Amethi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi's constituency, has, since 1952, chosen non-Congress MPs only twice. In most elections, rival parties have refrained from contesting, or they put up symbolic fights with bigwigs keeping away from the campaign. In 2014, however, the gloves in Amethi’s political ring came off as the BJP sent Smriti Irani to take on Gandhi. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fielded Kumar Vishwas—who ran an unusually long campaign over two months. Gandhi still won with slightly over one lakh votes—but this was almost three and a half times less than his victory margin in the 2014 elections. This time, BJP will win Amethi, assures Uttar Pradesh Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya.
Excerpts from an interview:
Has your strategy changed over the phases of this election?
Our strategy has been the same for all phases. In UP, we will be doing better than 2014. The BSP-SP alliance cannot defeat us. What was a wave in 2014 is now a tsunami. We will get a bigger victory. The enthusiasm in the public—especially among those who were not perceived as traditional BJP supporters—the poor, the backwards, the dalits is great. Modiji has emerged as a triveni (confluence) for the forward castes, the backwards and the dalits due to the promise and delivery of sabka saath sabka vikas.
Do you think you have been able to fulfil the promises made in 2014?
We have delivered more than what we promised. For instance, we had not promised Rs 6,000 to every farmer under the Kisan Samman Nidhi. We had not promised the Ujjawala Yojana but we implemented it. Electricity in every home and Ayushman Bharat were not promises but were done. The list is very long.
How do you rate the state government on law and order and employment?
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I don’t deny that incidents have occurred. But this is a big state so that will happen. The important thing is that incidents are brought to light, reported and lawful action taken. The general public feels safe in our government. It is only the criminal elements that are scared. Political leaders who supported criminals also know that they will be punished within the law. On employment, under the Mudra Yojana, 17 crore people have taken loans to start new work. If we assume that just one person found employment because of these loans that means 17 crore people found employment. Even if we deduct 5 crores from this and assume that these were people who took loans to further their existing work, 12 crore people found employment. Development works such as road building and electrification have also generated jobs. Not every person can be given a government job but opportunities can be created in the private space and through development work. The central and state government have created records in employment generation.
There was a spate of encounters in the state after the coming of your government and many of these have been dubbed false. Comment.
Before us, there was the Samajwadi Party (SP) government. Under it, the police was afraid of criminals because the government openly supported criminals. After we took charge, criminals assumed that they would continue as usual. But we started taking strict action. During action, if police goes to arrest someone and is fired upon, it cannot be expected to respond with flowers. Criminals were killed. As were our police personnel. To kill people with some pre-determined aim is neither a goal of our police nor of our government. Criminals will have to come under the ambit of law.
Did the Congress err by not getting into an alliance with the BSP-SP?
Congress has no identity in the state. In the last election, because of the blessings of the BSP and SP they could win two seats. This time they have an understanding with the BSP-SP and have fielded candidates to eat into the BJP vote. However, they don’t have such candidates who can be of any help, anywhere. They only have leaders who get photos taken. There are no leaders who are working at the grassroots or on the booths. In this election, we are definitely winning Amethi, and there will be no surprises if we win Rae Bareli too.
Your party lacks a strong Brahmin face. Murli Manohar Joshi was denied a ticket. Rajnath Singh is identified with Thakurs. How does that affect your prospects?
BJP does not think this way while distributing tickets or choosing ministers. We have leaders from all communities, and they are progressing. Those who work hard and do well get good opportunities in the government and within the organisation. Old leaders are not angry with us. The party has the blessings of all the top leadership. It is because of the efforts of Advani ji, Joshi ji and Kalraj Misra ji that we are in this position. It is not as if whoever gets a ticket reaches the Lok Sabha. The party sends them for campaigning only if there is a need. The army of workers that they have prepared is doing well. The elders can only be happy at how well the leaders that they created—be it Modi ji or Amit Shah ji.
Won't phrases like ‘green virus’ have a negative impact on the public?
Before 2014, the Congress was insistent on proving that Hindus were terrorists by filing false cases and jailing them. These leaders are scared after we came to power. Those who would never go to a temple started to show off their janeu, take dips in the Ganga, trek to Kailash Mansarovar. The statement of the CM is against the dhong (pretense) of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. It does not mean that our party or government discriminates against anyone.
