Uttar Pradesh elections: No power is permanent and the BSP is ready to go full throttle against the BJP after two forgettable outings in the past UP elections, says senior BSP leader Sudhindra Bhadoria.
Out of favour for 10 years in Uttar Pradesh, four-time Chief Minister Mayawati is leading the Bahujan Samaj Party’s comeback bid with a promise of development and empowerment for all sections of society. The BSP is hopeful that Mayawati’s decision to focus on development instead of building parks and memorials, and denying tickets to leaders with criminal antecedents will surely strike a chord with the voters. However, Mayawati’s quest for a fifth term as Chief Minister is faced with the challenge of beating the BJP’s well-oiled election machinery. Can the BSP under Mayawati surmount this challenge? Yes, says BSP’s national spokesperson Sudhindra Bhadoria.
In an exclusive conversation with FnancialExpress.com, Bhadoria says that BSP is all set to take the BJP head on and the people of the state will recognise the party’s promise of working as the guardians of the Constitution and the BSP’s ideology of ‘Sarvajan Hitay Sarvajan Sukhay’.
Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:
The Bahujan Samaj Party has been out of power for the past 10 years. How is the party preparing a comeback in the UP elections?
Power comes and goes, there is no party which remains in power forever. There has been a gap of 10 years but we have remained connected with the people. The Bahujan Samaj Party won the maximum number of seats after the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. We bring the people together under the umbrella of our ideological background.
We (BSP) have had a long journey of four decades. Of all the chief ministers who are competing now, Behen Mayawati ji is the most experienced of all. She has been elected as the chief minister four times. This time, we are ready to go full throttle, ten years is not a big gap in politics. People will give us a mandate this time.
BSP is seen as a pro-Dalit, pro-OBC party. This time, the party has embarked on a ‘Brahmin Mission’. How do you think the party will be able to challenge the BJP, which is considered a favourite among the ‘upper castes’?
BSP has been a strength for Dalits, exploited, deprived, women and minorities, but apart from this, our motto has always been that we are a party of ‘sarva samaaj’, we are a party of ‘sarvajan hitay sarvajan sukhay’. When Mayawati ji became the chief minister in 2007, people from the ‘Prabuddha’ class voted for us in huge numbers. All castes voted for us, which is why we got the maximum number of votes, both in terms of percentage and seats, and we formed a majority government. In our party, other than Behen Mayawati, who is a great orator and politician, we also have Satish Chandra Mishra who has remained an MP and has been holding events across Uttar Pradesh which have been attended by people in large numbers. Women also turn up in large numbers because in terms of law and order, Behen Mayawati has been supreme. Don’t trust my words, go to small villages and ask people there. Everyone, including small businessmen and women, will tell you that Mayawati ji has been the best when it comes to maintaining law and order.
BSP has remained largely inactive on ground, as well as on social media, as compared to the BJP and Samajwadi Party. Do you think this might turn up as a hurdle for the party now?
No, I don’t think that is true. It’s true that the last 1.5 years have been a year of COVID… if somebody was expecting us to mobilise masses during COVID… then we would have been the most irresponsible party. I think some irresponsibility was shown by many other parties when they took the whole nation as well as the people of Bengal by storm during the election, and as a consequence, we saw that so many people were affected by COVID.
Then there was Kumbh Mela. These parties that you have mentioned, their top leaders attended it and each one of them got infected. Not only did they get infected, people know that a large number of people in the entire nation got infected because of that, and so many lives (were lost), even the religious gurus lost their lives. So, we did not want to act in an irresponsible manner. It was our responsibility to keep the people safe. We were connected with the people on social media. And as far as social media is concerned, Behen Mayawati ji is herself on Twitter and our party functionaries are on Twitter, and we also have followers in millions, not in thousands and lakhs, but in millions. We, as party workers, also have sufficient and respectable following.
Also, the support base of Mayawati ji is huge both in Uttar Pradesh as well as nationally. That is why in each election — in the last national election and elections prior to that — we have been continuously the third largest party nationally in vote share after BJP and Congress. And in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress does not exist so there is no competitor for us. We have been garnering most of the votes, we have been garnering most of the seats, even in the last Uttar Pradesh elections. So, we are sure that we will yield good results this time.
