YEH HAI INDIA
PIC OF THE DAY
Gift your parents good health
Locating Mulayam Singh Yadav on the last day of campaigning in Uttar Pradesh was a wee bit tougher than finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Locating him is merely half the story; you then need to get past a gauntlet of hangers-on who, more loyal than the king, jealously guard access to the man.
After a frustrating night of journeying, only to be told by Mulayam Singh's PSO (personal security officer), 'Netaji to so gaye (the leader is asleep)', R Swaminathan finally caught up with the Samajwadi Party leader and rode with him in his car to Varanasi airport. Excerpts from their conversation:
You have been promoting your son Akhilesh Yadav. Is this a sign that you are no longer interested in Uttar Pradesh politics, and are angling for a share of the national pie?
I have not lost interest in Uttar Pradesh politics. If I do, then I will have nothing left. As it is, no government is possible at the Centre without the support of UP politicians. Moreover, the Samajwadi Party has declared me their nominee for the post of chief minister, so obviously I am not tired of state politics.
As for my son, I did not force him to join politics. Whether you believe it or not, I and my family were, in fact, against his joining the party, but the people wanted him. I had won two seats, Kannauj and Sambhal, and since I had to resign one seat, I gave up Kannauj. The party felt that Kannauj could be retained only if Akhilesh contested. He won it, and protected the honour of the constituency, which was the favourite of my guru Dr Ram Manohar Lohia.
Do you expect the outcome of the Uttar Pradesh elections to have an effect on the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre?
Of course! There will definitely be an impact. The prime minister has himself admitted that the result of the Uttar Pradesh polls will have national and international ramifications. The BJP has accepted that and is preparing for that. Once the Samajwadi Party comes to power in UP, it is a threat to the Vajpayee government.
Does this mean that if you come to power in UP, you will work, either alone or in alliance with others, to topple the central government?
The BJP has always followed anti-farmer, anti-worker, anti-labour policies. If it does not change its policies even after we come to power, we will surely topple the Delhi government, we are very sure about that.
Amitabh Bachchan, who has been campaigning actively for your party, has been telling people that you are like a father to him...
As per Indian tradition, an elder brother is equivalent to a father. I am only a few years older than Amitabh Bachchan and in India, the elder brother generally plays the role of father, providing for every little comfort of the younger brother. If Amitabh Bachchan is willing to give me that respect, why are others getting so riled? He respects me, and there has to be something in me that makes him love me so much. Why should political parties and sundry leaders get so irritated about that?
The thing is, people have been arguing that if the Samajwadi Party is as strong as it is, then why is it resorting to stars like Amitabh to bring in the crowds.
The Samajwadi Party has never attempted to bring Amitabh Bachchan into politics, nor do we intend to make such an attempt. Also, Amitabh Bachchan himself does not wish to enter politics. He is doing social service -- today, poor people do not get enough blood in hospitals. Amitabh remembers that when he was hurt while shooting for a film [Coolie], there was a shortage of blood -- but the people were so spontaneous in coming forward to donate blood for him that the hospital had to ask them to stop because it ran out of storage facilities.
You may not believe it, but during those days, when Amitabh Bachchan was injured, the first thing I used to do early morning was to switch on the radio or scan the papers to get news about him. I also would not go to bed without finding out how he was doing. I used to pray for him everyday.
I also respect his family, especially his father, very much. I remember that when I was doing my graduation in Hindi, I read Madhusala for the first time. Every now and then I still read it. See, I have a copy right here.
Anyway, it was during that period that Amitabh realised the need for blood, and that is why today he is organising these blood donation camps. If non-governmental organisations invite Amitabh Bachchan for blood donation rallies and make Mulayam Singh the chief guest and Amar Singh the secretary, what can I or for that matter my party do?
By getting involved with blood donation camps, I am trying to do some good for society. Everything I do is not necessarily political. I also feel the need to do some creative work and serve society. If someone wants to describe it as politics, what can I do? If Amitabh and the people give me respect and do not give it to other politicians, what can I do? It is plain and simple jealousy, and it is not my job to cure the jealousy of other people.
But jealousy is no reason for people to level all kinds of allegations. Let them level allegations against me, my family, I have no problem. But why drag a great man down? Amitabh is powerful. When I organise a meeting I have to send people all over, print posters, beat the drums. But the mere mention of Amitabh's name brings people running. That is why these blood donation camps are so successful.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has announced that it will begin construction work on the Ram temple from March 15. If you are chief minister at the time, how will you deal with that situation?
The Samajwadi Party's stand is very clear, that the Ram temple issue has to be resolved under the provisions of the Indian Constitution and the verdict of the Supreme Court. Nobody should be allowed to get away with his whims and fancies; a country cannot be run on the basis of emotion alone. Now that the BJP has no issue to talk about, they push the VHP forward with this temple issue, to ensure that Hindus and Muslims fight among themselves. No one can run a government by provoking religious sentiments. If the Samajwadi Party comes to power, it will advise the VHP to abide by the court verdict.
