Now that the five state election results are only four days away, and the gruelling seven phases of campaigning in Uttar Pradesh has come to an end, an unfazed Akhilesh Yadav, who addressed 239 rallies in the state, almost six to seven a day, is already looking ahead.
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister plans to personally reach out to various state party leaders to explore the possibility of widening the electoral alliance he forged with the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, keeping in mind the Lok Sabha election in 2019. He is waiting for the situation to clarify after March 11.
He is confident that he will be sworn in as chief minister for a second term. However, in the event of a hung assembly, was it conceivable that the Samajwadi Party could join hands with the Bahujan Samaj Party to form a government in Lucknow? His reply was an ambivalent,”I don’t know. It will be very difficult.”
Travelling with Akhilesh Yadav to some constituencies in Chandauli, Mirzapur and Son Bhadra districts of eastern UP, this writer saw Akhilesh Yadav in action. During the course of a conversation, Akhilesh Yadav said he will reach out to his father Mulayam Singh Yadav before the counting day on March 11, in what could be construed as an attempt to ease a highly strained father and son relationship.
In the penultimate electoral round in eastern UP, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had largely stayed away from canvassing for his party, went to campaign for an SP candidate – a Yadav – in Jaunpur district, many believe to send a strong signal to the Yadavs not to be misled by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s efforts to break their ranks. He suddenly used strong words against Prime Minister Narendra Modi ( calling him a“thug”). There had been reports that Modi planned to call on the head of a “Yadav Math” in Varanasi – which he did, a meeting reportedly facilitated by Amar Singh. The ashram has a large following amongst the community, and the prime minister’s visit was being seen as an attempt to influence Yadav votes in the critical last round of polls in Purvanchal, which Akhilesh described as a “do or die” battle.
Helicopter-hopping to seven constituencies with Akhilesh Yadav, several things struck out: The meetings the chief minister addressed were big. They were attended by a large number of youth. The crowd responded enthusiastically to his punch lines. There were posters also of his wife, Dimple Yadav, at many of these meetings that also included stray slogans in her support: “Dimple bhabhi zindabad”. The crowd had come to see Akhilesh Yadav, they waved to him, even as at a couple of places, many in the audience were unhappy with the incumbent Samajwadi Party MLA.
Whatever be the poll outcome on March 11, clearly, Akhilesh Yadav has emerged out of the shadows of his father and uncles, as a leader in his own right. But what he is battling above all in this election is the anti-incumbency of his MLAs, even as he personally enjoys immense goodwill for the work he has done, and this is conceded even by those who are not going to vote for him.
He said he had wanted to change 150 of his party MLAs, and move them around, “but there was just no time”, given the fast paced events he was caught in before the elections – a family feud, taking hold of the Samajwadi Party and becoming its national president, managing to retain the cycle as its symbol which at that time was in doubt, and forging an alliance with the Congress.
Excerpts of a conversation with the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party President:
Neerja Chowdhury: What would be your strategy now, if you win? And, if you lose?
Akhilesh Yadav: If I win it will be due to the work I have done. The biggest thing for me was to build the expressways, and if I win, this time I will take it upto Ghazipur in the eastern part of UP, which is poor and backward. I want to build world class infrastructure in UP. I will connect the expressways to district headquarters through four lane roads, which is happening. I will continue building medical colleges, giving samajwadi pensions to those who have not been covered. And I will create a Farmers Fund, which can be used if there is need, say, for something like a loan waiver.
In a democracy kabhi kabhi samjhane se vote nahin milta, behkane se bhi mil jaata hai. Hum logon ko samjha rahe hain, BJP unko behka rahi hai [sometimes, explanations may not get the votes, but even misleading people might. We are explaining things to people. The BJP is misleading people]. People will have to decide whom they will go to. That is the best part of democracy. It is now up to the people.
But let me tell you one thing, Main soch hee nahin raha ki main haar jaaunga. I feel shapath maen loonga, yeh dil ki awaz hai. [I am not even thinking that I might lose. I feel I will be the one to take oath as chief minister. That is what my heart says]. For I believe hard work never goes unrewarded.
You have hinted that you will keep the alliance going. Would that be for 2019? Would you widen it? Will you take the initiative or leave it to the Congress? Why did you not include Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal in the alliance and was that a mistake? What about including Janata Dal(United)? Aam Aadmi Party? Others?
Before the elections in Uttar Pradesh, there was so much going on in the family. Then I had to take the big decision to become the national president of the party. Then came the fight for the symbol. Coalition talks were also going on. This time round, I didn’t get the time (to include others mentioned).
Of course, 2019 is important. After March 11, things will become clear. There is the alliance with the Congress. We will also reach out to the others. For example, there is [West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader] Mamata Bannerji, there is [Rashtriya Janata Dal leader] Lalu Prasad Yadav, who has been campaigning for us in Uttar Pradesh. Main apne level par baat karoonga. I will talk at my level. When demonetisation took place and Mamata Bannerji talked to us, Netaji’s [Mulayam Singh Yadav’s] stand was different , but I supported Mamata Bannerji. The Congress can talk at its level.
But in addition to alliances, I would want my party to grow. We have units in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. We will focus on our work at the grassroot level in these states. And also on an alliance. I will do both things simultaneously.
