"People are again talking about Mayawati’s development work, how she handled law and order and did not even spare her own MP... Today one barely sees any development, we only see pages and pages of advertisements," Satish Chandra Misra says.
BSP National General Secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Satish Chandra Misra defends BSP’s Brahmin outreach and says party stands for sarv samaaj; insists BSP has been active and raising issues in Parliament and courts; and says that while the party is ready to back the Cong on issues, it will do so on its terms. The session was moderated by chief of bureau & political editor Ravish Tiwari.
RAVISH TIWARI: After a long period of inactivity, the BSP has sounded the poll bugle in Uttar Pradesh with a series of public meetings. What prompted it?
It’s not entirely correct to say that we started doing this suddenly. For the past one-and-a-half years, public meetings have not been possible because of the pandemic. Despite that, we managed to have 62 meetings in different districts, with at least 200 persons each. While the Brahmins came to my office, similar meetings were held at Behenji’s (party chief Mayawati) place. The moment the Covid-19 cases dropped in UP, we began (our meetings). It’s not that we were silent, the party has been working right up to the booth level, and we are determined to throw out the BJP government in the state.
RAVISH TIWARI: But you can be accused of launching your campaign with caste-based events?
We called it ‘Prabuddha Sammelan (intellectuals’ meetings)’. No doubt, in all my meetings, 90 per cent of the attendees were Brahmins, but there were others too. There were advocates, doctors, engineers… So it wasn’t a ‘jaativaad’ event. In UP, Brahmins and Dalits are facing maximum issues. The way encounters and murders are happening… If someone complains, he faces inquiry. All these people who were suffering urged me to come out… They want 2007 to come back [the last time BSP came to power], they want the brotherhood of the Brahmin and Dalit communities to return. The social engineering… no one ever thought the communities could come together. We formed a majority government.
RAVISH TIWARI: What issues will you raise in the 2022 polls?
Law and order, development, atrocities on women, atrocities on caste lines… People are again talking about Mayawati’s development work, how she handled law and order and did not even spare her own MP… Today one barely sees any development, we only see pages and pages of advertisements. (Mayawati) gave employment to people from all sections. Work on the first Delhi-Noida expressway was started in her time. An enquiry was placed on it after our term, and then the same government inaugurated it! The Congress, Samajwadi Party, everyone protested against the Jewar airport, and today they are all batting for it… Work on Lucknow Metro was started in our time. We ensured the all-round development of 29,500 Ambedkar villages. About 29,000 new primary schools were opened; seven international-level universities were set up… She opened 23 new districts, which came with new roads, hospitals, colleges… She improved the electricity situation in UP… In our five-year term, there was one rape case. Today, we hear of one rape every two hours… So that is the difference. (Mayawati) has put the agenda on the table, and has promised to take UP where it should be… Today we are seeing Rs 300 crore being spent by people to propagate themselves. It is a sin. Teachers are going without salary, people are not getting pensions, and then you are mocking everyone by putting signboards saying that we are giving 5 kg grain each to 15 crore people. But the cost of the bag with photographs of BJP leaders is more than the foodgrains. Is that justified?
LIZ MATHEW: The BJP has also been focussing on Dalit votes in UP, and the party’s caste formula has worked so far. How will you consolidate your vote base in the face of such stiff competition from the ruling party? Also, what do you make of the Bhim Army’s influence among Dalits in UP?
All these people and parties are propped up by the BJP, whether it is him (Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad) or (AIMIM chief Asaduddin) Owaisi. They are hardly going to do any damage to us. They will lose their own seat if they contest an election there. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are behind Behenji like a rock, which ensured that we got 2.62 crore votes in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. We got no seats but we were the third largest party even then and now too. So people from these castes know who has worked for them. If they are being spoken about now, it is only and only because of her (Mayawati). It is not that she has built the Kanshiram Smarak in Noida, but she has done tremendous work for them… When BJP leaders visit (Dalit) homes, their food is taken from their own homes, they are just shown eating with them or washing their feet… But these people vote for Behenji. Why? It’s because she doesn’t indulge in these photo-ops. She has taken them out from their huts and given them pucca homes… Now, once again we are trying to revive the brotherhood between Brahmins and Dalits. We are a sarv samaaj party. We are reaching out to the neglected, whether Brahmin or Dalit.
BHUPENDRA PANDEY: Why have there been so many suspensions and expulsions in the BSP recently, including of senior leaders such as Lalji Verma and Ram Achal Rajbhar?
We don’t follow the philosophy that just because someone is a senior leader, or an MP or MLA, they should not face action for anti-party activity. We fielded Ramji Gautam for the Rajya Sabha polls. In the last minute, some of our party’s MLAs supported the SP candidate. What can be a bigger anti-party activity? Who has made them big leaders? The party. And so the party is most important. If you look at the careers of people whose names you are taking, you will see that they have been made zero-to-hero by Mayawati. Over the years, many such people have come and gone in the BSP, and this time too, a lot of new faces are coming.
