PR Ramesh and Rajeev Deshpande in conversation with Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh
It’s 9:45AM. The chief minister has just finished a review of the Covid situation and is looking ahead to a day of chopper-hopping and roadshows. Expressing confidence about returning to office, Yogi Adityanath explains to PR Ramesh and Rajeev Deshpande why beneficiaries of welfare schemes will back BJP and rebuts the charge that his party is polarising the election. Excerpts:
Half of the election in Uttar Pradesh (UP) is over, what is your assessment of how it has gone for BJP?
It has gone well, going by the response of the electorate. Is baar bhi BJP 300 paar hogi (This time too, BJP will cross 300). There should be no doubt on this score.
There is a discussion and some hype about the opposition alliance that Jats have joined (the SP-RLD alliance) and Most Backward Classes (MBCs) have also moved…
There was a bigger alliance against us in 2019. You can make an assessment about that alliance by the fact that in 1993, after the structure at Ramjanmabhoomi came down and elections were held thereafter, there was an SP-BSP alliance, and Congress was on its own, not as helpless as it is today. The alliance won. Then it came together in 2019. In other words, after 26 years and by then people had seen the reality of these parties. People have experienced the name and work of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2019, SP, BSP, Congress, RLD all came together. What was the result? Did BJP not win 80 per cent of the seats? All the rest were confined to 20 per cent. So, that is what I am saying today—this is a division of 80 and 20. BJP is 80 and SP, BSP, Congress and the rest are 20. In 2019, there was a lot of noise about SP but it was BSP that won the second largest share of 10 Lok Sabha seats after BJP’s 64. This election has also reached a similar trajectory. I can tell you the results in almost every seat. The direction of the polls tells you clearly what the results will be. Second, no one can imagine the way the vote of half the population is moving in favour of BJP.
On the issue of security, on issues related to the home and hearth…you see, however much a person may progress, if the issue of security is uncertain, then what is the meaning of development? The foundation of vikas and good governance is security. And this has happened; every person is experiencing the benefits of a secure atmosphere. Maybe this experience varies in west UP, Bundelkhand, in the east. In west (UP) the terror of a certain group and an individual has been ended. In Bundelkhand, it was freedom from the mining mafia. In central UP, it was freedom from professional criminals and goondas, the caste criminals. In the east, people were freed from the mafia who controlled political power. This is an issue in the entire state. And let me tell you that this is above caste and religion. Did you note the statement of Shia religious leader Kalbe Jawad? He is not from BJP, is he? Did he not say one thing? That those who can stop riots should be supported. After all, did they not suffer due to riots? If you burn (properties) of one side, the other side also suffers similarly, does it not? Is paksh ka marega to doosre paksh ka jinda thode rehta hai. The ill effects of a curfew are felt by traders of all communities. Now all of this—recurring riots—is a thing of the past in UP. A state like UP is today talking of security and good governance. This is a good sign and people are appreciating it.
A related question is the charge that BJP is polarising the situation.
How are we polarising the situation? Who is trying to polarise things? On October 31, when we were commemorating the anniversary of the architect of modern India, Sardar Patel, the SP chief chose that very day to praise Jinnah. When we were discussing development and good governance, when we were presenting our record to the public, that was the day the SP chief sang paeans to Pakistan. Please note that we are not polarising…it is they (the opposition) that has fanned polarisation. All for political gains. This is not the first time either. In 2012, Akhilesh Yadav became the chief minister and the next year he tried to withdraw cases against some two-and-a-half dozen terrorists. Recently, a court in Ahmedabad has pronounced the death penalty for 38 terrorists and sentenced some others to life for the serial blasts in Gujarat. Eight terrorists have a UP connection. The father of one of them is an SP pracharak. Akhilesh Yadav has offered no clarification. He is mum. Why is he commenting on other issues but not on this? He gives a clean chit to Pakistan, but on the issue of terrorists who caused blasts in UP that killed dozens? Just the Sankat Mochan blast killed 28 people. More than 56 died in the Gujarat serial blasts. The terrorist from Azamgarh, Mohammed Saif, whose father is an SP member, and whose brother was part of the Batla House gang and has run away to Syria…there’s not a word from Akhilesh Yadav about them. So polarisation is not being done by us. But yes, it is our responsibility to speak the truth. This is the truth we are placing before the electorate—that these are people who would play with their security and the nation’s security. How could they be trusted?
