Najeeb Jung | Photo: PTI
Najeeb Jung, former lieutenant governor of Delhi, is a keen political observer. Based on the inputs he has received from the ground level in UP, he says that this election will result in the downfall of Yogi Adityanath and the return of Akhilesh Yadav. Here are the excerpts from the telephonic interview Mathrubhumi had with Najeeb Jung on Monday.
You sounded very confident in your recent interview with Karan Thapar about the victory of the SP alliance and the defeat of BJP in the UP elections. The third phase of the UP elections got over last Sunday. Do you stick to your stand still?
It is my belief that the alliance led by Akhilesh Yadav will win this election and a new govt will be formed under his leadership. My assessment was not based on the different phases of the election so far. It was based on what I have seen on the ground, and I gave sufficient reasons in my interview why or how I believe that Akhilesh Yadav should be ahead in this election.
There were some surprises in the last budget presented by the finance minister Nirmala Seetharaman. One of them was the absence of populist schemes, that too in an election year. BJP seems to believe that they no longer need any populist projects to win elections. Their trust in Hindutva ideology and its potential to win electoral battles appear so deep that they are ready to forsake the slogans of development and a corruption-free government. What is your take on this?
There is no doubt that while there are many things BJP could have raised - providing rations, erecting toilets, direct transfer of money- surprisingly these have not been emphasised enough and the focus of Adityanath and BJP has been on Hindutva. BJP leadership seems to have calculated that if they can raise the bogey of Islamic terrorism, the fear of the Muslim mafia or the Muslim - Yadav combination flexing their muscles and causing law and order issues- they can emerge victorious. Hindutva is the horse they are riding on and I truly believe it is a dead horse. If you travel in the interiors of UP, people do speak of Hindutva, but I don't think in this election people are voting on Hindutva. People are voting on other issues that have been impacting their lives, people are voting on the issues that have adversely affected them in the last two, three years. There are some political observers, intellectuals, who think that people have a short memory and they will again vote for Adityanath. But I will disagree with them.
Yogi Adityananth didn't contest the 2017 election. He was the MP from Gorakhpur then. But after scoring a thumping majority in the assembly elections BJP chose Yogi as the CM. Yogi was not the choice of the people then but the choice of BJP. And at that time a leading legal luminary like Fali S Nariman raised a pertinent question. He said that BJP's decision to hand over the CM post to the head priest of a mutt put the constitution under threat. Now after five years Yogi is seeking the mandate of the people to implement the Hindutva agenda. It is in this premise that some political thinkers observe that it is Yogi vs secular India in UP this time. How do you look at it?
You know, I have commented on this before. This election has become Adityanath vs Akhilesh. The fate of this election may well have been different had Narendra Modi been the face of the campaign again. If you go back to 2017, that was only three years after Modi became the PM. Modi was the face of BJP in that election. This time around we don't see him taking pole position and the election has been led by Adityanath. I am not commenting at the moment on what Nariman said. He is a constitutional expert. I am restricting myself in this interview to the current, ongoing election. I believe that people are voting on the merits and demerits of the performance of the Adityanath government. And I think that the performance of the current UP government has not been that impressive to get it reelected. The people of UP are extremely politically alive and alert. They are known to change governments frequently. If you remember the 1990s when after the demolition of Babri masjid, Narasimha Rao Govt had dismissed many governments in the Hindi belt. It was in a way the peak of the Hindutva movement.
If I remember rightly the strength of Congress in UP has been declining from 1993 onwards?
No, I'm taking you back. I am saying if you go back to the dismissal of those governments at the height of the Babri Masjid movement when elections were held immediately after the demolition of the masjid BJP lost all those elections. So there is a limit to which people want this kind of communal sentiment amongst themselves. The people of India do not always react favourably to these communal tempers. I am afraid Adityanath failed to realise that there is limited gain in taking up the Hindutva agenda more and more and he could have well raised the good and positive actions his government has enacted. But neither he nor his ministers are doing that. That is a mistake.
There has been an observation that BJP and RSS want to create a Gujarat out of UP. BJP has not lost power in Gujarat since Modi assumed power in the state in 2002. But the equations appear dramatically different in UP. The rise of a neo middle class, that has been moulded in the furnace of Hindutva, ensured the continuation of BJP rule in Gujarat. But UP is a different cup of tea, where the caste equations that arose out of Mandal politics are still very much prevalent. Do you subscribe to this point of view?