SHUBHAJIT ROY: The months of April and May saw acute shortage of beds and oxygen and even political leaders like yourself couldn’t hold the government accountable. Why should people trust you with their vote then?
Covid has put us all to shame. Let me tell you my own experience. I have helped at least 2,500 patients in getting treatment. For those one-and-a-half months, I literally did not sleep, trying to manage oxygen etc. We opened a campus for about 2,500-3,000 labourers who could not travel, and arranged for their food. But yes, we were not giving sound bites on TV about it; we were just doing our work. That’s how our party is. The level of Covid mismanagement in UP is unimaginable. They (the government) started taking action against those who pointed out the mismanagement. We visited the ghats, the cremation areas, and were shocked to see that nearly 100 bodies were being burnt in a line. We even helped in arranging wood for some… Bodies were being washed away in the Ganga… Where did all the money allotted for Covid go? They were blaming the media for showing the bodies. But what the media was showing was less. We were seeing the scenes at hospitals. Many patients died of hunger.
VANDITA MISHRA: We have had many agitations in the recent past — student protests, anti-CAA protests, the farmer agitation, Dalit protests. However, the BSP has not been visible in any of these. People who are in jail today, facing sedition charges, UAPA, they are activists who do not belong to any party. For a party that speaks for the most marginalised, isn’t this a failure?
Our people have always been agitating, but in a different manner. We don’t believe in tod-phod. During the Dalit agitations, we were present all over the country. Two of our people died in firing in Madhya Pradesh. In UP, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, over 100 of our people were put in jail… When it comes to cases of sedition, UAPA, we have been fighting for them in court, trying to ensure their release. We don’t do danga-fasaad on streets. We don’t stop trains, buses, destroy government property. We protested in Parliament for farmers. Our own members are farmers and they are protesting. When we form the government, we will look at all issues. Tomorrow if you write something, even you will not be spared. It’s an undeclared Emergency.
MANOJ C G: There is much talk of Opposition unity at the national level. Sharad Pawar talks about it, Mamata Banerjee too. Sonia Gandhi held a meeting. But the BSP is not very enthusiastic about these efforts. Even in Parliament, sometimes you attend joint Opposition meetings, sometimes you don’t. The BSP remains absent when some crucial Bills are put to vote.
We are always with the Opposition, I have myself attended meetings. Whether it was the Congress government earlier, even when we were offering them outside support, or the BJP now, you can see that. But our party takes its own decision on matters, whether something is in national or public interest, on what to oppose and what not. So when the Congress asks us to stand with them in the Opposition, we might oppose the same things and still not stand with them. There are reasons for this, there is a background. We supported them when we had 40-41 MPs altogether, but what did they do? Earlier, when Ashok Gehlot became the Chief Minister in Rajasthan, they took away six of our MLAs even when we were giving them outside support. They did the same this time… The party also did this in Himachal and a few other places… On the one hand, you do all these things to break the BSP, hurt it, and on the other you say that the BSP should stand with you at all times. So we will back them on issues, but on our terms… We are also a national party, one among five national political parties. We have to decide based on our thinking on a matter… You spoke about Bengal… (in the Assembly election) they were all fighting each other. Who was together? So we have to fight you electorally, you poach our MPs and MLAs, same as the BJP… we are not double-faced. We are clear about our stand.
MANOJ C G: If the Opposition comes together and the Congress is not the one leading it, will the BSP join it?
We have not once but several times been part of such unity bids, whether Karnataka or Bengal… But if you think that we will come with you everytime you say so, we can’t do that, either in Parliament or outside. We have an independent identity of own… We have several times raised our voice against the BJP… To say that we have supported the BJP, say on Article 370 (abrogation)… We supported it after a proper decision, that this was in line with Dr Ambedkar’s thinking. Even the BJP was surprised, it did not know we were going to support the move. The thinking was very reasonable — that while J&K has a small number of Muslims compared to the rest of the country, there are restrictions when it comes to marrying people from outside, owning property there… Dr Ambedkar’s thinking was simple, that how can there be two sets of rules in a country, he wanted the whole country to be one. He did not support Article 370 even then.
HARIKISHAN SHARMA: In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, you had aligned with the Samajwadi Party to take on the BJP. The BSP remains weak in Uttar Pradesh. In the coming polls, are you considering any alliance?
In this election, whatever party it may be, local or national, we are not going to align with anybody. We have learnt from our experience, we had a bitter experience… No doubt we have a coalition in Punjab, with the Shiromani Akali Dal, which is going very strong. There is no doubt that we will form the government there. But in UP, we are not going to have a coalition with anybody… Our party is No. 1 in UP right now, the BJP is No. 1 only on paper, in propaganda, because they have the money, the muscle. The reality is that the BJP MLAs are scared to even go to their areas, they even call their family members to meet them outside. If they visit, people gherao them, demand answers… The way people are suffering, be it due to Covid, or the farmers who are sitting on streets, dying…
DEEPTIMAN TIWARY: In the past few years, as the BJP has gained in strength, it seems all parties are now looking for only the Hindu vote. Your party chief too was seen with a trishul recently. The BJP has been doing the same for years. Why would people come to you for this? And secondly, who will talk for the Muslims now, raise their issues?
