An interview with the UP Chief Minister
PR Ramesh | 09 Jul, 2021
(Photo: Maneesh Agnihotri)
Now in his fifth year in office, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is taking stock of his government’s achievements in the run-up to the Assembly election next year. He talks to Open about, among other things, handling the pandemic, rescuing the sugarcane industry, attracting investment, improving law and order, building roads and developing Ayodhya. Excerpts
Five years into your term as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, your government has faced several challenges. It has also had several successes. How would you sum up the performance?
I took over the reins of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 2017. It was a tough legacy to inherit. The Samajwadi Party (SP) government was ousted unceremoniously from power by the public owing to rampant corruption, blatant favouritism on the basis of religion, caste, region and, of course, unparalleled nepotism. The law and order situation was abysmal and anti-social elements and entrenched mafia ruled the roost. There was a total lack of faith of people in the system when I stepped in. I took this up as a challenge. The task at hand was to restore public faith in government, to deliver a huge dose of development that was completely missing in UP and to re-establish the rule of law in the most populated state of the country. We worked rigorously for the all-round growth of the state and to simultaneously uplift every section without discriminating on the basis of caste, religion or region. Our focus was always on delivering the benefits of the government’s welfare schemes to every person in society, especially the neediest, to bring about real social and economic change on the ground.
UP has long been known for poor development. What has your government done over the last four-plus years to change this perception, especially during the pandemic?
I strongly believe that development is meaningless if it does not benefit people and impact them in their personal lives. Our motive has been to serve every person of the state selflessly and without any discrimination. We followed the mantra of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas Aur Sabka Vishwas” which Prime Minister Narendra Modi spelt out in 2019. For us, it is not just a slogan; it is our guiding principle. And we are proud to work consistently to achieve this objective. We do not divide society based on caste or religion for petty political ends, unlike previous governments. Once notorious for its decrepit road infrastructure, UP today has India’s best expressway network and it is only set to get better. Mega projects like airports and greenfield defence corridors have been flagged off to boost growth and employment opportunities for the youth from the state. We have been striving hard to ensure law and order and to build a healthy, peaceful and safe state by cracking down on mafia members and gangsters and conducting determined mopping-up ops against them. We are working on multiple fronts, ranging from restoring law and order to building medical infrastructure and educational institutions to develop UP like never before. In fact, my satisfaction with the work my government has done thus far is based to a good extent on the satisfaction of the people of the state who, for the first time, have begun to count themselves as intrinsic stakeholders in a vibrant and responsive administrative system and in the very processes of development. A virtually comatose health system has also been revitalised by my government to respond swiftly and smoothly to the Covid-19 emergency over the last year. Our efforts have been appreciated by all, including global organisations like WHO.
The management of the Covid-19 crisis by your government was praised by the Supreme Court. But how did you handle the migrant issue?
Yes, the efficient handling of the migrant crisis was one of the big challenges for our government during the pandemic. It is true that we received about 35 lakh migrants but managed their living, feeding and employment. As a result, we had hardly four lakh migrants during the second wave. To bring the migrant workers home, our government acted swiftly in 2020. Fleets of government and private buses were sent to Anand Vihar and Kaushambi bus stations located on the Delhi border and over one lakh migrant workers were brought home in March 2020. The magistrates of all 75 districts were directed to screen migrant workers and those with Covid symptoms were asked to stay in quarantine facilities set up by the government or at-home isolation. Our village surveillance committees were keeping a constant vigil on migrant workers and monitored their health. Migrants from other states were asked to home quarantine for seven days even if they did not have Covid-19 symptoms. Skill-mapping of the migrants was another feature of the overall crisis management. Migrant workers were provided employment according to their skill sets which received accolades from global agencies on several occasions.
A better economic environment leads to a better social environment. No riots have taken place in the last four years. Remember, this is the same UP where earlier not a single festival could be celebrated peacefully
Many blame the mindset of politicians and the bureaucracy for the lack of progress in critical areas. While focusing on development, how did you handle these challenges?
