Stressing that the SP-RLD alliance is trying to rebuild social ties that were snapped by communal violence in Uttar Pradesh, Rashtriya Lok Dal president Chaudhary Jayant Singh outlines their long term approach at social cohesion. Responding to the recent outreach of Home Minister Amit Shah, Mr. Singh says the politics of hate and development cannot co-exist. Edited excerpts:
How do you see the latest overtures by the ruling party?
It is part of their clever political strategy. They want to isolate the Jat community and they want to send a message to other communities by giving us a tag of Jat leaders. It is not a well-intentioned invitation. Looking at our struggle and the way people are accepting us, I cannot accept it.
What is the core difference between the BJP and the RLD?
It is their divisive politics. You cannot get away by saying that economy is okay, the farm sector is doing fine but we want to alienate Muslims. The two things can’t coexist. True development can’t happen without social harmony.
But you have worked with the BJP in the past. In fact, in 2009, when you were last elected as a Member of Parliament you were in an alliance with them.
At that time there was a structure of the National Democratic Alliance for coordination. [Now] You can see centralisation of power in BJP, both the government and the party. They are not being able to manage their allies. JD (U) is the latest example.
Don’t you think the recent BJP invitation was a result of fault lines that emerged in the alliance on ticket distribution?
These things happen. There are always a few issues and everyone can’t get what they want. We both have sacrificed and are united in this contest.
Did the Jat pride get hurt because of SP’s big brotherly approach?
In every alliance, you talk on unequal terms. Your negotiating power is limited to your presence and your numbers. Every big organisation will try to squeeze the smaller one. You know that when you enter a negotiation. It is always about what best you can achieve. And I think we have.
Is your core voter aligned to the idea of the RLD being presented as a party of farmers and workers?
If I am ambitious or maybe audacious, like Chaudhary Charan Singh was, I don’t think those who are our well-wishers would mind it. They will want me to go ahead with my work. Even a section of the media tags us as a Jat party, but I reject that. Caste is something in India that you are born into. I am proud of it but that is not my sole socio-political identity.
What is your take on the Muzaffarnagar riots and what are you doing to heal the pain?
There could be deep-rooted problems related to social cohesion and the riots were just one thing that came up. Of course, it was a traumatic experience and disrupted normal life but now those relations are again becoming strengthened. We are trying to rebuild social ties that were snapped. That doesn’t happen overnight.The electoral process has a role to play here because when people vote together they start realising the importance of interdependence. If we could highlight the cross-society interdependence, the hatred diminishes. When Hindus and Muslims will vote together for us, it will help rebuild harmony. That’s the real social engineering.
But you haven’t given tickets to Muslims in any of the six Assembly seats in the district with around 40% Muslim population. Were you apprehensive about the polarisation of votes?
We don’t believe that the votes will be polarised. If we believe that, it will strengthen the BJP’s argument. Not giving tickets to Muslims in Muzaffarnagar was not a conscious decision. We have given two out of three in Shamli, four out of seven in Meerut. So there is representation. When you are in an alliance, you have to also take into account what your alliance partner wants.
While you have been addressing Muslim issues, the SP seems to be avoiding embracing the community in public
I can only say you cannot combat polarisation by being a silent spectator to hatred. You have to be aggressive and vocal.
The BJP is highlighting the Samajwadi Party as a political entity that protects criminal elements. Even Chaudhary Ajit Singh once described it as a goonda party.
I have no qualms in saying that during that phase we were in opposition. There were several things that we opposed. Now that we have come together, we are addressing them. Even Akhileshji after having sat for five years in opposition realised it. There has been a growth in his personality and leadership.
But, both the RLD and the SP have given tickets who have criminal cases against them.
We should look at the leadership. Akhileshji and I don’t have any cases against us but the BJP can’t say this about their top leadership in the State. Mr. Adityanath’s first task was to drop pending cases against him. The choice for the voter is clear. Do you want to choose somebody who uses crude language or somebody who has a degree in engineering? I am a postgraduate in finance.