Do you think it was a mistake for Mulayam Singh to pull out of the revived Janata Party in the midst of the Bihar election in 2015?
But we did not fight wholeheartedly (against the gathbandhan, the grand alliance). We had felt Netaji will get tickets, but the alliance did not give us anything, even though Netaji was made the president.
Will you revive the idea of a Janata Party?
Laluji is with us anyway. Meri baat nahin hui hai Nitishji se [I have not talked to Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar] but we have a very good relationship with him.
The whole family feud, which consumed so much of your time, was triggered off at that party at Amar Singh’s house and it was after that, that you sacked your chief secretary who was present there. He must have been engaged in something that you found highly objectionable.
Kyunki baat khatam ho gayi [Because the matter has ended] and elections are also over, why talk about it? As far as my relationship with Uncle (Amar Singh) is concerned, ab hum door door se namaskar karenge [Now we will greet each other from a distance].
Amar Singh recently indicated that your family feud was choreographed and there was a mili-bhagat [collusion] between you and your father?
No, no, that is not true. What Uncle (Amar Singh) is saying is wrong. He knows what the truth is.
Why did it take so long to get rid of your uncles?
I did not want a jhagraa [fight] with them in the beginning. I kept avoiding it. I felt it was important to implement the promises we had made in our manifesto – or people would have said we were only fighting amongst ourselves. Netaji would have also said that. Then, circumstances were created and it (the showdown) could not be avoided because elections were going to take place. I wanted elections to be held on development, on the themes of “Kaam bolta hai” [work talks] on “Vikas se vijay ki aur” [From development to victory]. I was working on that (concept). Some of my party leaders were working on ìssues of community and phalana dhimkana [this and that].
Several times during the last five years, Netaji has upbraided you publicly and you took it quietly.
I used to think that Netaji mujhe samjha rahe hain [that he was explaining things to me]. After all, the ministers in my cabinet were his colleagues. It was only towards the end that I realised that he was angry with me.
What was the turning point for you?
When they did not consult me on the tickets, then I started to ask: What is going on? Then people told me that my name would not be there for CM [Chief Minister]. I think if Netaji had told me directly, “You won’t be CM but work for the party”, I would have accepted it. But to say that I would not be the face of the party, I did not like that. They threw out people close to me, and they were not taken back into the party.
Do you feel Netaji was being used by people for their own ends?
You had offered to step down as Party President in favour of Netaji after the elections were over. Will you do that?
I will decide after March 11. I will go and see Netaji before March 11. I (had made that statement because I) did not want to hurt Netaji, I did not want him to feel that I had snatched the party from him.
In the event of the Assembly being hung, is it conceivable that you could join hands with the BSP to form a government? After all, you have described Mayawati as bua [paternal aunt].
I don’t know. It will be very difficult.
If you form the government, will you take the Congress in the Cabinet?
There is no problem with that.
What about giving the party deputy chiefministership?
That would not be possible.
Talking to people at random at your rallies today, I found that one of the ripple effects of your road show with Rahul Gandhi and your wife Dimple in Varanasi was to end some of the confusion which had crept in amongst the Muslims that you were losing ground after the third phase of elections. Do you feel that such road shows in different parts of UP, possibly also with Priyanka Vadra – after all, she helped craft the Alliance – might have charged the campaign atmosphere even more? Did you invite Priyanka to join the campaign?
I would have been happy if she had come. I sent the message to her through the Congress inviting her to join the road show in Varanasi. But the Congress declined. I don’t know what happened internally (for them to take this decision).
The prime minister introduced a very interesting element towards the end of the campaign, which unfortunately politicians do not usually do or try and make these as election issues. He attacked you for the dismal Uttar Pradesh figures on infant mortality, maternal mortality, sex ratio and Gross Domestic Product. I thought you had taken important initiatives like the constitution of a Nutrition Mission and allocating state funds for feeding pregnant women?
What I can say is this, what the PM cited was old data. The data given by the PM, whether it is on health, roads, power or the police has been wrong and its seems to be a habit of his to do this. Actually UP has moved forward in reducing infant mortality and maternal mortality, and if any state has done well, it is UP. I have to keep at it, and make UP number one in the country.
This was a PM vs CM campaign in many ways…
I did not want it. All I wanted was to showcase our work. Par achcha hee hua ki PM bhi aa gaye [But it was only good that the prime minister too landed up]. We have benefitted, for the whole country now knows about our work. I don’t know how much benefit they have had.
The PM is thinking of the future (2019 elections). Mera Delhi ka sapna nahin hai [My dream is not Delhi]. I want to stay in Lucknow. I want to continue with the work I have done in UP. Issi se bhalla hoga [That is what will be good].
Sitting back now, how do you see your term in office?
Paanch saal paanch din ki tareh beet gaye. Itne kaam kar liye. [Five years passed as if they were five days] I am very happy about that . I am particularly happy about the world class expressways we have built, If I come back, I will do more. If not, my successor will have to do better than what I have done.
What would you like to do during the four days left as chief minister of this term?
I will do some running, jogging, spend time with my children. I want to take them to Dholpur to show them my old school, Dholpur Military School, to understand my beginnings and the hard work I have had to do. I would also like to show them the new CM’s office we inaugurated recently.