Why has the level of political discourse in this election stooped so low?
We want to fight the election on the issue of development, but the opposition does not want to fight it on that plank. Roads, electricity, water and security have been issues in all elections. A lot of work has been done on all these parameters. The public understands that what was not done by previous governments in 55 years has been achieved by this government in 5 years. What the BSP and the SP could not do in the last 15 years in the state, we have managed to do in two years. But, the opposition does not want to talk about development. When Mayawati kicked off her election campaign in Saharanpur, she asked the Muslims to vote for the Alliance. In reaction, some things have been said from our side, but it has never been our purpose to create controversy with our statements. We want the elections to be fought on the basis of development and ideology. But it is only right that we respond to charges so that a clear message can be sent out to the voters.
How do you explain statements like ‘Modi ji ki sena’?
This should not be taken in the wrong way. The army is of the country. The country is under the leadership of Modi ji. If strong decisions had not been taken, then despite being the strongest in the world, our armed forces would not have been able to give a fitting reply to terrorist acts. In the previous government under Manmohan Singh, such attacks would happen and there would be no retaliation. The country would feel dishonored and ashamed. Even our armed forces were regretful that the government was not allowing them a free hand. Today, under Modi ji’s leadership, the forces are free to decide a place, method and time of retaliation in case there is an attack.
The Opposition says that our forces continue to die despite all your talk of combating terrorism.
The Opposition is so scared of Modi ji that it has never acknowledged how many terrorists were killed in Operation All Out or in the surgical air strike or appreciated how quickly we could get back Wing Commander Abhinandan. In a combat, if terrorists are killed, our forces, with all due respect, will also have casualties. The Opposition should acknowledge how well the armed forces are combating terrorism. Most of Kashmir has been freed of terrorism. In such a situation, the opposition’s comments are deeply deplorable.
Why did your government delay the announcement on payment of the sugarcane dues till the commencement of the elections?
Farmers are a priority for the central and state governments. In the first cabinet meeting, Rs 36,000 crores worth of loans were waived off. Not just sugarcane, we have been very swift in procuring and paying for wheat and rice too. These matters were not even considered by previous governments. There is a time to do everything. Since it is the sugar mills which have to pay, the government made provisions for the mills to take loans and the payments to be made directly to the farmers' accounts so that there was no possibility of diversions. The sums that we have paid out in two years were not paid by the previous government in its total tenure. There is nothing wrong or lacking in our intent.
Is the state government a one-man show?
No. This is a government which takes decisions. The leader is the face of the party. The cabinet takes all decisions. We have fulfilled most of the promises. In the next three years we will do more than what we have promised.
Can this election be seen as a report card on the state government?
It is natural that we will be getting votes on our performance in the state. But again, this election is an aandhi (storm) before which no Gandhi can stand. There is no harm in accepting it as a report card.
If this a bad report card can we expect changes at the state level?
There is no point in speculating. But there is no possibility of a bad report card either. When there will be victory, why will there be changes in the state? We will do a repeat of 2014 in the state.
Between nationalism and development, which is more important for your party?
For us the country is above the party. The country’s development is also important, but this can only happen when national security is ensured.
Do you think the combined vote share of the BSP and SP poses a threat?
In the last elections there were 48 seats in which the BJP polled more votes than the two parties combined. With their coming together, the public has taken it upon itself to defeat them. Modi ji is an honest, hard-working leader who has dedicated his all to the nation. He has the public’s complete confidence and it is the people who are fighting this election on his behalf and for him.
Do you anticipate a shift in the BSP’s core vote as well?
That vote is coming to us. Modi ji went to Prayagraj and washed the feet of sanitation workers. Mayawati never goes to them, nor does anyone else. They only talk of the respect of Dalits and backwards but what have they ever done for their upliftment? If there was such a strong BSP core vote why were they reduced to zero in 2014 and 19 in 2017 (Vidhan Sabha elections).
How many seats do you give the alliance?
I give them zero. BSP is a bilkul samapt party (almost finished party) while SP is samapt party (finished party).They might just open their accounts at some places. The Congress is in the ICU.