minute break. It’s your turn after that,” says a staffer, ushering me into a hall. Its ceiling is high, and from it hangs an art installation that’s impossible to miss. Made of different parts of a cycle, the SP symbol, the contraption has a beam of light shone on it that casts a shadow on the adjoining wall in the shape of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s facial profile.
I am still marvelling at it when I am asked into the meeting room. Here, pictures of his father and party president Mulayam Singh Yadav adorn the wall: there is young Mulayam, the leader with Pranab Mukherjee, and him with Nelson Mandela among others. There are also photographs of Ram Manohar Lohia. There is none of Akhilesh Yadav. Behind the Chief Minister’s favoured sofa are three miniature cycles and a collage of family pictures with his wife and children. A former MP of the party is also waiting to meet the Chief Minister. We are barely done greeting each other when Akhilesh Yadav appears. He smiles and quickly takes his seat. He sports a stubble and looks a little tired, but once he starts talking, he is as energetic as a 43-year-old leader ought to be. The former MP informs him of an official being publicly critical of the government. “I don’t care,” the Chief Minister replies, “I do my work and don’t worry about who says what. There are many like him. If I start bothering with all this, I will end up swallowing a number of coloured capsules.” The MP takes his leave and Akhilesh Yadav turns to me. “Do your work, do some exercise and remain happy, that’s my life,” he says. I ask if he is a gym regular. “I do exercise and love to remain fit. I need to lose 8 kg more. Let’s see.” Excerpts:
UP is all over the news for law and order issues. The opposition says your government is not able to handle the violence.
The law and order of the state is always hyped up whenever a Samajwadi Party government comes to power. Even the smallest of incidents is exaggerated. The Budaun case [in which caste oppression was said to have driven a couple of young women to their death] is a classic example of this. Some elements always turn active trying to ignite social unrest all over the state. All this is done just to show the SP government in poor light. You must agree that the police have to perform their duty under difficult conditions. Their efforts are hardly appreciated even if they do genuinely good work. The state government has fully backed the police department to act freely and responsibly in maintaining law and order. There is a huge shortage of police personnel and the government is making efforts to recruit more policemen. Besides, we are focusing on the department’s modernisation. Those who don’t want a debate on development are talking about these incidents. If the opposition or anyone has information of injustice being done to people or something wrong with law and order, they should bring it to my notice. After all, this is what people expect from the government—to respond to their problems. [The BJP] first made promises and won an election; now they are running away from debating the real issue of development.
There is a surge in crime against women.
It is completely untrue to say that we are not concerned about the security of women. We initiated a special call centre for women. We launched ‘1090’, a women’s power line, on 15 November 2012. To make it more effective, we started a women’s security app [to go with it] in 2014. In any such case, I have issued strict orders to police officials to act fast and put the culprits behind bar. Any criminal will be strongly dealt with under the law. Soon, a revised and updated ‘Dial 100’ service will replace the existing one. It will enable the police to reach the spot within 10-15 minutes after receiving an alert.
Secular forces were able to prevent forces like BJP from coming to power. Now there is a decline in the political discourse of the country. The cow debate is just part of their gimmicks. There were cows in the country even before we and BJP came to power
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Some incidents of cow vigilantism have been reported from UP too. How do you see this?
There was a time when secular politics was discussed and appreciated everywhere in the country. Secular forces were able to prevent forces like the BJP from coming to power. Now these people have come to power [at the Centre]. As a result, there is a decline in the political discourse of the country. The cow debate is just part of their gimmicks. There were cows in the country even before we and the BJP came to power. But, in recent times, it has been converted into a political issue by the BJP. We have closely seen the politics of religious conversion in UP. The BJP wants people to remain entangled in such issues and not raise real questions. Those who are shying away from a debate on development are talking about cows.
Nitish Kumar says he wants a united front against the BJP. One such attempt failed last year because the SP walked out of it.
Our Constitution gives every citizen the right to fully express his or her view within the parameters of law. I take [the statements] of Shri Nitish Kumar in this perspective. Shri Mulayam Singh Yadavji is one of the most senior and experienced politicians of the country. The Samajwadi Party is functioning well under his able guidance. These kind of decisions are taken by him, and as a party worker, my job is restricted to providing better governance to the people of UP. However, I would say that it is important to unite the forces of democracy and secularism, which could be done under the leadership of Netaji [Mulayam Singh yadav].