“We have no need for any polarisation. We have spoken of sabka saath, sabka vikas. We are talking of security for all. We will place the truth before the public”
It is also being said that your opponents might have polarised votes but BJP has failed to counter-polarise.
We have no need to bring about any such polarisation. We have spoken of sabka saath, sabka vikas. We are talking of security for all. There is no case that we are attempting any polarisation but, as I have said, we will place the truth before the public. We will tell them to be wary of such people.
There is a view that MBCs, many of whom backed BJP in 2014, 2017 and 2019, have slipped out of your hands.
What do you think?
The context of the exit of ministers from BJP to SP?
Please tell me, if they were people with popular support, why have they left their seats? Why are they fleeing their traditional seats? Then, there is another matter: After having had the cream for five years, now that their unethical and illegal acts were being prevented, what options did they have? Is the janata not seeing all this? Our people are politically very sagacious. They know everyone. There is no need to issue a certificate to anyone or point out flaws…people are well aware of realities.
You have spoken of the state’s welfare schemes. Can it be said that this is a new vote bank for BJP?
People who were often ignored right since Independence, are they not getting something today? Please see examples of how our government works. Not too long ago, between 2012 and 2017, during the tenure of the SP government, 18,000 poor people were sanctioned a house each. No one actually got a house; it was on the file. It was all the same, just like there was no power on Diwali and Holi but it would be there on Muharram and Eid. After the Modi government assumed office, it framed a policy and said a certain group, which is eligible, will get benefits and it will not be on the basis of region, caste and religion. The point is that SP was not interested in development. We have also got five years in office of which two were consumed battling the coronavirus. But houses were provided to more than 43.5 lakh people. Is there no difference? We touched those who have never benefited from any scheme since Independence like the Musahars. In east UP, from Maharajganj, Kushinagar till Bihar, there is a considerable Musahar population. We have given a ticket to this community too and this will be the first time that a Musahar will enter the Assembly. They were not under any scheme, so I brought them under the Chief Minister Awas Yojana and they got rights to plots and houses. Similarly, with Tharu, Kol and Chero, we brought lakhs from these castes within the ambit of our schemes. During the Covid pandemic, rations were provided twice a month to the poor, in fact, often pandemics have killed more due to hunger than disease. In a state of 25 crore, we have had 23,000 deaths. Each is painful but we can draw inferences. With a similar population, Brazil saw 4.5 lakh deaths. Maharashtra has a population half of that of UP at 12 crore and saw around two lakh deaths. Delhi, with a population of two crore, has seen 30,000 deaths. Whenever we discuss Covid arrangements, there will be a discussion on death rates. Deaths from hunger used to take place before 2017. I can say that in December 2016 and January 2017, when I was an MP, I went to places were deaths were happening in Kushinagar, Chitrakoot and Sonbhadra. I can say that there have been no deaths due to hunger since 2017. The first thing I did was to launch an operation to ensure every eligible person had a ration card. When I saw there were leakages, 80,000 ration shops were connected with e-pos machines. All of them were connected to a video wall in my office. If you move the machine even a few feet, an alert will be sounded. When the Supreme Court asked whether people were receiving rations, surveys conducted by the Centre showed that 96 per cent beneficiaries were getting their dues in UP.
Look at UP’s health infrastructure, between 1947 and 2017, only 12 medical colleges came up. We are in the process of setting up a medical college in each of the 75 districts. We have seen 39 colleges come up in the government sector.
“The class or section of beneficiaries is not those who are getting things ‘free’. They are needy. We are moving them towards economic self-sufficiency”
Can we talk of UP’s Covid management? Some people have expressed surprise at the moderate numbers given a large population.
There were no accidents either. No instance of fire at any hospital as was seen in many states. If you leave aside allegations and counter-allegations due to political motives, we implemented the 3T (test, track, treat) advocated by Prime Minister Modi. I monitored it myself and continue to do so. I was checking the reports before meeting you (this morning). I then speak to concerned persons in a district. “Why is such and such matter being reported?” I have been doing this constantly and we have hardly felt the arrival and departure of the third wave. As of now, we have only 6,000 active cases. We have a capacity of four lakh tests a day and we have ICUs in every district. This needs initiative and effort. Our call centres are active in tracking patients ‘Did the doctor call? Are you getting food? Etc.’ I would follow up and ask district magistrates and chief medical officers to wear PPE kits and show me on video that they were visiting hospitals. I would visit places where I felt there were problems and take the officials with me to the wards. The chain of Covid was broken. Delhi and Maharashtra could not manage this. The challenge was so serious that a small instance of carelessness would lead to a serious situation. We saw in the case of Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand that when people began to go back to their homes during the lockdown, the states refused to take them back. I felt that this was my responsibility and no one should die of hunger. How much will a person eat? Only some poori-sabzi? Arre we can surely provide kichadi! At least people will not starve. We looked after people from these states and sent them on with a lunch pack. They kept the boxes and said we received this from Yogiji. Can you just put up your hands at a time of a humanitarian crisis? And then claim to be concerned about human rights? Can there be a bigger charade?