And if you are the chief minister and the VHP refuses to abide by the court decision, then what?
You ask me that when I am the chief minister.
Do you think you can arrest Ashok Singhal, like Laloo Prasad Yadav arrested L K Advani back in 1990, for instance?
Ashok Singhal kya cheez hai? (Who is Ashok Singhal?). He is nothing more than a face of the BJP. We will defeat the BJP and Ashok Singhal will also automatically disappear.
On another front, I recently toured Mirzapur and met Munni Devi, Phoolan Devi's sister. She says you had called Phoolan Devi your beti, but when she died, you forgot all about her family. What do you have to say to that?
In politics, you give tickets to those candidates who have a chance of winning, The candidate we fielded in Mirzapur this time, Ram Rati Bhind, is someone who played an important role in helping Phoolan win from there. We had denied him the ticket last time, as a matter of fact. But now that Phoolan Devi is no more, he is the successor to her legacy.
Munni Devi also says you did not help her when she was evicted from Phoolan's house...
She took money from Amar Singh for renting a house. When you meet her next, why don't you ask her that? Tell her that you heard that the Samajwadi Party had made arrangements for her temporary stay, and also gave her money for food and other needs -- ask her that. I personally made all those arrangements, so that she and her family could stay in comfort. I gave her so much money that she could have lived in comfort for a month or two.
She also alleged that you were favouring Umed Singh...
Arrey, ab uski baath chodiye, let us talk of something else. Who is this Munni? Phoolan was a two-time MP, she had some personality. Kaun hai Munni Devi? In Mirzapur, no one bothers with her.
There is a feeling that Amar Singh is close to you because of his money power, and that he virtually runs the party...
People are jealous of the hard-working Amar Singh and his hard-earned money. The Samajwadi Party does not run on money power, it is a party of the poor. You may not believe this, but we have candidates who do not have even Rs 1,000 to their name. Mohan Dev Gori from Jhulna, for instance, doesn't have a single paisa. From Devaria zilla (district), there is Swaminath Yadav, whose leg is broken and he doesn't even have enough money for treatment. But we have given tickets to such people.
All the powerful people in BJP and other parties, who have crores of rupees, are never in focus -- everyone is after Amar Singh. Yes, he eats well, he is rich, so what?
Look at me, I am travelling by car with you, and Amar Singh is with the poor people of Lalganj, which is his village. Amar Singh is helping the poor people there, and the other parties have a problem with that? These leaders who wear gold chains, expensive clothes, they point fingers at other people. Look at me, I wear a simple dhoti and kurta in khadi, and if you give me a sweater I will wear that. Even these clothes I am wearing, I did not buy -- someone gifted them to me.
To get back to Amitabh, it is said that when his company, Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited, was in trouble, you used your influence to solve his tax problems, and Amar Singh gave him the money to tide over the losses. And so he dumped his close friend Rajiv Gandhi's widow Sonia and...
Amitabh Bachchan is not a greedy person. Amitabh is not only a great artiste, but also a great human being. He is a sensitive and emotional man. Those who make such allegations are useless; they are people with small hearts. Amitabh works hard, you see his work on TV, in ads, in films; he earns his money through hard work.
I may want to help him, but I don't have that kind of money. And if Amar Singh is helping Amitabh, what is wrong with that? If Amitabh treats Amar Singh as his younger brother, what is wrong with that? If the younger brother respects and helps the elder brother, why are people so upset about that? If you come to me and tell me, 'Mulayamji, my life is in danger and I am faced with great difficulty', would I not help you? Samajwadi hain to zaroor madad karenge (if I am a Socialist, then of course I will help). Anybody who does not feel empathy for people in trouble cannot be a Samajwadi.
The Bahujan Samaj Party has been fielding upper-caste candidates, supposedly to eat into the vote bank of other parties, including yours. Any comments?
The BSP does not distribute tickets; it sells tickets. If there is a big goonda or a rich candidate, they get the tickets. Mayawati talks of self-respect, now she is selling it. What she is doing has led to a fall in political standards.
It is felt that if there is a hung assembly, the Samajwadi Party will join hands with the BSP.
There is no question of joining hands with the BSP. In fact, the BSP has already joined hands with the BJP.
Does that mean you have no aversion to joining hands with the Congress?
At this point, I cannot say anything, except that the results are going to be a rude shock to the opposing parties.
Postscript: When we reached the airport, Mulayam Singh said that since I had asked him so many questions, he wanted to ask me a couple.
Are you from Kerala?
No sir, I am from Tamil Nadu.
Accha, wherefrom in Tamil Nadu?
I have roamed around a lot in Tamil Nadu. There is even a hostel in my name there...