The caste configurations in UP are very important. Caste and communities do play a significant part in deciding the course of elections in the state. If you remember, Mayawati started her political career in, Bijnore a small district in UP and went on to become the CM of the state in a few years. This was possible because she could kindle the awakening of her caste. Those were the days when the Dalits used to vote for the Congress traditionally. But Kanshi Ram and Mayawati changed those political equations. Akhilesh has been working in similar ways to win back the confidence of the other backward communities who form 45-46 per cent of the population in UP. A large number of these sections voted significantly in favour of the BJP in the last election. But that won't happen this time. If 10 per cent of those votes move towards the SP camp it would be a reversal of the 2017 election results.
Since you mentioned Mayawati, let me ask a related question. There is a feeling that Mayawati is not aggressively taking on her political enemies in this election. What could be the reason for her lacklustre campaigns and who would be the beneficiary of this political development?
I wouldn't know the reasons why she has taken such a stand. But let me point out a fact. The vote share of BSP has not gone down below 22 or 23 per cent in any election. She commands complete control over the Jadav votes which form 9 per cent of the UP population. But there are other Dalits who might get confused because of her current political approach. Some of them might go to the other camps.
You presented multiple reasons in your interview with Karan Thapar for your firm belief in the victory of the SP alliance. They included the shifting of non-Jadav Dalits, non-Yadav OBC votes into the SP camp, almost 80 per cent of the Muslims voting in favour of Akhilesh and the Brahmin votes moving to the Congress fold and the farmers' sentiments. So according to you, March 10th will see the fall of the Yogi govt?
All these factors indicate that BJP will be the loser. Of course, they will lose the state only if the loss is in significant numbers. They had a 40 per cent vote share in the 2017 elections. If they lose only up to 5 per cent they could still form the government. But my calculation is that they will lose a larger percentage which will lead to their downfall.
I think we must also take into consideration the impact of the disastrous second wave of Covid in UP. Or is it that people have already moved away from that stage of fear and uncertainty?
The tragedy that has been the result of the covid19 in India and largely in UP can never be underrated. It can scar you for life. If you have carried your father, mother, wife or siblings on your shoulders you will not forget the trauma. I don't want to over-dramatise this. I don't think the people who suffered have a short memory. And it will be there in his mind when he presses the button at the polling booth.
The Yogi Adityanath government must be receiving intelligence bureau reports from the ground about the discontentment among the people. So isn't it a little surprising that the Yogi government is still banking on the Hindutva agenda? Why has the BJP leadership not learnt the lessons properly?
I can't answer that question. PM Modi has a larger than life image and he leaves a larger footprint in the cow belt. He is a great orator, he acts like a magnet and can tilt the elections. But he is missing in action in UP this time. I don't know exactly why he has decided to remain low profile as far as the UP elections are concerned.
2025 will be the centenary year of RSS. And it goes without saying that the Sangh does not want a non-BJP government both at the centre and UP in that crucial year. The state is also crucial for BJP in the Rajyasabha. Right now the saffron party is short of 26 seats for an absolute majority in the upper chamber of the parliament. Coming July will see 11 seats falling vacant in UP. The Presidential elections will also take place this year. So both BJP and RSS can't take any risks in UP. Still, why is the party not seeing the loopholes?
That is your perception. BJP must be thinking that riding over the Hindutva ideology shall fetch them enough votes to win the election.
So BJP is pretty confident that the Hindutva agenda will see them through this very significant electoral battle?
That's what it looks like.
As you said earlier, the people of UP are extremely politically savvy and they have decided enough is enough with Hindutva this time?
I have great trust in the people of India. They vote very wisely. As individuals some of us may give weightage to Hindutva, some of us may side with secularism, some may be concerned with education, unemployment and health. It will be the cumulative effect of these elements that will determine the results on 10th March.
One major source of solace for BJP and Yogi is the divided opposition. The calculation is that the anti-BJP votes will get scattered and that will help the ruling party to retain power. What makes you think that the anti-BJP votes won't get scattered in this election?
We see a divided opposition apparently. BSP is leading a lacklustre campaign. Congress is making vigorous moves under Priyanka but we are not sure if that will result in votes for the party. But as you have seen in the elections in Bengal, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra the battle is between two major parties. The provincial elections these days are different from the Loksabha elections. Regional parties are fighting the BJP successfully at the state level. I think UP is also witnessing such a scenario in this election. The SP alliance led by Akhilesh has emerged as the alternative to BJP in UP. So, I think, most of the anti-BJP votes will be cast in favour of the SP front.
So let us conclude on this note that the UP elections are mainly between the SP alliance and the BJP. And in your assessment, the SP camp will emerge victorious on the 10th of March?
Yes. I think that UP will see the formation of a new government under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav after the 10th of March.