Lucknow: There is one man who can effectively derail Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid in 2019 — Akhilesh Yadav, the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the northern state that sends 80 lawmakers to Indian Parliament’s elected house of Lok Sabha. The road to power in New Delhi goes through UP and this state will determine if Modi wins again in 2019.
Yadav was voted out in March 2017 when Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance made a stunning comeback in state elections by winning 325 of 403 seats. Since then, 44-year-old Yadav has joined hands with his political rival and Dalit leader Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, a formidable alliance both the leaders insist would last till 2019 elections.
In the recent by-elections, Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and the BSP performed well in the BJP stronghold, sending a signal that UP, which gave 71 lawmakers to the BJP in 2014, would halt Modi’s juggernaut. In an exclusive interview to Gulf News, Yadav was confident that his alliance with the BSP would work on the ground and last beyond 2019.
Below are excerpts
Q. How will SP-BSP alliance work on the ground?
It is clear that the public is unhappy with the BJP … so far they haven’t fulfilled any of the promises.
There is a long list of their promises, for example, each citizen getting Rs1.5 million in their bank accounts (return of black money), increasing the productivity of farmers or even doubling it, and a lot of other tall promises.
Apart from these, the way they have been playing communal politics and promoting hatred between different communities. What we are now doing through this alliance is uniting people and giving respect to all and we have been successful in our efforts so far. We also formed an alliance with many other smaller parties which created an environment of cooperation and led to the support of the BSP as well. And this resulted in the loss for BJP with a large margin. We not only came together with these parties, but also worked on building trust and creating bonds at the grass roots level, which translated into votes.
Q. Will you repeat Phoolpur-Gorakhpur experiment in Kairana?
For all the upcoming by-elections, including in Kairana and Noorpur, we will continue to work together with BSP and other smaller parties. In Kairana and Noorpur, which are currently with BJP, mathematically we see the BJP losing the seats. These by-elections are important for us, but what is more important for us, is the upcoming parliamentary polls of 2019.
Q. Have you held talks with Mayawati after Phoolpur and Gorakhpur elections?
Yes, the talks have happened through different mediums, we spoke on phone and I also personally went to thank her for the support. Soon, we will begin talks for the upcoming by-elections as well and together we will find a way out for these elections.
Q. There are some cultural differences between SP and BSP. How will you work together?
You can say that the BSP is a party of cadre, while you can call SP as the party of common people. But the issue we are trying to address is the same and the threat the country is facing is common. Today, the BJP is not willing to discuss issues faced by farmers or unemployment faced by the youth.
The disastrous initiatives like GST and demonetisation have wreaked havoc on businesses, but they are not willing to discuss these issues. Wherever the elections are going to take place, farmers are waiting there for relief. If you actually look across the state, there is debt of Rs90 billion.
So what we are trying to do is bring a change.
Q. There are people who will never vote for BJP and are looking up to you and BSP. What can they expect?
For now, the alliance is for 2019. First we have to save our country from BJP, because the BJP has fooled people and more importantly they have fooled the hardworking poor.
Farmers have been ruined, there are no jobs for the labourers, so our alliance can save lives of these people.
We are in politics to bring change in the lives of common people and to help our society progress. We want to make sure that the quality of education improves, our hospitals give better quality of treatment.
Q. Who will have the upper hand in this alliance?
For us it is more important for this alliance to prosper and we want to fight the BJP as a combined force.
I think there is nothing wrong in being flexible.
Q. Congress is bringing together an alliance of opposition parties. What is your role at the national level?
You must have noticed that in the recent past there have been some earnest efforts to bring together all the opposition parties, with Congress hosting several meetings attended by various parties. Sharad Pawar also hosted a party for all the opposition parties, Chandrababu Naidu and Mamata Benerjee are also making efforts, which show that a lot of people are working on bringing together a grand alliance of opposition parties and decide on the future course of action.
I feel that for 2019, we will have some sort of grand alliance of opposition and regional parties working together.
As for the leadership, we can decide on that even after the elections. If they ask about the leader, we will ask about their work.
Q. Is Rahul Gandhi capable of putting together this coalition and leading it?
Congress is big national party and has won several elections since Independence and have formed governments. They have experience and if they want to form an alliance and work at it then we can all surely do it. But, it is not right at this moment to talk about leadership, because efforts are being made by different people. I think regional parties are doing better in stopping the BJP and it is important to bring them all together.
Mamata Benerjee can do it in West Bengal, Lalu Prasad and his party can do it in Bihar, SP and BSP along with other parties can stop the BJP in UP. And if you see in the south, BJP has no presence there. There is no BJP in Tamil Nadu, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Even in Karnataka the BJP is not that strong.
So if all these regional parties come together, the BJP will not come back to power in 2019.
Q. You delivered on several projects and yet voters rejected you in 2017. Why?
Sometimes it is not necessary that people want whatever you are offering. I was under the impression that the work we did like construction of the expressway, or pension scheme or improvement of government hospitals and medical colleges would indicate to people that the future would be bright. But people got carried away by the issue of cow. Our voters believe cow is their mother and votes were cast based on this belief. Campaign was done on communal lines and even someone like the prime minister spoke about imaginary discrimination done in electricity supply during Ramadan and Diwali.
We also heard speeches on the discrimination between Muslim graveyards and Hindu crematoriums.
So you can see the difference, we were seeking vote based on the work we did and they were seeking vote creating rift and hatred between different communities.
Q. The issue of cow can be brought back again in 2019, so how will you counter this?
People are now very sad about the current situation. We can see farmers struggling to deal with animals destroying their crops and now the central government has made changes to the rule about sale of cows. They have now decided that it is OK to buy and sell cows from the market.
I think they have done this after the election results in Tripura or may due to the pressure from the Kerala or other southern states.
So, people have seen that they were fooled by the BJP and I am sure people cannot be fooled again.
Q. It appears that the opposition doesn’t have any answer to speeches of PM Modi.
We have the answers to all his questions, but the media doesn’t highlight what we say.
I will give you an example of this, the Noida-Delhi metro was built by our government and we spent the money in building it but no media published a line about it.