Since my government took over in 2017, we have been working in synchrony with the bureaucracy smoothly and without hiccups for the development of the state. There is no lack of coordination, communication or understanding between the two important pillars of our healthy democratic setup. A well-knit team of ministers and bureaucrats is making a determined effort to attract investments to the state and they have succeeded to a large extent, with top industrialists making investments worth billions of rupees in different sectors in the last four years. UP has achieved so much in the recent past in terms of economic growth and infrastructure development despite the pandemic. The state is also taking rapid strides towards becoming the number one state in terms of per capita income. The first target, however, is to equal the national average.
That is on the economic front. What about the social front?
A better economic environment leads to a better social environment. No riots have taken place in the state in the last four years. Remember, this is the same UP where earlier not a single festival could be celebrated peacefully due to riots. We are not in politics to run after the trappings of power and pelf. Our priority and dharma (duty) are and will always be the protection of Rashtra (nation). We are working to provide a corruption-free administration and rid society of “goonda raj”. The impact of our policies and actions is visible.
The sharp caste faultlines in UP have been a cause of worry for your party. Have things changed in the past five years?
Caste faultlines figure more in newspapers than in reality on the ground or at the grassroots level. In an actual sense, the different caste groups have never behaved in a set pattern as far as voting is concerned. This will always be a very prominent factor in newspapers, media and social media. Non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits could decide the outcome of three Lok Sabha seats here. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has successfully courted their allegiance. UP’s voters have moved forward from the hackneyed Hindu-Muslim agenda. They voted clearly for a progressive government in the last election, outright rejecting the politics of caste, dynasty and community appeasement.
BJP’s social engineering had helped the party in 2014, 2017 and 2019. But now there are attempts to break its hold over EBCs. There is also a demand for a separate EBC quota. How do you reconcile the conflicting aspirations of these castes?
Let me be clear on one count—that BJP never linked the welfare of the Economically Backward Classes (EBCs) with their votes. It has been our ideology that power should be used as a tool to cater to the needs of the underprivileged and deprived classes. Social schemes launched by the party in the recent past bear testimony to this. Ever since BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, it has strived to ensure welfare of backward peoples and EBCs in earnest. Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah placed special emphasis on the welfare of these classes. They always took pride in saying their Government was the first to frame its welfare policies around EBCs. We will continue to serve EBCs or any other deprived class. If it is upsetting for our political detractors, that’s not our concern. Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas will remain our motto. The people of India are aware of the well-intentioned governance of BJP. EBCs are part of our cultural demography and social ethos and BJP will continue to work for them.
Your rivals claim that the Hindutva agenda benefits only the upper castes and EBCs are left out.
Hindutva is more a spiritual and emotional issue having sentimental value for all Sanatanis, irrespective of their economic status. The donations for the Ram Mandir came from across sections, including people of modest economic means. Not only Hindus but people of other religions have also contributed their share to the trust. Rajnath Singh is one of the party’s staunchest advocates of the Hindutva ideology which seeks to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values. His rise to the top ranks within the party and across the political brass demonstrates BJP’s democratic strength.
The government’s handling of the sugar sector is being praised by many. What do you think worked in this sector, among the biggest in your state?
The entire credit goes to a series of welfare measures taken by our government for supporting sugarcane farmers. That resulted in the area under sugarcane going up by more than 30 per cent in the last four years. While the area under sugarcane cultivation was around 20.54 lakh hectares in 2016-17, it has gone up to 27.4 lakh hectares in the current year 2020-21. Things started looking up for both cane farmers and the sugar industry after our government took over in 2017. We prioritised sugarcane farming and the sugar industry due to the dependence of a large population on sugarcane. Previous governments sold 21 sugar mills of the state as part of a conspiracy, but when our government came, we opened sugar mills at Pipraich in Gorakhpur and at Munderwa in Basti which process four times more sugarcane. Our policies are quite investor-friendly, benefitting both the farmers and the industry. Our government has made a record payment of Rs 1.40 lakh crore to more than 45 lakh sugarcane farmers. That is twice what was done by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government and 1.5 times more than the SP government. Along with giving a boost to the dying sugar industry, the government has turned around a sensitive situation by setting a new record on speedy payment to sugarcane farmers. We are also working on augmenting the capacity for the production of ethanol, as 16 new distilleries are to be set up during the 2021-22 fiscal. The new distilleries will bring a fresh investment of Rs 1,250.44 crore.
