After seven public meetings on Monday, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, 43, has a bit of a hoarse voice. That, however, doesn’t hold him back from taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati. In the course of an interview at his official residence in Lucknow, Mr. Yadav discusses the Assembly election campaign, developments in his Samajwadi Party, and the family spat. Excerpts:
Tell us how the alliance with the Congress was reached.
Sometimes you just build a friendship. Some people say that after a certain age, friendships happen according to needs. It’s good that we have reached an alliance [with the Congress]. So far, the chemistry with Rahul Gandhi has been very good. We are the same age, we think alike. He wants the country and the State to develop. We also want the same.
When did you feel the need for the alliance?
I can tell you what the Samajwadis feel about the Congress. They feel that when the Congress is at its weakest, it will find the Samajwadis closest to it. I feel that the Congress was weak and friendship with the Samajwadis is also fine. On occasion, time and circumstances decide whom you are going with.
Both Rahulji and I are young leaders. Feuds between the Congress and the Samajwadis may have happened in the past. But they should also remember that all Samajwadi leaders are products of the Congress party. At that time, Congress was the only Opposition party. Obviously, if there was one ruling party, they will fight against that [party] only.
Today, the times have changed. We need political formations that can protect the secular fabric of the country and take on communal political parties like the BJP. There should be someone to take on political leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah and the kind of language that they use.
I can say that the alliance happened because we are both younger leaders and want to take Uttar Pradesh forward.
It is possible that the alliance with the Congress has come a little late in the day…
If you have an early alliance then it becomes easier to take party workers along. Many of our decisions have been taken at the last moment and there’s little doubt that we have got less time to make the alliance function. At the beginning, there were some issues in our family (refers to the feud with his uncle Shivpal Yadav) and a lot of time was wasted on this.
Could the alliance have happened earlier if these family issues were not there?
It may not have happened then… the time and circumstances were such that we had to have this alliance to give a message to the people of Uttar Pradesh that a progressive government could return in the State. If two young leaders come together, the people’s hopes will rise. In sum, it (the alliance with the Congress) was a good decision and the results flowing from this decision will be good. That’s the bigger gain.
Can there be an alliance with the Congress for Lok Sabha 2019?
It will be too early to say because currently we are only working on the 2017 Assembly polls.
You have completed five years in government. Tell us about your top three achievements and three difficult moments.
Given that our State is massive, I can say that we worked on infrastructure at one level and the other on what can be delivered to the poor through social schemes. On the infrastructure front, priority was given to road construction. If we can double the speed [of road construction], we can triple the [growth of the] economy. That’s my belief.
Like they say in the United States, the U.S. made roads and the roads made the U.S. At the minimum, we should give good roads that provide door-to-door connectivity. Our farmers will benefit most from these roads — if cities are being linked, so are villages. The second challenge was to at least create the system and infrastructure for electricity. We purchased almost 3,000 megawatt electricity after bidding. We built substations and feeder systems. After doing all this we have been able to provide 24-hour power supply to cities and 16-18 hours to villages. It is a big achievement for a State like U.P., which was considered to be power-deficient.
Staying with electricity, the Prime Minister made a comment about Diwali and power supply.
He was wrong about the data. We provided 2,000 MW more power supply during Diwali than we did for Ramzan. And for Diwali, I decided that, as a festival of lights, I will provide every district headquarters with 24-hour electricity supply. Since that Diwali, there has been 24-hour power supply across the State.
Is there politics behind Mr. Modi’s comment?
I have followed the Prime Minister’s speeches for long. He spoke about police stations, that they have Samajwadis posted there. But let me tell you, I have given to the State one of the best police infrastructures — the UP 100 for police response… if anybody is in distress or any problem, [the] police reach them quickly, within five or 10 minutes, and 15 minutes in the villages. Which State offers this?
Second, he talked about electricity during Ramzan. His data are wrong. I am providing electricity on Holi, Diwali as well as Christmas. Then, he said that boundary walls of graveyards are being built, while those at crematoriums are not. There would be disputes in villages about boundaries of graveyards. With the help of the administration, we ensured their marking and provided them a secure location.
