FE Exclusive: Samajwadi Party and its allies no challenge to BJP in UP elections, says Sidharth Nath Singh

In an exclusive conversation with FinancialExpress.com, Sidharth Nath Singh says that the repeal of the three farm laws was a show of large-heartedness and compassion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In an exclusive conversation with FinancialExpress.com, Sidharth Nath Singh says that the repeal of the three farm laws was a show of large-heartedness and compassion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson and Uttar Pradesh MSME minister Sidharth Nath Singh says he does not consider the Samajwadi Party and its allies as a challenge to the party in the coming elections in the state. Exuding confidence that the BJP would perform well in the UP elections, Singh says that previous attempts on a bigger scale have failed to shake the people’s confidence in the BJP, and the coming elections will be no different.

In an exclusive conversation with FinancialExpress.com, Singh says that the repeal of the three farm laws was a show of large-heartedness and compassion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whereas the protesting farmers were continuing with the agitation despite the Centre already taking their biggest concern off the table. “It can’t be my way or the highway,” he says.

Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

How well is the party prepared for the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh? 

The party is very well prepared for the upcoming elections. The BJP is not one of those electoral bodies which start preparing 3-4 months before the elections. Rather, we are the ones… when we took oath in 2017, the roadmap was laid down for 2022. Keeping that in mind, the party high command and the decision-making body selected the CM face.

With the party being in government, obviously anti-incumbency does set in, but in order to overcome anti-incumbency, the steps to be taken were charted out in consultation with the chief minister. So the party on one hand has been working on the Sankalp Path, that’s how the government fights the anti-incumbency. At the same time, the party cadre needs to be groomed or well oiled. So this is not a one-off election but a continuous process which has been on for last five years.

The Samajwadi Party has joined hands with the RLD and SBSP. How do you think will this impact the election results, especially when it comes to western UP? 

Well, I really don’t see it as a big challenge to the BJP because we have seen in the past that the Samajwadi Party joined hands with the Congress in 2017, in 2019 they came up with one of the biggest ‘mahagathbandhan’ that you can even think in UP. Certainly, it was a big challenge and the arithmetic were certainly against the BJP in 2019. Despite that, we won handsomely; so I don’t see that to be a big challenge.

These smaller parties which are being spoken of, we also have these alliances. People don’t talk about our allies like Apna Dal and Nishad Party and so on. And if you do take their electoral influence, percentage wise, Apna Dal and Nishad Party is far far greater than RLD and Om Prakash Rajbhar.

Azamgarh in Purvanchal has been a big challenge for your party. In 2017, the BJP lost nine out of 10 seats there. How do you plan to make a comeback there?  

You see, the issue is how you reach out to them. Since Modiji has come in, he has changed the kind of politics being done and has introduced a very development-oriented brand of politics. He has tried to reach out to these socially deprived communities or the castes in UP through various schemes which they had been deprived of from the last 70 years.

Only announcements were made, be it Congress, be it BSP or SP. So, they started feeling they were aligning with those parties thinking they are their messiahs but actually they haven’t given anything. But here comes a party whom we never thought of voting for, but they have been continuously giving, be it Ayushman Bharat, the Swach Bharat scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana, Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana…. And they have been well executed by the Yogi government; that is equally important in a state.   

So, the BJP government has delivered extremely well and we through our schemes, the prime minister’s initiatives, the outreach has been phenomenal to all of them. Purvanchal, for a variety of reasons since Independence, has been missing on that. So, this outreach is certainly going to help us. We have seen this in 2019 also and this is going to be the impact in 2022. And, with this kind of development, social schemes and the party cadre being geared up to the booth levels, we have a benefit in 2022.

On one hand, Yogi Adityanath government claims that it has managed the COVID-19 situation in the best manner. The Opposition, on the other hand, has been alleging mismanagement. How do you take this criticism? 

Are we even concerned with those who never came out of their houses? They remained in ICU, they didn’t step out, their cadre didn’t even step out, during COVID-1 and COVID-2. And here was my chief minister and he had COVID, in COVID-1 his father expired, but he didn’t go to Uttarakhand, he decided to serve.

Then we came with COVID-2, the entire CM secretarial staff was down with COVID, the chief minister was down with COVID, but he refused to sit back. He managed everything. Within 3-4 days of being COVID negative, the CM stepped out, visiting districts one after the other. So, all those things also have been phenomenally appreciated and seen by the people on the ground. So, those have been sitting in the ICU or their air-conditioned room, they have no business to point finger at us.

The Opposition has also alleged that the Yogi government was trying to shield Ashish Mishra in the Lakhimpur incident and only acted after the Supreme Court order. What do you have to say on this?  

I disagree to that. It is a process of law. During the process of law — this was a very critical case. It wasn’t just sensitive but also critical in the sense that you have to go ahead with the evidence to then make up conviction come around. Now, there were reports from the ground which were not even shown or the videos were not even shown. But there were claims and then counter-claims were being made.