A series of welfare measures resulted in the area under sugarcane going up by more than 30 per cent in the last four years. While the area under sugarcane cultivation was around 20.54 lakh hectares in 2016-17, it has gone up to 27.4 lakh hectares in the current year 2020-21
What would be the impact of the Kisan Andolan on the election? Would BJP face trouble in western UP if Rakesh Tikait joined hands with SP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in the Assembly polls?
Our party and government stand strong with the farmers. The record sugarcane dues payment and the record purchase of wheat this season prove our good intentions. We also support the Jat community in the state; they comprise 17 per cent of the population in western UP. Be it the sale of produce or the state of sugarcane farmers, our government has always been working for their welfare. The agitating farmers have been misguided by the opposition regarding the new farm laws. We have communicated directly with the farmers of western UP at every farmer’s programme. We also met those who have done good work in the field of agriculture and sought their advice on how to improve agriculture in the state. I am sure that the farmer community is no longer misguided by the opposition parties.
BJP and you have claimed that you will seek votes next year based strictly on the performance of the government. However, SP lost the last Assembly election despite its claims about its achievements.
The voter rejected the SP government’s tall claims on development and rightfully threw them out to elect BJP overwhelmingly. SP was rejected by the people for the lack of transparency in their governance, their corruption, nepotism, and for the deliberately skewed and selective development. Most of the parties which had political stakes in UP prior to 2017 suffered from the same malaise, that is, family ties and nepotism. Compared to that, the ordinary voter was attracted to BJP’s basic promise of serving all without discrimination. People also rejected SP since it harboured criminals and mafia elements. The party leadership functioned like a private limited company. The same is the case with other parties. All of them are basically the same. People have woken up to this and are casting their votes with care. BJP is here to bring prosperity to people through the mantra of good governance from Prime Minister Modi and they realise that. We have kept our pledge to present UP, which has the blessings of nature and Almighty Lord Ram, as a safe, well developed and prosperous state focused on the aspirations of its 24 crore people on the global stage.
Your government has taken tough action against the mafia and politicians associated with them. Did you face pressure from within your party and from outside?
We follow a strict and non-negotiable policy of “Zero Tolerance” against crime and all criminals. It has resulted in the elimination of over 100 criminals in the approximately 4,000 encounters that have taken place during our term. We believe that a habitual lawbreaker is a threat to society at large, which plays havoc with its harmonious structure. For any state to develop or prosper, it is very essential to have a peaceful environment and that is not possible as long as the mafia and gangsters continue to prosper. So, our government ensured there was no place for those who gave patronage to the mafia, criminals and other rogue elements in the New Uttar Pradesh of “Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat” (One India, Better India). We have taken stringent action against gangsters and mafia dons. UP Police have seized and demolished property worth Rs 1,000 crore, illegally acquired by more than 40 mafiosi and gangsters over the past four years. The majority of the destroyed properties belonged to high-profile mafiosi like Mukhtar Ansari, Sunder Bhati, Atiq Ahmed, Bablu Srivastava, and Khan Mubarak. We have registered cases against 800 gangsters and their close associates. Most of these cases are filed against the dreaded gangsters of the Purvanchal region, Mukhtar Ansari and Atiq Ahmad, who had mocked the rule of law openly and brazenly. So, no, I did not face any pressure whatsoever, internal or external, when it came to acting with an iron fist against mafia elements and criminals. Everyone knew my worldview on this and accepted my style of functioning.
