After seven public meetings on Monday, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, 43, has a bit of hoarse throat. That, however, doesnâ€™t deter him from taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati. In an exclusive interview with The Hinduâ€™s Amit Baruah and Omar Rashid at his official 5 Kalidas Marg residence in Lucknow, Yadav seems to be in full control of the party and its campaign, leaving the family spat behind him. Following is excerpts of the interview:
Q: When did you feel the need for such an alliance?
A: I can tell you what the Samajwadis feel about the Congress. They feel that when the Congress is at its weakest, it will find the Samajwadis closest to it. I feel that the Congress was weak and friendship with the Samajwadis is also fine. On occasion, time and circumstances decide whom you are going [allying] with.
Both Rahulji and I are young leaders. Feuds between Congress men and the Samajwadis may have happened in the past. But they should remember that all Samajwadi leaders are products of the Congress. At that time, the Congress was the only Opposition party. Obviously, if there was one ruling party, they will fight against that [party] only.
Today, the times have changed. We need political formations that can protect the secular fabric of the country and take on communal political parties like the BJP. There should be someone to take on political leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah and the kind of language that they use.
I can say that the alliance happened because we both are young leaders who want to take Uttar Pradesh forward. The State determines the political course of India and will continue to shape the future of the countryâ€™s politics too. If we work together from now, then the decisions we have to take in times to come will become easier and we can help in giving a new direction to Indiaâ€™s politics.
Â Q: Has the alliance with Congress come a little late?
A: This is a key question. If you have an early alliance then it becomes easier to take party workers along. Many of our decisions have been taken at the last moment and thereâ€™s little doubt that we have got less time to make the alliance function. At the beginning, there were some issues in our family [refers to the feud with his uncle Shivpal Yadav] and a lot of time was wasted on this.
Â Q: Could the alliance have happened earlier if the family issues were not there?
A: It may not have happened then. I said in the beginning that the alliance happened in a particular time and circumstances. If these things [family matters] had not cropped up and some political decisions didnâ€™t have to be taken, then this alliance may not have happened. But the time and circumstances were such that we had to have this alliance to give a message to people that a progressive government could return in the State. If two young leaders come together, the peopleâ€™s hopes will rise.
In sum, it [having an alliance with the Congress] was a good decision and the results flowing from this decision will be good. Thatâ€™s the bigger gain.
Â Q: You have emerged as the victor in the family feud. You have control over the party and you are setting its agenda. How do you feel about it?
A: Since becoming the party president, I havenâ€™t given thought to anything else other than the elections. Of course, we have an election manifesto and my effort has been to have a rural-urban balance in the manifesto. We are possibly the first political party that is talking about the environment, forests, ecotourism and the green path â€” a green manifesto.
We are the first political party, most certainly in U.P., that is talking about traffic issues in cities. We are talking about resolving the traffic problems in every city in U.P. If we think about this problem today, only then we can find solutions tomorrow because these cities will become massive in time.
The issues of garbage and sewage disposal that were previously confined to cities have now become rural issues too, as villages are expanding. All this is part of the Samajwadi Party manifestoâ€¦.
Given that our State is massive, I can say that we worked on infrastructure at one level and the other on what can be delivered to the poor through social schemes. On the infrastructure front, priority was given to road construction. If we can double the speed [of road construction], we can triple the [growth of the] economy. Thatâ€™s my belief.
Q: What is your sense of demonetisation…
A: It has not helped anyone. No poor person is happy about it. Everybody suffered. In democracy, one thing everybody should remember, whoever causes sorrow to people, when the common people get a chance, they vote out such people. In democracy, you should not make people cry for unnecessary reasons. How can corruption be stopped by demonetisation? What is black money? Where is the black money? Look at Kashmir. He said terrorists will be stopped and infiltration will stop. But look, our officers are dying there; jawans are dying. Still there is curfew in Jammu and Kashmir.
Q: Who is your principal opponent in the election? Is it the BSP or BJP?
A: We are number one; itâ€™s difficult to say who is number two and three. Both [BSP and BJP] parties are not in the fight. Both have been derailed. Mayawatiji is saying she will do development. She has built stones across Lucknow… elephants. Who will believe her, trust her? She is saying I will only do development. What development will she do? Suppose she decides to construct a bigger elephant than Sardar Patel [statue in Gujarat], then what will happen to the revenue and money of the State? If Mayawati comes, she will build a bigger statue of an elephant than Shivaji and Sardar Patel. How much money will be spent in that?
Â Q: In the Lok Sabha elections, BJP raised a campaign against your alleged Muslim appeasementâ€¦
A: No, it is not that. I am providing Muslims their right. I am giving them 20% share in my schemes; laptop distribution, kanya vidya dhan, Samajwadi pension, taking steps for education, they are getting e-rickshaws, Urdu teachers are being recruited, I have made police recruitment easier, built boundaries for graveyards. If I am setting up a Mughal Museum, I am also taking care of Ayodhya and Ramayan. I am working and the Muslim community knows that. I am providing 24 hour electricity to Khichaucha Sharif and Dewa Sharif (dargahs). I have also given 24 hour electricity to Neemsar, Sarnath and Varanasi, what will you call me then?
Â Q: Muslim reservation is not mentioned in your manifesto this time.
A: Even you know that reservation can be given by Delhi and not without an amendment to the Constitution. All educated Muslims know that. We have said we will keep struggling for this. My government has never worked on the basis of religion, if you are Hindu or Muslim or Sikh or Christian. For minorities we have given opportunity. This is the language of the BJP. What does the BJP want? That a Hindu helps a Hindu while a Muslim helps a Muslim. We are taking everyone along. We will not allow injustice to anybody. If anybody says we are distanced from Muslims, it is not true. If you say we are against Hindus that is also not true. If anybody says we are trying to please Hindus or appease Muslims, even that is not true. What we have is inclusive socialism.
Â Q: You are the SP’s face, while Mayawati is of the BSP. The BJP does not have a CM face. Is that a disadvantage for the BJP?
A: They have a big name in the form of the Prime Minister. They are happy with that. That is why he is talking of police stations, graveyards and crematoriums, electricity, Diwali and Ramzan. He has entangled himself.