After the first two phases of polling, where does the BSP stand?
The BSP has found support from all sections. We have the consolidated votes of dalits, the most backward classes, Gujjars and Jats. The BSP has always been respected by farmers. We increased sugarcane prices by Rs115 per quintal, this government increased it by just Rs35 per quintal (Rs 10 initially and then another Rs15 before the elections). Under this government, farmers have been killed and the killers granted bail. The chief minister has made statements like “we will take the heat out of farmers”. All this has gone against the BJP. People are fed up with its divisive politics. In the previous regime (of the Samajwadi Party), there were atrocities on many sections of society. The BSP stands for bringing all castes and communities together. For every single seat, Behen ji has chosen candidates who are deserving. Even in our worst showing (in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls), we were in the second position in 30 seats. We are a very strong contender (in western Uttar Pradesh where polling had taken place at the time of this interview). The results will be a big shock, especially to the media.
In addition to your traditional voter, which is the new voter you will attract this election?
Our 22 per cent dalit vote is intact with us. Then there are the Brahmins—no one seems to be talking about them. The BJP has certainly given up on them. They tried to follow our pattern of the Prabuddh Varg Samvad, which we started from July 23 in Ayodhya, but they gave up after two or three meetings as Brahmins were not coming to them. The same happened with the Samajwadi Party. Brahmins are beyond mandir-masjid. They look at what is happening on ground like the imprisonment of 16-and-a-half-year-old Khushi Dubey (wife of Amar Dubey, gangster Vikas Dubey’s aide, who was gunned down in July 2020) and the death of Renu Sharma in jail (Sharma’s husband is the prime accused in a liquor tragedy case; Renu was granted bail but was still in jail because of procedural delays). Other parties say Brahmins account for 14 per cent of the electorate, we say they are 16 per cent. It was challenging to get them with us in 2007 as dalits and Brahmins are poles apart, but it is different this time. They have faced the atrocities of the Samajwadi Party and the thok do (shoot them) of this government. Brahmins are coming to us on their own, and this will be such a shock that the BJP will be unable to recover from it. Even I have been surprised by the huge numbers in which they have attended our meetings. BJP leaders know that it is too late for them to do anything to win Brahmin support, so they are concentrating on other castes. The Scheduled Castes and backward classes do not go to the Samajwadi Party. Who has forgotten that the bill on quota in government job promotion for SCs/STs was torn up by Samajwadi MPs (in 2013)?
Despite being a woman-led party, why is women representation in your party and among its elected representatives so low?
The representation of women should not be counted just in terms of number of MLAs and MPs. Take into account the number of MLCs, chairpersons and vice-chairpersons (of corporations/commissions) that we have had. We don’t believe in women’s representation just for show. The Congress gave 40 per cent tickets to women candidates because it knows it has no chances of winning. It was we who set up women thanas (police stations) for the first time. We gave Rs5,000 per month pension to the eldest lady in the family. It was Behen ji who sent to jail her own MLA (Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi) and MP (Atul Rai) when charges of rape were made against them. Now the National Crime Records Bureau data shows that there is one rape every two hours in the state. The issues and safety of women have always been Behen ji’s top priority. Where we feel that women have a chance of winning, we field them. For instance, we have fielded Shadab Fatima against Om Prakash Rajbhar (an ally of the Samajwadi Party) in Zahoorabad.
Behen ji has never shirked her responsibility towards women. In her regime, women felt safe enough to be out on the streets at midnight. Top police officers were patrolling the streets at night…. The message that crimes against women would not be tolerated was very clear. It is the same police, the same bureaucracy that got the message “ladke hain galti ho jaati hai (boys will make mistakes, said by former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav)” at one time.
Mayawati has joined Twitter rather late. Yet, there seems to be selective outrage to atrocities on dalits.
Whenever an incident happens, Behen ji takes note of it. But we are not in show business. There are standing instructions that whenever an atrocity happens, local BSP office-bearers are to meet the aggrieved family and provide assistance and protection. No one is to wait for Behen ji to call and give instructions. That is an excuse that she will never listen to, and action has been taken against those who fail to immediately reach out to the aggrieved. In the Hathras case (the rape and hurried cremation of a dalit girl), for instance, we were the first to reach the family. We were the only ones acceptable to the family and we are still taking care of them. In the recent Unnao case (alleged rape and murder of a dalit woman), the family met Behen ji. But we do not toot our horn. Since January 2021, Behen ji has been in Lucknow, except for two days when she went for her mother’s last rites. She is here without any family member. She is monitoring events 24/7 and working for the party. She can tell you the name of booth level party workers from memory.