A peaceful environment is not possible as long as gangsters prosper. We have taken stringent action against them. UP Police have seized and demolished property worth Rs 1,000 crore, illegally acquired by more than 40 mafiosi and gangsters
You have held investment summits. Other states have been unable to convert pledges into actual investments. How successful have these summits proved for your government and UP?
We held the Investors’ Summit in February 2018. How the credibility of the government plays its role in attracting the investors became evident when MoUs worth Rs 4.68 lakh crore were signed during the summit. In the first phase, investment proposals for 81 projects worth more than Rs 60,228 crore were facilitated at the first Ground Breaking Ceremony in July 2018. These investments have the potential to generate around 2.06 lakh in employment in the state. This includes investments by top companies like Reliance Jio Infocomm (Rs 10,000 crore), Infosys (Rs. 5,000 crore), Tata Consultancy Services (Rs 2,300 crore), Adani Power (Rs 2,500 crore), Paytm (Rs 3,500 crore), etcetera. In the second phase, investment proposals for over 250 projects amounting to nearly Rs 65,000 crore were facilitated at the second Ground Breaking Ceremony held in July 2019. This included investment proposals by Vivo Mobiles (Rs 7,000 crore), Samsung (Rs 1,400 crore), Haier India (Rs 1,000 crore), Oppo, Vivo, Lava Mobiles, ITC Ltd (Rs 700 crore), Pepsico (Rs 500 crore), etcetera. This also includes post-Covid implementation, such as 34 projects worth approximately
Rs 15,893 crore which have commenced commercial operations, while 23 projects worth approximately Rs 6,935 crore have entered the active implementation stage. The state government has also attracted more than 96 investment intents, including intents from companies from around 10 countries, such as Japan, the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, South Korea, Singapore, etcetera, worth about Rs 66,000 crore, through a dedicated helpdesk set up in April 2020. It is no mean achievement that projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore have been garnered in just three years since the summit. I am happy to say that the investors have found the environment conducive to set up industries in the state. We have also put in place the single window concept for the convenience of investors by implementing 186 business reform measures in various departments.
One of the problems UP has faced is uneven development. Investments are restricted to Noida and Greater Noida. Much of eastern UP normally doesn’t figure on the investment map. Have you been able to address this imbalance?
There is no imbalance now. The investment climate in the state is changing quite rapidly. That is evident from the giant leap of 12 points taken by the state in the Ease of Doing Business Ranking issued by the Government of India. The state now ranks second in the country in terms of Ease of Doing Business. Our government is definitely focusing on developing Noida as one of the premier industrial regions. High-paying white-collar jobs are coming up in bulk. Work at the Noida International Airport in Jewar is expected to start soon. Our government is trying to resolve the issue of stalled projects in Noida and Greater Noida to protect the interests of thousands of homebuyers who have not got possession of their flats. We are working on a plan to speedily roll out development projects and schemes in eastern UP as well. That’s not all. The One District One Product (ODOP) scheme has done wonders as it has covered all the districts of the state in promoting local artisans and showcased their talent at the global level.
The prime minister has attached a lot of importance to the defence corridor that’s coming up in UP. What’s the timeline for this and how will it impact the economy of development-deprived regions like Bundelkhand?
We have received large investment proposals from many big companies of the world regarding the proposed defence corridor. Of six nodes, namely Aligarh, Jhansi, Chitrakoot, Agra, Lucknow and Kanpur, the land allotment process is complete in Aligarh while acquisition has started in Lucknow. Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) has allotted over 55.4 hectares of land to the Aligarh node of UP’s defence corridor. Altogether, 19 companies will invest more than Rs 1,245.75 crore in the project. Soon, the foundation stone for the Aligarh node of the defence corridor is to be laid. Along with fulfilling the resolve of the Make in India campaign, the defence corridor will catalyse indigenous production of defence and aerospace-related items, thereby making the country self-reliant. As far as its impact on Bundelkhand is concerned, it is expected that this will create ample job opportunities for the nearby area. The project aims to spur job creation as well as encourage foreign and domestic companies to support defence manufacturing in India. Besides, drinking water projects have also been announced for the Bundelkhand area.
