Innocent people went to Kumbh because they trusted the government, says Akhilesh Yadav

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav believes that COVID-19 has created a terrible health situation in the State’s rural areas. The Samajwadi Party chief also believes that people were fooled into going for the Kumbh mela because the reality of the pandemic was hidden from them. Excerpts from an interview he gave Amit Baruah on Thursday:

What story do bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims in the Ganga and Yamuna tell us about the management of the pandemic?

Are you talking about planning? Forget planning. If the BJP wanted it could have learnt from our writers, poets and our history. In 1918, when the pandemic [the Spanish flu] hit, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ had written — till the gaze travels we can only see bodies and more bodies — but the BJP has never learnt from history or from its mistakes.

Many believe that the Kumbh was the biggest super spreader event that has taken COVID to the interior villages of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other North Indian states. Do you agree?

I would say that the people’s religious beliefs and faith has been played with. The government’s messaging was wrong. The BJP declared that they had defeated corona. Other than elections, the BJP can’t plan for anything. Innocent people went to the Kumbh because they trusted the government, but the reality was hidden from them. Please remember that it was declared in Davos in January that India had defeated corona and had also helped 150 countries. Today, everyone can see what is happening in India — other countries are sending aid to us.

From western to eastern U.P., many videos paint a sorry picture of the state of health facilities in the State. What is the feedback that you are getting?

Health services in the State are working because of doctors, nurses and support staff. I had said in the beginning of April that the cancer institute [in Lucknow] should be turned into a COVID hospital. It took three weeks for the Chief Minister to make it happen. The situation in rural areas is terrible. The BJP hasn’t planned anything from last year onwards. In Uttar Pradesh, it’s become a crime to express your anguish.

At the best of times, medical treatment for the poor in U.P. is a challenge and a problem — how would you have done things differently given that you have been Chief Minister of this massive State for five years?

History teaches us that there are more than two waves in a pandemic. After the first year, I would have set up a committee, which would have worked on increasing the oxygen capacity and making vaccination free. And, I would never have threatened people that their property would be confiscated or that I would apply NSA [National Security Act] on them. A panel constituted by the Prime Minister warned about a “second wave” in March but because of the elections no one listened to them. It is essential to listen to the views of specialists.

The pandemic is not just an illness but leads to several social problems like unemployment, malnutrition; patients with other diseases don’t get treatment, and mental health suffers. Women and children suffer the most as domestic violence and abuse grows. This needs a helpline and other relief. We must also collect accurate data so that people get the correct picture.

It would appear that the Opposition in U.P. is unable to make the Yogi government accountable. Is it that the Opposition is weak and unable to present an alternative to the BJP?

See, in any democracy, all four pillars are required to make a government accountable. The BJP has spared no effort to ensure that this does not happen. Please see the results of the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh — we are doing our job. Every member of the Samajwadi Party is engaged in helping people, but we are not publicising this. It is the BJP that calls the Opposition weak. Have you asked this question to those who saw a wave of seats for themselves in West Bengal?

Elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly are to take place in early 2022. Your alliance with the BSP came a cropper in 2019 for the Lok Sabha. Will the SP go it alone in the upcoming Assembly polls?

I have said many times that we will contest the Assembly polls on our own. We can come to some adjustments with smaller parties.

What is the political message from the recent Assembly elections, especially the massive victory of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal?

First, the BJP lost despite giving its all. Second, the politics of division and humiliation doesn’t always work. Many other lessons, too, but for the moment it would not be appropriate to elaborate.

Is there a larger message to the Opposition here or will regional heavyweights remain content to occupy the political space in their respective States?

India’s foundation is the federal structure. First, the battle will be for the State and, second, for the country. The BJP wants to impose its ideology on everyone but India is a country of great diversity. We can’t say one language, one society, one State or area is better than another. We are all equal. But, still, Uttar Pradesh has a key role to play in the country’s politics and in 2022 [when Assembly polls are due] Uttar Pradesh will deliver a powerful blow to the BJP.

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 11:19:31 AM |

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