INTERVIEW | Massive voting in favour of INDIA bloc, PM confused and tired: Akhilesh

Now the BJP is busy in last-moment management. Their booth committees have turned into 'loot committees', the SP leader said to The New Indian Express.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav during an election rally for the Lok Sabha polls, in Kanpur, Friday, May 10, 2024.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav during an election rally for the Lok Sabha polls, in Kanpur, Friday, May 10, 2024.(File Photo | PTI)

After a hectic schedule in which he addressed multiple rallies, Samajwadi Party chief and the face of INDIA Bloc in UP, Akhilesh Yadav, sat down for a candid interview with The New Indian Express, in which he spoke at length about INDIA's prospects, how he defines his PDA plank and how it is working on the ground to ensure BJP’s departure after June 4. Excerpts from the interview:

After six phases of elections, how would you evaluate the prospects of INDIA bloc in UP?

Akhilesh: We have seen massive voting in favour of SP and INDIA bloc in the sixth phase. People have extended unprecedented support to us and it seems that the NDA will be left much behind.

Initially, I used to say that we are ahead in 79 and the fight is on only one seat. But now we feel that we are ahead on all 80 seats. On a lot of seats, NDA leaders themselves have acknowledged that INDIA bloc is way ahead.

On the seat which I call Kyoto (Varanasi), one engine of the double engine is missing from the posters and hoardings. So, the two engines are colliding with each other and it is well known. Samajwadi Party and Congress alliance in UP has become one plus one eleven.

They have no proper governance. Their slogan of double engine has lost its steam as the election has moved to Purvanchal as they have done no development in the region.

What are the main issues you find resonating on the ground against the ruling party?

Akhilesh: Agniveer Scheme has brought only frustration to the youth. The police exam paper leak has also left the youth demoralised. Anger against such a mismanagement coupled with rising unemployment has left the youth on the ground disillusioned.

Moreover, while the government was seemingly aggressive in cracking the whip on criminals, when it came to exam paper leaks, no concrete action was initiated. The youth are not quite happy with the way the probe is progressing in the case. They get the impression that the government was getting the papers leaked purposely as it does not want to give jobs, fill vacancies. They feel that this government has ruined one-third of their life. This makes them livid. If 60 lakh aspirants could not get the jobs due to paper leak of police recruitment drive, as per the formula, let's assume each of them has minimum two members -- father and mother -- in the family making it a family of three. This becomes 1.80 crore, which is divided by 80, the number of the Lok Sabha seats in the state. It comes out to be around 2.25 lakh. Thus, in each of the 80 Lok Sabha seats, at least 2.25 lakh voters are angry with the BJP. How will they recover from this?

They even sold false dreams to the farmers promising them that they will double their income. Price rise is also a major issue on the ground. Even their sitting MPs are facing massive anti-incumbency.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav during an election rally for the Lok Sabha polls, in Kanpur, Friday, May 10, 2024.
Summer of discontent in the Hindi heartland

Now the PM has started attacking SP specifically mentioning the 2012 assembly election manifesto and the promise of religion-based reservation?

Akhilesh: He is confused and tired.

Actually, it is BJP which has deprived the backwards and Dalits of their reservation. As per the basic spirit of reservation, the members of deprived sections used to qualify in general category also on the basis of their merit. The BJP government stopped it thus depriving them of the benefit of it. When it came to the quota of the Economically Weaker Section (EWS), no leader opposed it. Thus the total reservation for various sections became 60 per cent and the remaining 40 per cent is left for those who are lesser in number.

So, INDIA bloc favours caste census to ensure the participation of every community and caste according to its number. It is a big movement which the Congress has also joined. We hope that after forming the government, the first and foremost move will be to order caste census and all the complaints of lesser participation will be redressed.

Q. How will you react to the PM's recent attacks on the opposition?

Akhilesh: Now the BJP is busy in last-moment management. Their booth committees have turned into 'loot committees'. They should be asked as to why they want to snatch farmers' land. Why have they decided to change the Constitution of India and do away with the reservation? Why are they against social justice and caste census? Why are they anti-farmers? Why do they field the candidates who had been involved in trampling the farmers? Why do they shield those who are accused of committing atrocities against women? They should be questioned on electoral bonds as to why they are propagating profiteering and getting 'chanda' (donation) from traders? Why did they get the life-threatening COVID vaccines administered to people and earn from it also? They are not able to respond to these questions.