It is no mean achievement that projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore have been garnered in just three years. The investment climate in the state is changing quite rapidly. That is evident from the giant leap of 12 points taken by UP in the Ease of Doing Business Ranking. It now ranks second
The roads sector is being seen as a big success of your government. How do you see the development in this sector, going forward?
As regards the roads sector, expressways are coming up for better connectivity in the state. Today, UP can boast constructing the most expressways in the country. The Lucknow-Agra Expressway is already there while the 340-km Purvanchal Expressway is expected to be ready by the end of July and could be made operational by August 15th. Despite Covid-19 issues, we have been able to complete the project in record time and have not exceeded the initial estimate of 36 months. Work on the Bundelkhand Expressway is going on at a brisk pace while work on the Ganga Expressway is likely to start by September. The Agra-Kanpur Expressway and the Bijnor-Moradabad-Fatehgarh Expressway are all set to be added to the road network of the state.
You have said that Ayodhya would be transformed into India’s biggest spiritual destination. You also started the campaign for the revival of culture with Diwali celebrations at Ayodhya. Will Ayodhya remain just a religious place or will it define the nation’s identity?
Ayodhya is being developed as a spiritual centre seminal to the well-being of our nation, a global tourism hub, and a sustainable smart city. We are working along the lines of what the prime minister said about Ayodhya—that it should “manifest the finest of our traditions and the best of our developmental transformation.” An upcoming greenfield township was discussed with the prime minister during a recent meeting which includes lodging facilities for devotees, space for ashrams, maths, hotels, and bhavans of various states. A tourist facilitation centre and a world-class museum will also be built. There are various upcoming and proposed infrastructure projects related to the airport, the expansion of railway stations, bus terminus, roads, and highways, to improve connectivity with Ayodhya. The Centre has already approved the Rs 100-crore modernisation plan for the Ayodhya railway station. The UP administration has released over Rs 321 crore to acquire land for the under-construction airport, apart from approving an extra Rs 1,000 crore to purchase 555.66 acres of additional land for the same. The Centre has also released its share of Rs 250 crore for the development of Ayodhya.
How will this impact the economic development of the areas around Ayodhya?
The construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya will give a new lease to all-round prosperity, boosted by the economic boom. The Ram Mandir can transform the economy of the region by creating new opportunities, providing jobs for the people living there and boosting tourism. The hospitality and service sectors will directly benefit, as will the retail sector. An economic slowdown has been forced on the world since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, and travel and tourism are among the hardest-hit segments. But we hope that once temple tourism restarts, the world will see sunshine again. Religious tourism (travel to places of worship) is a massive industry in our country. It supports thousands of jobs as it is still a manpower-intensive sector. These services cannot be automated and, hence, can generate jobs of various kinds. Given the history of Ayodhya’s Ram temple and the popularity of the Ramayana, it has great potential to become a major tourist attraction that can attract visitors from across the world. My government has also allocated Rs 85 crore for the development of tourist infrastructure facilities in Ayodhya. This means more infrastructure and more jobs for all. Hotels and healthcare units will also have to be improved, paving the way for more investments from the public and private sector players which will further lead to job creation. A budget of Rs 500 crore has been allocated for the construction of an airport in Ayodhya which will add to the convenience of travel enthusiasts willing to spend more to visit the heritage site. The real estate sector, too, stands to witness a boom with land requirements to encourage temple tourism. Additionally, a lot of land in Ayodhya, which is owned by the people of the town and around it, can multiply their income manifold once rented, leased or sold at premium prices. n