I think the government’s biggest challenge was of maintaining peace which was brought in within 24 hours, including talking to (Rakesh) Tikait and ensuring that he comes there and we do not allow that situation to go out of control or to be politicised. So, I think we did well in controlling within 24 hours and then, as per the law, arresting the person also. The law will take its own course now.

The Opposition says that the climbdown on farm laws is an electoral move by the BJP, keeping the UP polls in mind. What do you have to say? 

The Opposition can say, or the media and the critics can write many things. But at the same time, knowing the prime minister, what he is and his personality since the Gujarat days, it needs a huge heart to take you own decision back, it’s not an easy task. I see it as a show of strength and compassion by the prime minister in accepting that we tried to convince that it’s a good law, we tried to convince people on the other side. Some of them did not get convinced and we decided to take the law back and we will go on the negotiating table to discuss various issues including MSP.

But now look at the other side. Well, we have taken the issue out of the table which you demanded, but still the dharnas are going on. It’s never “my way or the highway”. Two sides will come, irrespective of who they are, will always show an agreement to settle something by one side taking two steps back, the other side also saying ‘OK! I will also take one step back.’ You don’t say, ‘No, we will stick here’. It’s not Pakistan-India war going on.

The second COVID wave already claimed thousands of lives. How is the government prepared in case a third wave comes or the Omicron scare grows in the state?

The basis of a state government for preparing is always based on certain data and you extrapolate that data, and then you say you have made the arrangements. Based on the COVID-2 and the conditions which we have seen in COVID-1 and COVID-2, particularly relating to the lungs and the respiratory tract, I think the government in Uttar Pradesh is quite geared up to meet that challenge and we will be in a position to fight back COVID-3. Omicron is knocking on many doors, so whenever it knocks in UP, first we will try to keep it away, but if we cannot, then we are well prepared to handle it and hopefully it should go away.

Jewar Airport is touted as one of the biggest development projects in Uttar Pradesh ever. How will it create employment opportunities in the area?

Jewar Airport has been in the offing for a very very long time. Many governments have come, many gone but Jewar remained on paper. It was Yogi government which came in and said no. It was in 2017 itself, we decided we will go ahead, and in fact, he mandated me to go to Delhi for discussions with the Civil Aviation ministry.

We agreed to do whatever the government of India was requiring so as to get the NOC. From the NOC, came in the DPR and the tendering process. Had it not been COVID-1 or COVID-2, perhaps you would have seen the runway in 2022, that is how we had set the target for ourselves. But unfortunately, because of COVID-1 and COVID-2, the Zurich Airport people refused to come for almost a year and a half and sign the agreement to take the process forward. So, that has been a big delay but now we are hopeful that by 2024, it will happen and we have estimated the traffic flow of the Delhi Airport.

Looking at the way the footfall has been going up, we have catered four runways, expandable to six. Then we have looked at how it can be made into a big logistics hub because the dedicated freight corridor crosses almost next to the Jewar Airport near Dadri and we are ensuring that the infrastructure, the expressway all touch the Jewar Airport, be it Agra Expressway or Yamuna Expressway, built by the previous governments. We have also got the connectivity for the Ganga Expressway crossing it, then Ganga Expressway touching with the Purvanchal Expressway, the Bundelkhand Expressway is also coming. So all those things are being looked into, including the MRO – Maintenance, Repair, and Operations of the aircrafts.

So, I think it will be a win-win for everybody and certainly with the logistic hub, the passenger traffic coming in, it will give a boom to the hospitality sector; Noida will become a big hub because we plan around the Jewar Airport, the medical park, the textile park, we have got the MSME park, all that is coming up. Some of these parks have already been allotted. So there are many things happening around Jewar Airport. So, I think personally feel that it will give a huge boost to the western UP districts and certainly add to the GDP of Uttar Pradesh.

The second wave of COVID furthered the impact on the pandemic-battered small businesses. How does the government plan to help the MSME sector recover? 

We have done quite a bit, we are aligned with the central government also. For example, the credit guarantee scheme itself. Almost 4,41,000 existing units which became beneficiaries to the credit guarantee scheme of the central government, they received benefits of over Rs 20,000 crore.

Similarly, during COVID, we ensured that none of the factories went into a lockdown, except for the initial period when there was a nationwide lockdown. And for continued manufacturing, we ensured the gate passes, the transportation issues were all being addressed by the government so that they remained hassle-free. Particularly for the workers near the industrial areas, we provided with the vaccination programme for them.

Along with that, most of the things have been brought online where the MSME sector is concerned. We have in fact given them cloud-based softwares to file their returns and help them on GST. So, many efforts have been taken by the UP government, including 72-hour clearance to any online application which comes for setting up an MSME unit in the state.

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