We have a mixed society and fabric. We tried to prevent any conflict. If we are working for Muslims, we are also working for others. In some of the Christian schools, I am building good auditoriums. The Prime Minister is unaware he does not have the correct data. I am doing what is necessary for society.
Are you trying to suggest that your ‘U.P. model’ is superior to the ‘Gujarat model’?
I don’t know what the Gujarat model is but I can say this they have not been able to construct a Metro [line] in 15 years, but we are making Metro [lines] in four places. The Prime Minister is talking about sitting in our Metro but I tell him, when will you let us sit in your Metro? The first Metro stretch in Lucknow is almost complete. Kanpur we have started. Ghaziabad second stretch we have done. Finished. Noida, Great Noida section we are doing. So, in four places we are constructing the Metro here. In three other cities, I am making DPRs (detailed project reports).
If I am back again as the Chief Minister, I will construct a Metro in Varanasi also. And that is the Prime Minister’s constituency. There also I am giving electricity 24 hours. So that’s what I said, the Prime Minister comes to Varanasi and says Ganga Maiyya has called him. I tell him, aap Ganga Maiyaa ki kasam khao (take an oath in the name of goddess Ganga) and say whether I am giving electricity 24 hours in Varanasi or not.
There was an incident of lynching in Dadri. How do you think your government handled that incident? Do you feel that it cast a shadow on your administration?
The Dadri issue was handled with responsibility by the government and police, otherwise it was the BJP’s attempt to turn it into a Muzaffarnagar-type issue… We took absolutely correct decisions then. Due to that, we were saved. Otherwise, just imagine, somebody says that some food is kept in your fridge and people come and kill you... Tomorrow some other people will ask, why are you eating chicken? Suppose I do not eat [meat], will we fight over it?
You are the Prime Minister, you have travelled to so many countries, you create an aura… You talk about graveyards... by raising this, you are trying to defame that State which gave you more than 70 MPs.
Do you see attempts to polarise the election this time?
It won’t happen but they are trying. They have lost ground. They have done nothing. They have only spoken about mann ki baat. They have done no kaam ki baat.
What is your sense of demonetisation?
In democracy, one thing everybody should remember, whoever causes sorrow to the people, when the common people get a chance, they vote out such people… How can corruption be stopped by demonetisation? What is black money? Where is the black money? Look at Kashmir, he said terrorists will be stopped and infiltration will stop. But look, our officers are dying there; jawans are dying. Still there is curfew in Jammu and Kashmir.
Did you face any trouble as a party, in campaigning?
We did not have money. We were busy having a fight in our house. I was so happy I had nothing (chuckles). Kehte hai na andhera aata hai toh parchai bhi chali jati hai (they say that when darkness falls even your shadow abandons you.)
Who is your principal opponent in the election? Is it the BSP or the BJP?
We are number one; it’s difficult to say who is number two and three. Both parties are not in the fight. Both have been derailed. Mayawatiji is saying she will do development. She has built stones across Lucknow... elephants. Who will believe her, trust her? She is saying, I will only do development. What development will she do? Suppose she decides to construct a bigger elephant than Sardar Patel (statue in Gujarat), then what will happen to the revenue and money of the State?
In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP raised a campaign against your alleged Muslim appeasement…
No, it is not that. I am providing Muslims their right. I am giving them 20% share in my schemes; laptop distribution, Kanya Vidya Dhan , Samajwadi pension, taking steps for education, they are getting e-rickshaws, Urdu teachers are being recruited, I have made police recruitment easier, built boundaries for graveyards. If I am setting up a Mughal Museum, I am also taking care of Ayodhya and Ramayan.
You are the face of the SP, while Mayawati is of the BSP. The BJP does not have a CM face. Is that a disadvantage for the BJP?
They have a big name in the form of the Prime Minister. They are happy with that. That is why the Prime Minister is talking of police stations, graveyards and crematoriums, electricity, Diwali and Ramzan. He has entangled himself.
A longer version of the interview is available on www.thehindu.com
Where is the black money? Look at Kashmir, the PM said terrorists will be stopped and infiltration will stop. But look, our officers are dying there; jawans are dying.
There should be someone to take on political leaders like PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah and the kind of language that they use.