Since 1985, no government has returned to office and neither has a chief minister. Are you looking to set a record?
See, I am here only to break myths, not for the benefits of power.
A recent statement about UP doing better than Kerala and West Bengal created a controversy. What did you mean to say?
I don’t know if we should do a comparison or not. Every state government is functioning in accordance with its thinking and style. But elections are on in UP. Have you heard of any violence? No disorder, no goondagardi. Elections being held in such a peaceful manner in UP was beyond imagination, wasn’t it? Was this the case in Kerala and West Bengal? So that is what I was indicating.
People thought you were hinting at Hindu-Muslim or development indicators.
I spoke of what I am saying—about where violence flares up or used to. You must understand the value of UP benefitting from good law and order. Everyone is respected. The state must be saved from those taking it in the opposite direction.
When you spoke of the emergence of a class of beneficiaries, for welfare schemes, can this be something that consistently counters caste politics?
This (caste politics) broke in 2014. These people (the opposition) can try all they can, keep banging their heads, but it will not help. Today, no party can say they did not get the chance to be in office. Everyone’s way of working has been seen and assessed. The public has seen us too. I think I was at the helm at the most challenging time the state has faced since Independence (due to Covid). The Ramjanmabhoomi decision was pronounced and not a fleck or a straw moved. People went out of their way to support me. I spoke to everyone, all the dharma gurus. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christians, all. At my request Muharram processions were cancelled. They agreed because there is no suspicion as to our intent and character. Our thoughts are clear and our intent is above board. Am I supposed to go to a chowk and beat a drum and say I am a Hindu? Of course, I am a Hindu. That is my identity (pehchan). I don’t need to talk about that. It’s the same with my work style.
Will not beneficiaries of welfare schemes become a case of riding the tiger, since people’s expectations can keep rising?
The class or section of beneficiaries (labharthi warg) is not those who are getting things ‘free’. They are needy. We are moving them towards economic self-sufficiency. I will give you a few examples. I had gone to Sonbhadra to review the PM housing schemes. I saw a Musahar lady who was looking at me in a hesitant sort of way. She was wearing frayed old clothes, looking scared. I noticed her and asked her what was the matter, and she said, “Will I get a colony too?” That is what a house is called. I asked, “Who are you?” I found that her name was not in the SECC (socio-economic caste census) and so she was included under the CM scheme. I forgot the matter. Sometime later, I was there again to check on refurbishing of schools. I then went to the Musahar area to check on toilet construction. I heard a voice say “Baba, see my house.” I thought this might be the same lady. “Arre your house is ready?” I asked her. You will be surprised to know that she had built two rooms. The government gave her ₹ 1.3 lakh and Rs12,000 for a toilet and ₹ 12,000 as 90 days of MGNREGA wages. On being asked where she got the additional money, she said her husband had some savings in a Jan Dhan account. There was a small shed where she intended to keep a buffalo. This is what I mean—some help from the government becomes the basis for or motivation to do more and become self-sufficient. The family will experience economic wellbeing. They will not be dependent on the government for everything.
You are confident of returning to office. What will be the big priorities?
The programmes that have been launched will continue and must not slow down if we are to make UP the No 1 state. I believe it is possible. We have moved to the second spot from the sixth in the last five years. We implemented several reforms. We have moved keeping in mind the public interest. On security, for example, we have to pursue more police reforms. We have worked on transparency in recruitment, improved capacities for training and housing. Many police stations did not have a building and this was attended to. Cyber and forensic capacities will be improved. We have tripled the number of women police personnel. Then our task to connect villages with optical fibre networks will continue just as service centres with Wi-Fi have been set up to ensure people get their documentation easily. Women have been hired as bank correspondents. People are seeing all this and there is more to be done.