Both Ajit Singh, during his tenure as Industry and Agriculture Minister, and you had had a pro-market image. Why did you oppose the farm laws?
We are always pro-individual choice. Farmers need to get better connectivity if they have to get the right prices for their produce. These laws were doing nothing to address that shortcoming. They were granting 'superpowers' to a few corporate entities. They would not have strengthened the small farmer. I was a votary of the Land Acquisition Act and moved the private bill in the Parliament that later become law. My whole idea there was to arrive at an equitable relationship between the state and the individual. The state should not decide everything for the farmer.
Why are you not contesting the Assembly election?
It is about making a decision that is best for the organisation and for the people who want us to grow. My vision is at the national level; there is a strong political vacuum for voices that are connected with grassroots, who understand farmers' issues and are vocal on these issues. I think that is the constituency that I need to represent and my ambition is to help our party grow across regional identities.
In that case, even an MLC seat is ruled out post-poll…
Yes, at present this is my thinking. But in politics sometimes circumstances dictate your decisions.
Though you are in an alliance with SP, what made you release a separate manifesto?
We are an issue-based organisation and I wanted to send a message that we are highlighting our own issues. I have been creating a canvas where we are telling voters that go for the real issues and not go by the palayan (exodus) narrative and anti-Aurangzeb rhetoric. By being the first party to release the manifesto, we have been able to define the election, pull it towards real issues. At each of my rallies, I spoke about at least two issues out of 22 that we have raised in the manifesto. When it will come to government formation, we will have a common minimum programme. We will work towards achieving a consensus.
Is the idea of government buying potatoes from farmers and distributing it through the PDS feasible?
They are a few States that are tinkering with the Public Distribution System. Some pilot projects have been done on distributing locally grown cereals, other than, wheat and rice, that are grown locally. We want to experiment with potato in the Agra-Mathura region and Lucknow-Barabanki. We understand that potato is perishable but there is strong cold storage infrastructure in these areas. It will also add nutritional value to rations.
How would you justify the promise of giving 50% reservation to women in jobs when you have put up just two women candidates out of 33 seats?
We try to involve more women but these are bottom-up decisions. If there are winnable candidates, it becomes easier to choose them over male candidates. If I wanted, I would have chosen wives and daughters of local leaders and filled the quota. Our Meerut Cantt candidate is very active in the region. She is a known face at the grassroots.
As for the reservation in jobs, we will follow an incremental approach. In the police force, it is definitely required. If we want sensitive policing, we must have more women in the police stations and chowkis.
You haven’t made populist promises like loan waivers in the manifesto
No, I am for strengthening the farmers. I am also not in favour of big-bang projects. We have spoken about 25,000 electric buses rather than planning metros for every city. Big projects take 15–20 years. There are a lot of small things that the government could do to make the lives of citizens better in a State where there is a resource crunch.
Jats and Dalits have shared a tenuous relationship in villages. What are you doing to address the social fault lines?
Both these communities are dependent on each other. There is a section that has moved out of agriculture and is working as urban labour. For them, we have proposed a Maniniya Kanshiram scheme on the lines of MNREGA to provide guaranteed support to the unorganised labour working in urban areas. Those who are working in agriculture know that big farmers still depend on them for work. They feel they have been marginalised under the present government. They talk of sabka saath, sabka vikas but actually it is a fake narrative. The government is being run by a few officials and there is a bias. It reflected in Hathras and several other cases.
But you have missed an opportunity to bring Azad Samaj Party, which has some presence among Dalits in the region, into the fold.
We tried to accommodate ASP but Chandrashekhar has a different outlook and plan for his organisation. But that doesn’t mean we are not serious on providing social justice to disadvantaged communities. We are doing several things to remove social inequality and they will have a share in the government.
A lot has been written about your relationship with Bharatiya Kisan Union. Are you and the Tikatis on the same page?
It is a symbiotic relationship. The BKU leadership has made it amply clear that its cadre would vote against the BJP and in an election that is polarised between the BJP and the [SP-RLD] alliance, this message is enough.