However, even by the BSP’s standards, has this not been an unusually quiet campaign?
We do not believe in the politics of damaging property, creating ruckus and blocking roads. Behen ji believes that this kind of politics causes loss to our people, that the property damaged is ours. We have always believed that we are a movement first, a political party later.
The perception of a quiet campaign has only been created by the media and social media. We were the first party that started campaigning on July 23, 2021. We covered all 75 districts. In the second round, we covered all reserved constituencies. In the last seven months, we have held 470 meetings at different levels. No one is taking note of that. Instead the questions being asked are—where is Behen ji, why is she not roaming around in a bus, why is she not in an open jeep? These are wrong questions to ask. Is Sonia Gandhi touring in open jeeps? Look at the last 20 years of our party’s history. In any election, there is a set pattern. There is one big rally in Lucknow that happens three to four months before the elections are announced. Then there are rallies in all divisions. On October 9 (BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s death anniversary), five lakh people came to our meeting in Lucknow. How did that happen in the midst of Covid-19 restrictions? We could not have stopped people from coming to pay tributes to Kanshi Ram ji. These are not government programmes where the government is paying for arrangements and the chief minister is, in turn, asking for votes. Akhilesh Yadav got his Vijay Rath out only two months ago.
Though your party does not release a manifesto, what will be your priorities if you form the government?
Manifestos are fake. We do what we say. Delegations of the 69,000 struggling aspirant teachers, ad-hoc employees, those harried by the old and new pension rules have met Behen ji and she has heard them out. She has announced that a commission will be set up and the matters decided. This will not be a commission that will carry on for five years without a result. She has said that she will revive the old pension scheme. Before making these announcements, she works out how they will be implemented. In her speech on October 9, she said that there was no need for further building of anything (statues and memorials of dalit icons), as all of that had been done. Now her only focus is the development of Uttar Pradesh to change the face of the state.
Our first priority is to do away with unemployment. Behen ji does not agree with the concept of unemployment allowance and free mobile phones. She calls these bheekh (alms). If you provide employment, people can buy mobile phones on their own. Health infrastructure and world class educational institutions are other priorities. All the hospitals made during her regime were modern, unlike the ones in this government, where existing government hospitals have been designated medical colleges. Under her, the first university for the physically challenged (Dr Shakuntala Misra National Rehabilitation University, named after Misra’s mother) was set up. The first university for Urdu, Arabic and Persian came up, as did a world class university in Noida.
Then there is law and order. The day she sits on the chief minister’s chair, things will change.
When she came to power the last time, there had not been a single power plant set up in the previous 17 years, so she immediately set about doing that. It was her government that started a programme of giving free houses to the eligible. This government changed its name and stopped giving houses for free, instead they were subsidised. She believes in doing things as soon as she comes to power, so that the results are visible over the next five years.
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Is the BSP developing a second line of leadership?
In the last two-three years, at every level, young people form 50 per cent of our organisational structure. This is a fixed target. Look at our ticket distribution, more than half the old(er) people are gone. They either left or were expelled. Om Prakash Rajbhar was a BSP man. Behen ji makes leaders. New leaders are being created at every level. These young leaders are our future.
While the percentage of your vote share has not fallen drastically, the number of seats you have has gone down much more. Between the geographical concentration of your votes and the fewer number of seats, which is the larger problem?
This is a matter for larger discussion. The Election Commission of India also held a seminar on the issue. The basis on which representation is determined will have to be re-examined. In 2014, we had zero seats in Parliament, but we were the third largest party as far as vote share was concerned. We have never lost by a large vote margin. So, wherever there is a slight shifting of votes, we will win. There has been meticulous concentration on every seat this time.
Do you think there is anger against the incumbent chief minister, apart from the anti-incumbency against the government?
There is no doubt about it. The last election was in the name of Modi ji and people participated in the election because of him. This one is openly in the name of Yogi ji. A leader makes a huge difference to how the party is viewed. This language—thok denge, garmi utar denge, bulldozer chala denge (will shoot them, will take out the heat, will run bulldozers over them)—is unacceptable. His own MLAs have revolted against him. How can a CM not recognise the five crore minorities who live in the state? He is the CM for everyone, not for selected people.
Your experience with coalitions has not been good, but would you consider an alliance to form the government?
Our aim is to form an absolute majority government. If we do not get a majority, we will not form any alliance.