OP Rajbhar, the chief of the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, is not new to controversies. Whether it was his comment on Monday that politicians who cause rifts between Hindus and Muslims should be set on fire or his suggestion in November that the Bharatiya Janata Party change the name of its Muslim leaders instead of that of India’s cities, Rajbhar has arguably been more critical of the BJP’s policies than several members of the Opposition.

Rajbhar belongs to the Rajbhar community that is considered to be the second most politically dominant community in Purvanchal (an area encompassing eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar) after Yadavs. The community is classified as Other Backward Classes.

A former member of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Rajbhar quit the party in 2001 after differences with Mayawati. He formed the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party in 2004. Since then, his party contested several elections in Uttar Pradesh but only tasted victory in 2017. It had joined hands with the BJP in that election, and won four of the eight seats it contested. Rajbhar is an MLA from Zahoorabad.

Despite being accommodated in Adityanath’s cabinet as the minister for Backward Class Welfare and Divyanjan Empowerment, Rajbhar has never lost an opportunity to embarrass the BJP governments at the state and the Centre since. He is a vocal critic of the BJP’s communal politics and has also been threatening to quit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance if his demand for the 27% Other Backward Classes quota to be sub-categorised into three parts is not implemented

Scroll.in met Rajbhar at his home in Lucknow to get his views on the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh and other developments in this politically important state.

The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have joined hands in Uttar Pradesh to take on the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. Do you think this will work out?
This is a formidable alliance. The last time these parties came together was in [the] 1993 [Assembly elections] when they took on the BJP. SP-BSP and BJP won equal number of seats at a time when Hindutva was at its peak in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in [December 1992]. After that the SP-BSP separated and in the coming years the two parties went on to form governments on their own. Back then Hindutva was at its peak and attempts are being made to create a similar scenario yet again. When they [BJP] could not win in 1993, how do they expect to do that now?

What are your views on allegations by Opposition parties that the BJP government has failed to deliver on its promises and is now trying to divert people’s attention from real issues.
The previous government spent Rs 900 crore on the Kumbh Mela [held every 12 years] while nearly Rs 5,000 crore is being spent on ardh Kumbh [half Kumbh, held every six years]. Kumbh is a matter of faith but when a bigger event can be organised with Rs 900 crore, what is the need to overdo it. Similarly, the BJP built a statue of Sardar Patel for Rs 3,500 crore. Instead, they could have opened a university, medical or engineering college in his name and it would have given them more publicity. Those who would have obtained degrees would have been proud of studying from Sardar Patel University. BJP leaders earlier blamed the BSP for splurging money on statues. What are you doing? Their priorities are wrong and public money is being wasted on frivolous activities and not nation building.

Do you think unemployed youth are easy targets of the Hindutva brigade to spread hate for other religions or communities? Is employment an issue in rural Uttar Pradesh?
Mobile phones are largely to be blamed for creating this atmosphere of hate. It is a great innovation but is being used by parties to spread lies and hatred. Unemployment is a major issue and our leaders are giving licenses to Chinese firms to do business in India. If they stop Chinese products, there will be no shortage of jobs. Why don’t they create jobs? Take the prime minister for instance, he makes lot of speeches but does not explain why we are buying from foreign countries? Youngsters are baffled. They are not fighting for jobs, they are fighting for other emotional issues. Till the time, emotions are running high, they will continue to be misled.

In the last 72 years whenever there have been riots, was any politician harmed? It is the common folk who die. Why do you create these riots? They should promote brotherhood, educate and provide employment so people do not have time for such negativity. When a person is engaged is something creative, he does not engage in such propaganda.

What are your views on demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax? Do you think it has led to rising unemployment?

Demonetisation has destroyed the real estate sector. From builders to loaders, everyone has been impacted by it. It has made people poorer and increased unemployment. The effects of GST are similar. If a firm had 100 people, when GST was implemented nearly half of them lost jobs. Businesses are bleeding and till now there is no clarity on GST. There is so much confusion. Edible mustard oil is being taxed at 5% while it is being taxed at 18% under the hair oil category. The government promoted it as “One Nation, One Tax” then why is fuel not under GST? This is being done to benefit the Ambanis and Adanis. Why are you protecting their interests? The government is only thinking about the rich. Policies are being made by the rich to make poor even poorer and this government is letting them do so.

