27 September, 2006
The BSP is on the up and up in Uttar Pradesh.
Today the BSP is the number one party in U.P. Our performance has been excellent at all levels. In recent months, we have swept the panchayat polls and won crucial Assembly by-elections. The just concluded biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha is further proof of our growing strength. As against 67 MLAs in the State Assembly, we got 98 votes which means that as many as 31 MLAs — or nearly half our strength in the House — voted for us cutting across party lines. Of the three BSP candidates for the Upper House, two won comfortably, and a third, who had no votes, secured 14 votes. This despite voting in the Rajya Sabha being open to scrutiny. Had voting been by secret ballot, even our third candidate would have gone through. In the Vidhan Parishad, where voting is by secret ballot, the BSP secured three seats, one more than expected. Naturally, our opponents are in a state of panic.
Not just in U.P, we are forging ahead everywhere. In the two and a half years since I became national president of the BSP, our vote has gone up across the country, and in some States we have picked up seats for the very first time. We now have an MLA in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. In Delhi, our share of the popular vote has gone up to six per cent, in Madhya Pradesh to seven per cent, in Bihar and Chhattisgarh to more than four per cent and in Rajasthan to nearly four per cent. We are contesting the ongoing elections to the State Assemblies of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Kerala, and West Bengal.
Of late, you have been making overtures to the upper castes. Why is this so?
The majority of the people in our country are poor. Even among the higher castes, it is a small percentage that is privileged, the rest are poor and have the same wants of roti, kapda aur makan (food, clothes and shelter). They also need to feel safe and secure. U.P has been ruled successively by the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Samajwadi Party. In all this time, the MLAs and Ministers looked after themselves, but did nothing for the suffering common people. The Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and Muslims have long been treated as vote banks by these parties. But it is not as if the upper castes were happy in these regimes; the proof is in their large-scale migration from U.P. to other States.
It took a while for you to shed your anti-upper caste image.
That is because of two factors. First, propaganda by my opponents who used the media to malign the BSP and misrepresent our ideology. Once we came to power, people were able to judge us for themselves. Secondly, how much time did I get in my first two stints in government? I formed a government thrice — for four and a half months in 1995, for six months in 1997, and for 15 months in 2002. As we spread our message, attitudes changed and we came to be seen as hard working and trustworthy. As you can see, our growth has been phenomenal. Why? In my first stint, I put in work equivalent to four and a half years; in my second, it was equivalent to six years; and in my third, it was equivalent to 15 years. My Government worked, it enforced law and order. I cracked down on crime and locked up criminals who enjoyed power and patronage in previous regimes. My message was so strong that the few that remained fled the State.
I created employment opportunities and implemented welfare schemes. Yet I did all this without making promises, without a fantastic manifesto. The BSP never releases manifestos. We don’t believe in promises. We believe in performance, we show by action. Our message is that the BSP is your party, our ideology is your ideology.
What is the BSP’s ideology?
We are for an equal social order. Social inequality and discrimination result in economic inequality. If there was no social inequality, if opportunities were truly equal, there would be no economic inequality. Our aim is to establish a samata muluk samaj (a society based on equality). The Congress and the BJP twisted this to say that we are against upper castes. After we came to power, State bureaucrats, and even the media, were able to see how wrong the propaganda was. Right from my first stint as Chief Minister, I have always ensured diversity in my ministries and the bureaucracy. I gave the ticket to upper castes, made them Ministers each time I formed a government. After my three stints in power, the fear that I’m for a single community, that I would discriminate against other communities, has been completely shed. Today, there is complete trust between the BSP and the upper castes.
So is this an ideological shift? You used to speak so vehemently against manuwad.
I am still against manuwad. What is manuwad? It is division of society into four varnas. The BSP wants to end this discriminatory order, and we have succeeded to quite an extent. As upper castes integrate with Dalits, mutual suspicion and hatred will end. This is samajik parivartan (social change).
The BSP is more a social revolution, a political movement than a political party. We want to bring in true equality which is in the interest of both country and society. The Congress and the BJP want the opposite, they talk of unity but thrive in disunity. The hatred between castes and communities we see today is a result of the policies of the Congress and the BJP.
The Congress treated its voters as votebanks. That is why today its base (Muslims, Brahmins, Dalits) has disintegrated.
How does the BSP work on the ground? You do it almost silently.
Ours is an ideological fight. So the first essential is to create a base (in the States) that will carry our message far and wide, that will motivate people to join us. Thereafter, I myself campaign. We go step by step, following a long-term strategy of building durable bases.
Even in U.P. we made slow but steady progress. The key difference between the BSP and other parties is that our base is not made up of defectors. Our strength is our ideology.
We depend, not on individuals, but on the ideological commitment of our cadre and the conviction of our voters. That is why each time the BSP splits, the party emerges stronger. Our voters do not leave us.
How do you evaluate the status of Dalits since the coming of the BSP?
Today Dalits are aware of their rights, they know how to fight for them. They have gained self-respect and learnt to differentiate between parties that use them and parties that represent them and deliver. If anybody raised social and political consciousness in U.P it was the BSP. Mulayam Singh has formed an alliance with the TDP, which had an alliance with the BJP in the State and at the Centre. Muslims should ask him about this.
Yet the SP did rather well in the May 2004 general election, it won 35 seats.
If Mulayam Singh was not in Government he would have got zero seats. We got 19 seats and lost another five to six by a margin of 500 to 600 votes. Had there been free and fair elections, we would have finished right on top.
If you feel that Mulayam had the advantage of being in power, how can you be so sure of doing well in the coming Assembly election?
Today the climate [has] changed in U.P. People have woken up. They are so vigilant that they will make sure elections are free and fair. Today nobody can rig the polls.
What happened since May 2004 that the mood has changed in your favour?
My Government had complete control on law and order. Mulayam Singh has reversed that. In the last 20 months, there has not been a day without murder, dacoity or abduction. Criminal elements are on the rampage and there is no administration worth the name.
Development has come to a halt. Anybody can see the difference between how it was in my time and how it is now.
The Manmohan Singh Government is contemplating reservation for OBCs in educational institutions. Do you support it?
I welcome the move but question the Congress’ motives. Reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is not anybody’s gift. It was enshrined in the Constitution thanks to Ambedkar. Why did it take the Congress so long to extend it to OBCs? This should have been done 40 years ago.
When do we see Prime Minister Mayawati?
We are a recognised national party that is growing day by day. In the next election in U.P. we shall form a government by ourselves with an absolute majority. I’m sure we will reach this goal at the national level very soon.
Copyright © 2006, The Hindu.