The BSP’s leader in the Vidhan Sabha is a Muslim, our party president for three years was a Muslim. He is looking after the party as a coordinator for elections in the state. We have at least three Muslims as senior coordinators… Our party does not differentiate between Hindus, Muslims. It acts in the interest of sarvajan. Our party always gives tickets to Muslims, more than other parties… The Muslims know this very well. It is only under the BSP government that UP did not see a single riot, nor did communities fight each other, or any community live under dehshat (fear). People lived together, there was bhaichara (brotherhood). So people know which party they should go with… Even in the Rajya Sabha, our leader is a Muslim, in the Vidhan Parishad, the leader is from the Scheduled Caste… As for you saying we have adopted the trishul, or started wearing malas (religious threads), we have always been doing it… it’s in-built. We don’t do dhong (pretence). Whether it is Goddess Parvati, Devi, Durga, or Lord Shiv or Ram… when I went to visit the Ram lalla (in Ayodhya), they asked what has Ram lalla got to do with the BSP? I have been there tens of times… They may talk Hindu, Hindu. We believe in taking everyone along… Left to them, they will finish Sanatan Dharma in UP. Of the 1,500 Sanskrit colleges in the state, only 50% are left, because they never paid the funds… The bhoomi pujan was done in Ayodhya with much fanfare, spending `200-250 crore on August 5, 2020. A year later, there is nothing there. I asked the sadhus there about it, they said, ‘Didn’t you see, 5 bricks were kept and prayers were offered to them. These were later immersed in the Saryu’… Come Diwali, they will claim a record in lighting diyas. Why not spend the same money on the poor, give to teachers?
DEEPTIMAN TIWARY: But will you make concerns of Muslims a poll issue?
The concerns that they have are also our concerns. As I already said, whether it is Muslims, Dalits, any caste, we are working for everybody.
AVANEESH MISHRA: At the BSP’s September 7 event (marking the end of the first phase of its Brahmin outreach), a lot of things that happened are usually seen on BJP platforms. The BJP sees it as an achievement of its politics.
You know that two days before our event, the BJP also organised a ‘Prabuddha Sammelan (targeted at Brahmins)’. Before that, they were attacking us, saying one shouldn’t hold events like this, it is wrong… Even the Samajwadi Party is holding such sammelans now… It’s another matter that nobody is coming for those. So who is copying whom? They even kept the same name. And as for your claim that the September 7 event showed a changed BSP, rewind to June 9, 2005, when we had gone before the Brahmin samaj, the upper caste samaj, and brought the Dalits and them together. Mayawatiji was the chief guest at that event and it attracted close to 5 lakh people. Conch shells were blown even then, she was presented with a statue of Ganesha (like on September 7). Everyone knows what she said, holding that statue, ‘Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai (Haathi or elephant is the poll symbol of the BSP)’… In our Prabuddha meetings across 75 districts, we have worked to remove their (BJP’s) masks and, show their real faces.
BHUPENDRA PANDEY: Mayawati has said that the BSP will not give tickets to any bahubali or leaders convicted in cases (in the context of Mukhtar Ansari). She has always been serious about issues concerning women. Your Mau MP Atul Rai is in jail on rape charges, and recently, both the victim and a witness immolated themselves before the Supreme Court. There has been no reaction from the BSP, nor has the party taken any action against Rai.
…Maybe there are some details you do not know. There is a trial on in the court, where evidence emerged in police investigation that the two of them had tried to blackmail Rai using fraudulent means, including the false proof they had submitted. Police then filed an FIR against the two, and while the investigation was on and they were summoned before the court, they disappeared… The court then said that we have an accused (Rai) in jail, and evidence has now come that the charge against him might be fabricated, so they would have to appear… Then the two of them appeared before the Supreme Court and took that action. It’s not like there was any pressure (from Rai), he continues to be in jail.
RAVISH TIWARI: Won’t a triangular contest in UP, with the BSP not aligning with anyone, help the BJP? Secondly, who will be your main target: Narendra Modi or Yogi Adityanath?
This is an election for UP, not the country. On one side is Behenji and on the other side Yogiji. We are fighting this election to defeat the BJP. As for what other parties are doing, we are not concerned about that. We know we will uproot this government, like we removed the SP government in 2007. They had the outside support of the BJP. Everyone knows this well… as to who helped the SP form the government in 2003… The Supreme Court later ruled in our favour on this matter. So our fight at this time is against the BJP… I don’t see any advantage to the BJP from a triangular contest. The BJP would earlier win 40-45 seats, it would again be reduced to the same… Whatever the number, they will definitely not make any gains.