Mulayam Singh may be the supreme leader. Then there are Shivpal Yadav, Ram Gopal Yadav and Azam Khan. It looks like there are many power centres in the government. The opposition says there are too many CMs in the state.
The opposition has nothing to do. So the adage, ‘an empty mind is thedevil’s workshop’ applies well to them. Where are the other chief ministers? You are talking only to me, isn’t it?
Which is your party’s main opponent in the 2017 state election— the BSP, BJP or Congress?
I am not at all concerned about who will be No 2 in UP. We are and will be No 1 after the elections. Our leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and party workers have done one thing different from other parties. The party manifesto for us is not merely a document, we have met the promises made in it. There is one party which doesn’t release a manifesto. We came to power by defeating that party. There is another, which came up with the promise of ‘achche din’. During the coming Vidhan Sabha elections, the electorate will be able to compare the performance of the SP-led state government with [that of] the earlier BSP government and also the BJP Government at the Centre. This election will be fought on the plank of development.
The opposition has nothing to do. The adage ‘an empty mind is the devil’s workshop’ applies well to them. Where are the other chief ministers? You are talking only to me, isn’t it?
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Elections in UP are more about caste and community, but you are talking more of development.
The work done by our government gives me that confidence. We have launched several development projects. The Lucknow Metro Rail and Agra-Lucknow Expressway are two ambitious projects that will be ready around the end of 2016. There are other major projects like CG City, IT City, IIIT, Cancer Hospital, Trans-Ganga City, International Cricket Stadium, construction of cycle tracks, creation of power infrastructure and setting up of new medical colleges, all of which will make UP one of the leading states of the country. The growth rate of the state was 3.9 per cent in 2012-13, which increased to 6.6 per cent in 2015-16. Similarly, the per capita income of UP at present is Rs 48,584, while it was Rs 35,358 in 2012-13. We are firmly on the path of development and I am confident that voters will repose their faith in our party again.
You have been criticised for poor power supply. The Centre says that the UP government doesn’t buy enough of it.
Our electricity situation has improved vastly. We’ve had a special focus on energy sector. Over the past four years, we have done a lot of work. As a result, we will get about 17,500 MW of electricity by October 2016. Compare this with the 9,000 MW that was available in 2012. At present, the availability is about 14,000 MW. A detailed work plan has been chalked out to increase power supply under which at least 16 hours of power supply [per day] in rural areas and 22-24 hours in urban areas would be achieved from October 2016 onwards.
Droughts for two consecutive years and crop losses due to untimely rains have badly affected farmers.
It is true that a large number of people in UP depend upon agriculture. The government is observing 2016-17 as ‘Year of the Farmer’ and of ‘the Youth’. UP is the first state in the country to have adopted the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme and credited subsidies on certified seeds to the bank accounts of farmers. The Union Government has also appreciated this scheme and suggested other states work on the same pattern. During the bad weather conditions that affected farmers in the first four-five months of the previous year, the state government extended full cooperation. The UP government gave farmers [the money] from its own resources. To avoid such situations in the future, we have made a provision of Rs 897 crore for the proposed Samajwadi Kisan Evam Sarvahit Insurance Scheme in the 2016-17 state budget. An allocation of Rs 240 crore for the Farmer Accident Insurance Scheme and Rs 50 crore for the Aam Aadmi Insurance Scheme has also been made. Similarly, a provision of Rs 1,336 crore for the payment of sugarcane arrears to farmers has been made. The state government is making all efforts to clear all remaining cane dues.
Mulayam Singh has on several occasions criticised party workers and the SP government for not reaching out to people. Recently, he openly accused party workers of land grabbing.
It is the workers of the party who make up the government. So no political party can afford to ignore its workers. However, it is the responsibility of the senior leadership to guide them and channelise their energy towards relevant issues. I find nothing wrong in what our leader does. We should be thankful for a leader who constantly pushes us to work better.
But he doesn’t seem convinced by your development plank and sounds unsure if it will help the SP get re-elected.
Did he tell you this ? (Smiles) There is absolutely nothing like this. On several occasions he has appealed to our workers to go and talk about our development work in rural areas. Under his able leadership, we will win the trust of the people of UP once again. You come to Lucknow next year around this time. I will meet you here only.