The farmers’ protest is the most talked-about issue these days. Parties like Samajwadi Party, Congress and RLD have been holding several meetings with the farm unions. The BSP, all this while, has stayed away from the matter…
No. We have been active, we have been engaged with the farmers all this while and our party has done maximum for the farmers, and the farmers know this very well. And it is because of this that they have preferred voting for us in the past. Let me give you one example – the parties have been promising that they will double the farmers’ income, but were any of the governments at the state level or the Centre able to double the income of the farmers? When Behen Mayawati ji became the chief minister in 2007, the rate of the sugarcane was Rs 125 a quintal, when she left as the chief minister, sugarcane price became Rs 250 per quintal. And I can say with complete authority at my command that the parties you have mentioned and referred to, have they ever done it (double farmers income)? Have they ever done anything for the farmers? To go and show up your face for a photo-op is something else, but to be doing it in power is something else. We have done it and I have heard many farmer leaders, including Mr Tikait, say that sugarcane prices were maximum at the time of Behen Mayawati. So, if the prices rose to the maximum in our rule, then who deserves the votes? Us or them who only believe in talking and not working?
Should the BJP government agree to the farmers’ demand for repeal of farm laws?
Farmers are overwhelmed by debts and lakhs of farmers committee suicide. They are our ‘annadata’ who provide us food, grow cereals, and produce milk. So, this is the government’s responsibility that they are heard. They say that they have three valid demands – first is MSP which the government had already promised, the other two are safety for their land and produce, these should be accepted. For these three demands, that they say they should not be kept in the dark about, law should be made for them and they must be provided security under that law. I believe that by doing this, they (government) will fulfil their duty. And especially for farmers, whose kids are fighting on the borders, the government should not be stubborn. They should be heard and their demands should be fulfilled.
Mayawati has announced taking up the case of Khushi Dubey, who is the widow of Vikas Dubey’s nephew Amar and is currently lodged in a juvenile centre. Will this not dismay a certain section of voters, given the fact that Vikas Dubey was eventually a gangster?
One thing needs to be understood. If someone commits a crime, then action should be taken against him as per the Constitution, but not with a feeling of revenge. If her husband committed the crime, then will all his relatives be considered as criminals? If some of my relatives are criminals, then going by this argument, I will also be treated as a criminal and all those who are connected with me will also be considered as criminals. So, such accusations are baseless and fictional.
The party’s vote share went down from 30% in 2007 to 26% in 2012 and then to 22% in 2017. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls too, BSP managed a 19.3% vote share, mostly comprising Dalits. How is the party preparing to change the numbers in its favour this time?
See if we got around 20 per cent votes in 2019 while we contested only half the seats, our vote share would have been 40 per cent had we contested the remaining seats. We fought on half the seats and that’s why we won the maximum percentage of seats, others could not win even these many seats.
We are present in people’s hearts. Our performance is good in all elections but it is true that no one remains in power forever. Even popular names like Indira ji and Atal ji lost elections. Chaudhary Devi Lal and Vishwanath Pratap Singh have also lost the elections. Chaudhary Charan Singh lost in the elections from Muzaffarnagar where he was considered the biggest farmer. So, winning and losing are parts of elections. Our image is that we are in favour of the poor, women and along with ‘sarva samaaj’, we want to work as the guardians of the Constitution, and this is why we believe that people will vote for the BSP.
Mayawati has announced that the party will not build parks and statues anymore and will instead focus on development. Does the party see the criticism of this infra-building as one of the reasons behind its previous failures?
We built parks after leaders who are an inspiration for Dalits and minorities like Babsaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, Swami Periyar, Mahatma Phule, Savitribai Phule and Sant Kabirdas. So we did what other governments did not out of respect. Did others not build any parks? They built them in respect of other leaders. Can other leaders be even compared to Baba Saheb? We built parks to respect those whom we consider our inspiration, the entire nation considers them as its inspiration. Behen Mayawati, in her speech at the Prabuddha Sammelan in Lucknow, said that our focus now will be on development, women’s safety, will work towards giving farmers their rights, will resolve the issue of employment; and when Behen Mayawati says something, it has a strong base.