Considering how the government has failed to deliver on its promises, do you think the BJP is reviving issues like the Ram Mandir to divert attention?
They have been in power for almost five years and now that elections are here, there is this clamour for Ram Mandir. Once the elections are over, they will forget about Ram and Ram Mandir. If they had any sympathy towards Bhagwan Ram, they would have shown similar alacrity to bring an ordinance for the Ram Temple like they did for upper caste reservation or for the restoration of SC/ST Atrocities Act [Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act]. When the prime minister can make claims that despite the 50% ceiling on reservation, he has gone ahead with an upper caste quota then why doesn’t he do the same for Ram Mandir? For Ram Mandir, he wants to follow the law and Constitution. Why these double standards? Bhagwan Ram is under a tarpaulin sheet in Ayodhya while he travels in helicopters and planes and lives in an air-conditioned house. And he still calls himself a Ram bhakt. They have looted crores and made this palatial [BJP] office in Delhi, when will you spare a thought about Bhagwan Ram? They are building BJP offices in every district but cannot build a temple for him. Moreover, where is all this money coming from?

The Ram Mandir is being raised to mislead people and conspiracies are being hatched so that people do not ask about jobs, education or better lives. This government keeps dropping these gems every fortnight to instigate and mislead people.

What are your views on the government’s decision to bring in 10% reservation for economically weak upper castes?
It sounds great on paper but just like other such schemes this too will become a victim of corruption. The eligibility criteria will only help the powerful among the upper castes to use it to their advantage, similar to how Yadavs, Patels and Jats are using the OBC [Other Backward Classes] quota. You just need a certificate that can be easily bought. Even if I agree that it will benefit people, but where are the jobs? According to me, this Bill has been brought for two reasons. First, to mollify the upper castes over the restoration of the Atrocities Act [Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act] and other being the SP-BSP alliance.

There is a lot of anger amongst people in rural parts of the Hindi heartland over stray cattle? Will this have any impact on the upcoming elections?
They are talking about building cow sheds in UP but how will they be made? There is no money left to spend in state coffers. They are taxing liquor to fund cow sheds but by the time that money comes, elections would be over. So, it is yet another jumla. When they banned slaughterhouses in UP, arrangements should have been made for stray cows. But, the problem is this government just believes in passing orders and not making well thought out decisions.

In recent months, several regional parties have quit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Why are these parties doing so?
All smaller parties will quit sooner or later. The truth is that they chased me till elections. Once the elections were over, they made me a minister and provided one bungalow and car. They thought I will just make money and keep quiet because I have nowhere else to go. During the Rajya Sabha elections, they remembered me yet again and began ignoring me after that. Now that elections are near again, they are chasing me. They do not have the capability or even the intent to take their alliance partners along. We have been asking for a party office for almost two years but they just do not care. They just do not want to share power, and take regional parties for granted.

Are there any specific demands that you want the government to act upon?
We have been demanding sub-categorisation of the 27% OBC [Other Backward Classes] quota to ensure all backward castes get their due share of the reserved quota. Earlier, every BJP leader, including Amit Shah, would accuse the SP [Samajwadi Party] of letting Yadavs corner benefits of the quota. What is happening in your government? Why don’t you categorise 82 OBC castes under three heads. They are so gung-ho about their housing scheme but do not realise how the influential people have cornered most of these houses. The lower castes have not benefited from any of their schemes and they will not vote for them in 2019. They will only realise their mistakes once the results are announced.

So, will you stick with the National Democratic Alliance? What is your strategy for 2019?
We have given them a deadline of 100 days to implement categorisation of OBC [Other Backward Classses] quota and 15 have passed. I do not want to form government in Delhi. If BJP implements this, we will have a brahmastra [weapon] to get votes for them. Every parliamentary constituency has more than 5 lakh extremely backward votes and we can counter the SP-BSP alliance through this. No party has the capability to form the government on their own and this 38% vote share of Extremely Backward Castes would be the gamechanger. We are only saying that if BJP can tap into this vote bank, they can form the government at the Centre.

Will Narendra Modi be prime minister again?
It is just not possible. In UP, the BJP won’t even reach the double-digit figure. They are failing to gauge the seriousness of the situation. Two strong forces have come together and they cannot be ignored. In 2017, BJP had 44% vote share while SP-BSP together managed 43%. There is a difference of only 1%. Nearly 90% of Kushwaha, Maurya, Saini, among other castes voted for the BJP in 2017, and since Keshav Maurya was not made chief minister, it has now divided amongst the SP, BSP and BJP. Even if there is a drop of 1% vote share, SP-BSP is expected to gain from it. Similarly, there will be a drop in the BJP’s vote share from other communities. So what are they confident about? Mark my words, if they do not implement sub-categorisation of OBC [Other Backward Classes] quota, the day results are announced, BJP’s agents will flee after the second round of counting.