This is the reason the PM has started using the language which reflects the lack of confidence. When confidence falters, the language becomes the victim. This shows that because of his (PM) negative politics, he has become exhausted and worn out. It shows his frustration. In the course of criticizing others, he is disgracing the post he is holding.

Initially, it seemed to be a narrative-less election but gradually the opposition succeeded in driving a convincing 'saving the Constitution' narrative. How did it happen?

Akhilesh: We are fighting to save the Constitution. Our fight is focused on Samman (honour) from Samvidhan, Adhikar (rights) from Samvidhan, Nyay (justice) from Samvidhan. It is only the Constitution which can mitigate inequality in society. We also keep reminding the Bahujan Samaj (deprived sections of society) that the Constitution is our lifeline and let's protect it as it is under threat under the present dispensation.

How much traction are you seeing for PDA on the ground?

Akhilesh: We have been working on PDA for a long time. We tried to convince people how much they are suffering because of discrimination by holding PDA panchayats at the village level. We tried to convince them with statistics and graphs. PDA has taken shape over a period of time. Its impact is visible on the ground. We distributed the tickets keeping PDA in mind. It is all inclusive. It has Pidit, Dukhi, Agde (victims, distressed, forward classes), Pichhde, Dalit, Adivasi (Backwards, SC, ST), Pichhde, Dalit, Alpsankhyak (Backwards, SC, Minority), Pichhde, Dalit, Adhi Abaadi (Backward, SC, Women). PDA is gaining much traction in Purvanchal.

If the INDIA bloc forms the government, what will be your role in it?

Akhilesh: I am confident that the result will be positive, in favour of our alliance. The priority is to remove the BJP and form the government at the Centre. My role will be decided after the result. However, I am sure that cabinet will be changed after June 4. They (BJP government) could not bring 'Achhe Din' but we will certainly bring happier times for our people. Even media will also get freedom.

How is your alliance with Congress in 2024 different from what it was in 2017 UP assembly elections?

Akhilesh: In the course of politics, the alliances are formed and fall apart as well. I tried to cobble together formidable alliances in 2017 and then in 2019 with the BSP and then I created a bouquet of smaller parties for the 2022 UP assembly polls. So, depending upon the circumstances, one has to enter into alliances and sometimes natural alliances also take place.

Congress and other parties have come together for a bigger cause of saving the Constitution. This alliance will become stronger in days to come.

You have fielded a lesser number of Yadavs and Muslims this time than previous elections? Did you not fear a backlash?

Akhilesh: People of these communities have been fighting to protect secularism and they have given strength to secular fabric and socialist movement of this country for decades. If we look back at history, they have been struggling politically for socialism and secularism, especially identifying with the times of Ram Manohar Lohia, Netaji (Mulayam Singh Yadav) and even the period when SP and BSP were in alliance.

In my opinion, these have been prudent communities. We have been accused of being partisan towards them. So, I trusted their ideology and they understood my decision and supported me with full honesty in the toughest seats. It is their trust and loyalty towards the party and leader, believing in the fight we are carrying forward.

Moreover, having spent 25 years in politics, I have enough experience to gauge whether they will support us or not.

In the middle of the election, you got the support of Raja Bhaiyya. How do you see his sudden tilt towards you?

Akhilesh: I think in a big struggle, one should take as much support as it comes.

In how many seats do you think will the impact of him aligning with you be felt?

Akhilesh: When he came, much of the election was over. However, wherever possible, his workers are supporting us.

Was there any rift between Raja Bhaiyya and the BJP?

Akhilesh: I do not believe in short-term politics. If he has supported us based on ideologies, I welcome it.

Do you feel that BSP chief Mayawati will join INDIA bloc if the opposition bloc forms the government?

Akhilesh: How many seats will the BSP manage to win? I think it will be a few. However, I have been calling upon the Bahujan Sabha to support us in this fight. However, BJP and BSP are hand in glove. Jaunpur is the biggest example.

How much do you miss Netaji?

Akhilesh: Obviously, had he been here he would have guided us. But now without him, I am moving on the path shown by him. Wherever he is, he will be happy if we win a good number of seats. Results will come after June 4. However, the atmosphere so far seems to be in favour of the SP and INDIA bloc.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav during an election rally for the Lok Sabha polls, in Kanpur, Friday, May 10, 2024.
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