When she became the chief minister, she inherited Uttar Pradesh whose GDP was around 3.5-4 per cent and it was at 9 per cent when she left as the chief minister. So, she has been the best in everything, be it development, safety of common man, ensuring the best interests of farmers. So, such allegations are levelled by the opposition parties during elections. But yes, there is one thing, given the fact that we are such a big party, the kind of space we should get from the media, we don’t get that. So, this is an effort to mislead the people, but they will not be misled this time and will vote for us.
There have been growing voices for a caste census. Several leaders from the BJP, along with partners like Nitish Kumar, have demanded a caste-based census. What is BSP’s point of view on this while the BJP says that it’s time to move beyond caste politics?
Nitish (Kumar) ji, on many occasions, has expressed his reservations and has also demanded many things which are not part of the BJP’s agenda. As far as our position on the census is concerned, when BSP was founded, Kanshiram Ji and Mayawati Ji jointly raised a slogan – “Jiski jitney sankhya bhaari, uski utni hissedari” (the larger their numbers, the larger their share). We have been saying that if they are more in numbers, they should receive a larger share.
But don’t you think this further diversification of the OBC community might create a further caste divide?
Well, caste was not created by us, but is a social reality and it has been there for thousands of years. We have also seen caste oppression in this country. When Baba Saheb became the icon of poor and Dalit, OBCs and rest of the society as well for providing the Constitution and democracy, then they got some respect and they got some empowerment. This (caste census) will not create divisiveness, but instead integrate society. Everyone will get his share in power. In fact, the Mandal Aayog came into existence due to the contribution of Kanshi Ram Ji and Behen Mayawati Ji, who exerted a lot of pressure on VP Singh, who was the prime minister at that time and Mandal became a law. So, the OBCs got representation. And because of that, Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar was bestowed with the highest honour in this country which is Bharat Ratna. We want empowerment of all, not only of the elite.
But don’t you think there is divergence when we talk of development on one hand and caste politics on the other?
No! We will be functioning on the agenda of development. Caste should vanish with development where once they get empowered, they come into different spheres. Look at the bureaucracy, how many have become Cabinet secretaries here? Look at the judiciary and the Supreme Court, how many have become judges there? So, this glass ceiling has to be removed. Everybody should be given an opportunity to rise, and it is in this context, we are saying that we should create equality in society.
What impact will the COVID situation have on the upcoming elections? Because the panchayat elections went quite well for the BJP…
Well, as far as Uttar Pradesh, they (BJP) have not won with significant numbers. In fact, they hardly won 25 per cent of the seats; out of 3,000 something, they won around 700 something, so I don’t think they did quite well. In fact, they did miserably. Whatever they may claim about their performance in managing COVID, we have seen dead bodies floating in rivers, starting from the Ganga to the Yamuna to Chambal to Gomti. So their performance was dismal and highly irresponsible.
During the first wave of COVID, Modi Ji went to Davos and said there that we won over COVID, we have finished COVID, and soon we saw the second wave come. It was so agonising for the people — there were no beds in the hospitals, there was no oxygen available, there was no place for people in the burial grounds and cemeteries; and therefore, to make a claim that ‘we did well’, is an unnecessary tall claim. They failed miserably and the entire country knows about it.
What are the prospects of a ‘Mahagathbandhan’ of the opposition parties to take on the BJP? Has BSP been contacted by any of them?
As of now, all parties are fighting elections on their own and we have announced that we are going to take the Bharatiya Janata Party government head on all by ourselves. People will rally behind us, because Yogi Ji’s government has failed in Uttar Pradesh, Modi Ji’s government has failed at the Centre and therefore the compounding effect of this will be a government of the people, by the people and led by Behen Mayawati Ji.
Do you think there is any possibility of a grand alliance of the opposition parties for the Lok Sabha elections? Will Mayawati agree to work under Rahul Gandhi or Mamata Banerjee?
We have to cross the bridge in 2022 (UP elections) and we are concentrating on that. The people of this country will decide who will be the leader and who will not be the leader. We can’t decide sitting in our ivory towers that ‘I want to be the leader’, you have to have some kind of experience, you have to have some kind of a leadership across India, not just in a province. That will make the leader capable of leading the country and I am quite sure that Behen Mayawati ji and BSP will have a big role to play at that moment of time. I don’t want to talk about it now, we will cross the bridge when the time comes.