'None in SP can even whisper against Mulayam family'
When Akhilesh Yadav took over the reins of Uttar Pradesh, he had aroused great hopes. But he is rapidly losing steam.
It was no small censure of his government when his father and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav recently chastened him publicly, and asked members of his government to pull up their socks.
Urdu journalist cum politician Shahid Siddiqui, who made waves recently when he was sacked by the Samajwadi Party for interviewing Gujarat CM Narendra Modi for his paper, spoke to Neerja Chowdhury on Uttar Pradesh, the goings on in the SP and the government led by it, of which he has had more than a ringside view.
Once member of the Congress, and the BSP, and twice of the Samajwadi Party, Siddiqui has been an MP from UP.
Excerpts from the interview:
Were you surprised at the action your party took against you?
I was shocked. In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be punished. Modi had not said anything he has not said earlier. It (my interview) in no way gives a clean chit to Modi.
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Image: Shahid Siddique
Photographs: Courtesy: Shahid Siddique's Facebook page
'Muslims in UP have no love left for Mulayam'
Why do you think the SP brass took such an action?
I think they wanted to give a message to the party leaders that anyone who raises his voice will be cut to size.
The party is a family enterprise. They, the family, are quite unhappy with Azam Khan, and are looking for an opportunity to hit out at him. He is the only person in the party who stands upto them.
Janeshwar Mishra, who used to do this, is no longer alive. Azam Khan was responsible for bringing me into the party, and took me to see Mulayam Singh. But he also knew that Main kisi ke isharon par nahin chal sakta. (I cannot dance to anyone's tunes). Today there is nobody else in the party who can even whisper against the family. Ram Gopal Yadav is acting like an autocrat.
The second reason could be that they wanted to show we are so secular that we have thrown him out (for interviewing Modi). In the last four months the Muslims (in Uttar Pradesh) have been getting disturbed. They wanted to get rid of Mayawati -- that is why they voted for the SP. They don't have love for Mulayam Singh anymore. It has not been there for the last five-six years, since he brought Kalyan Singh in. Many Muslim leaders, like Rashid Masood, Salim Sherwani, myself and others had left the party.
This time the Muslims expected the system to be more responsive to their issues. But the whole administration is working as if it has been instructed to work against the Muslims. There have been more than 12 riots in the last 3-4 months, in places like Bareilly, Pratpagarh, Mathura, in which so many Muslims have been killed. Imam Bukhari wanted to go to Pratapgarh, but only Praveen Togadia (Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader) was allowed to go there.
Wherever I have gone in UP recently, in the rural areas, the police and the administration was behaving as if Muslims are their main opponents.
That does not make sense, for the Muslims have formed the SP's support base.
They are not doing it deliberately. Akhilesh Yadav has told the administration not to listen to the party workers. And the police is by nature anti-Muslim and anti-dalit. And after the riots, with the way the administration is behaving, the Muslims are getting antagonised.
The family is also acting out of a sense of guilt. In the past they had taken in people like Kalyan Singh and Sakshi Maharaj, coming closer to the Hindutva forces. That is also why they took action against me.
Image: Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav
'Everyone is putting pressure on Akhilesh'
What is really going wrong in UP? Your former party came to power this time with such a convincing mandate.
The biggest thing going wrong is that the family is not sincere about handing over the reins to Akhilesh. They only wanted to use him as a face. They want to tell him what to do, the decision being theirs.
One reason for this is that Mulayam Singh is not in the best of health. There was a fight within the family on who should take over (as CM). Shiv Pal (Mulayam's brother) was very keen. Even Azam Khan was very keen. At an early statge, you would recall, Mulayam Singh had said that UP could have its first Muslim chief minister.
There is a fight between the two sons also, Akhilesh and Prateek. Initially, this time, Akhilesh did not want Dimple (his wife) to contest from Kannauj. Mulayam Singh had agreed to put up Prateek from Kannauj. Akhilesh did not want that, and it was then that he said that Dimple would contest.
Why is Akhilesh not able to take charge?
Everyone is putting pressure on Akhilesh. Shiv Pal Yadav says about Akhilesh that humne isse goed maen khilaya hai. Yeh ab humse kaise barha ho jayega? (How can Akhilesh, a kid, rule over us?) It's the mind set, which is feudal.
The bureaucrats are fully exploiting this situation; they have formed their coteries around the various family members.
Akhilesh is not vey well versed in managing the bureaucracy and has to depend on some important bureaucrats for everything. He also has a modern outlook, which is not accepted by the others.
It is worse than (the situation with) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where every ministry is considered a personal fiefdom. There is nothing like a collective responsibility.
Here, if Akhilesh says something, they go to Mulayam Singh. If there is a problem with Ram Gopal Yadav, they go to Shiv Pal. Ram Gopal is becoming very powerful. He was the first one to support Akhilesh as CM.
Image: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav
'Rahul Gandhi seems to have become demoralised'
In this situation, what are the Congress' prospects in UP?
It is too early to say because the Congress is disorganised in UP, and has not been able to put its house in order. It is already acting as an appendage of the SP, and has given up. You don't see any action on their part. Rahul Gandhi seems to have become demoralised. The Bharatiya Janata Party is also demoralised.
Unfortunately, the Congress does not have leaders who understand ground level politics. They only want sycophants of sycophants.
There seems to be an understanding between the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The state assembly ran for 30 days this time, for the first time. This has never happened before. Naseemuddin Siddiqui (of the BSP) met the chief minister and attended the all party meeting (which had not happened before). The SP is going out of its way to protect Mayawati's statues. There is some understanding worked out.
The SP and BSP coming to an understanding? It seems incredible!
Mulayam Singh and these people are extremely pragmatic; they are bereft of any ideology.
What do you think Rahul Gandhi should do now?
This is too big a question to answer in brief. I think he should basically go back to UP, and say I don't care if I win or lose, I will work to see that UP becomes the number one state, and India cannot develop unless UP develops.
Image: Rahul Gandhi speaks to the media in New Delhi after its Congress' debacle in UP assembly polls
'A thinking Muslim is not acceptable to any secular party'
What now for you?
Today's politics is not meant for thinking people, and a thinking Muslim is not acceptable to any Indian secular party. They want Muslims' vote, which they feel they can do by creating a fear of the BJP/RSS, whether it is the SP, or the Congress, or the BSP, even the Communist Party of India-Marxist.
I don't want them to browbeat the Muslims to keep them in a permanent condition of siege. This mentality does not allow Muslims to grow and become a positive, active part of India's growth and development.
I would like to fight communalism of all hues and am not afraid to say that minority communalism is as bad as majority communalism, because it provides an excuse for majority communalism. And Muslims suffer both ways.
I must admit that I have also appeased Muslims, and said what they wanted to hear, which was not right. We have all exploited their sentiments and we have to get out of it.
A journalist can hardly be faulted for interviewing a newsmaker, particularly a chief minister who has been controversial. But you were wearing two hats simultaneously, one of a journalist and the other of a member of a party. Did you consult Mulayam Singh Yadav before interviewing Narendra Modi?
I have been in several parties but I have never consulted any party leader about what should go in my paper. I never consulted PV Narasimha Rao (when I was in the Congress), nor Mulayam Singh Yadav. For the last 20 years no one has told me to interview anyone. I never had guilt in my mind (for doing the interview).
Everyone who knows me knows that my life is dedicated to fighting communalism. I came into Urdu journalism because I wanted to bring a change in the mind of Muslims and bring them into the mainstream.
Image: Muslim voters at a polling booth in UP