“Do you listen to English music? Let’s see if you recognize this song,” said Akhilesh Yadav, the 40-year-old chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, during a recent interview in his home in Lucknow.
The song, Man se hain Mulayam Irade Loha hai (He is soft-hearted but iron-willed), set to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire,” has been in heavy rotation on the campaign trail in Uttar Pradesh. It isn’t about the chief minister, though, it is about his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who previously served three terms as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Voting in India’s national election concludes on May 12 with 41 different constituencies going to the polls, including the elder Yadav’s Azamgarh.
The Yadav-run Samajawadi Party was founded by the elder politician, nicknamed Netaji, and Akhilesh was voted in as state chief minister on a platform of modernization and change.
Last year riots between Hindu and Muslims swept the western Uttar Pradesh district of Muzaffarnagar. It was the first major eruption of religious violence in India since the Gujarat riots in 2002, which occurred when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime minister candidate Narendra Modi was chief minister. Modi and the BJP have campaigned heavily in UP, which has 80 seats in the lower house of parliament, by fiercely criticizing how the Muzaffarnagar riots were handled, and the BJP claims a “Modi wave” is sweeping the state.
The younger Yadav spoke to Quartz about the national election, the riots and development in the state.
What do you make of the “Modi wave” in UP?
You are a science student? You know how waves are [Mr. Yadav drew a wave. He described its peak as Gujarat and the trough as UP]. This is UP for Modi. Their wave is in the air and our wave is in the ground.
What do you think of Mr. Modi as a possible prime minister?
The prime ministerial candidate of the BJP has been made by the RSS [the right wing Hindu organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], then the Bajrang Dal and the the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. He has been a campaigner for them and he has accepted that.
Modi means a model of dividing India. Our constitution says that the government should be secular and the country should be governed by a socialist pattern. He won’t be successful in the country.
The election is coming into its final stages. How do you think the Samajwadi Party has done so far?
We want to win the most number of seats in UP. The government is ours and I’m the chief minister. So it is my responsibility. I can say that in the first phase itself there are more seats for the Samajwadi Party than before, and our seats will increase in every phase from the 2009 election.
Why do you feel so confident?
I say this because our government has given results in two years. Laptop distribution is done 100 percent, under Kanya Vidya Dhan [a program to keep girls in school], we have distributed money to the poor girls who pass class 12. Then, we have also done a scheme for girls from minorities especially Muslims to pass class 10. And we’ve started giving unemployment dole. Also, for the first time we are
joining district headquarters with four lane roads. We have joined 16 districts last year. We are starting a metro.
Who do you see forming the national government?
After the April 30 vote concluded, all the knowledgeable people in the country have started talking about the Third Front [an alliance of smaller parties, not including the BJP or rival Congress Party]. Before the elections, Netaji also met the head of 13 political parties and they decided to sit together again after the elections. I want a third front government and we’ll work for that.
Has the religious violence in Muzzafarnagar lost you support from the Muslims?
A senior journalist of the Indian Express was traveling with me on the day the incident happened. So he was listening to the orders that were being given. He covered the whole story of how I was functioning that day. The big fear was that an incident would occur in the Muzzafarnagar town. I didn’t think for one second before calling the army and saved the town. Now, it is unfortunate that it spread in the village. The BJP and BSP [the Bahujan Samaj Party, which formed the previous government in Uttar Pradesh] are to blame for the deaths. The BJP were sloganeering for Hindus to protect the honors of their daughters.
The Supreme Court has monitored the help we provided and the investigations that we have got done. We didn’t allow the riot to continue for even a day more.
The BJP has gained votes from Hindu-Jats, who say that the Samajvadi Party appeased Muslims and dealt unfairly with them after the riots.
The people who are saying this are such liars. The Supreme Court is monitoring this. I have given compensation to anyone who has suffered damages without any discrimination.
One of your own party leaders gives hate speeches to whip up religion-based support. Azam Khan has been banned from campaigning by the Election Commission of India. He said that the Kargil war against Pakistan was won by Muslims not by Hindus. Don’t you think this was wrong?
Any leader will praise the community that he comes from. The very next day, I said that the whole country respects the army without any caste and religion divisions.
Now if I was to say that I am happy about a Yadav getting the Param Vir Chakra then I will be banned by the Election Commission.
But that’s not what Mr. Khan said. He said that Muslims, not Hindus, won the Kargil war.
But what he wished to say is that people should recognize the contribution of Muslims as well. People don’t do that. Do you know that it is Muslims today who do the most work with their hands in the country? Doesn’t the Bharatiya Janata Party use the goods made by Muslims hands?
The Muslims have made an equal contribution in Kargil. And in a political party, if you don’t give speeches, then what else does one do.
The Samajwadi Party has not fielded candidates from Raebareili and Amethi against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Does that indicate that your party and the Congress Party are on good terms?
We’ve always had good relations with the Congress. We have supported the Congress Party from outside on several occasions. We did not run from Amethi and
Our effort is that senior leaders, good leaders should get an opportunity, and they are secular people.
What do you think about Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party in Uttar Pradesh?
I really don’t think about those guys. The AAP party thinks that SP, Congress, BJP, the entire political world is wrong. The country cannot function like that.
A political party is not made in a day. Do you know how hard Netaji worked, how many places he went, how many weddings he attended, how many people he connected. AAP copied our hat so we changed it. Now we are using a modern baseball cap.
What are the challenges of being a young politician in UP?
If you’re young, there are so many things like finding out about IAS officers, how to take work from them, how to make policies, how to take cabinet decisions, what are the procedures. It takes a while to learn the ropes.
And the second challenge was to work among senior leaders, who have worked with Netaji for 20 to 30 years. You have to take benefit from their experience, and balance your own behavior towards them.
Although, you are the chief minister, and you are holding the top position, but it should not be that they feel bad. So balancing getting your work done and not disrespecting them is a challenge,
Plus at this age, there would be very few people who would have become chief minister. You miss out on family life also. There would not be chief ministers whose children are eight or nine years old. So I cope up with all that.
Rahul Gandhi is also a young politician. You were successful in the 2012 state elections, but his Congress Party fared badly. What do you think of him?
Rahul Gandhi is a good and new age politician. There are ups and downs in politics. It’s true that I have won today, but I have also lost in the past. He will also get the opportunity to be successful. But there are people who also deceive him. If his advisors can give him good advice then he can also succeed.
Would you like to be the prime minister of India?
I had just got married. I was planning to go for a holiday, to take my wife. Then, I heard you have to run for elections. I never thought about all of this, but I became a member of parliament and then chief minister.
Prime minister is a big thing. You need a big party with more representatives. Then one can think about it. Right now we want to form a Third Front with Netaji as its most important Leader.