February 13, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Amar Singh

The Samajwadi Party poses the biggest challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the battle for the Uttar Pradesh assembly, and general secretary Amar Singh remains its key strategist. By roping in charismatic film star Amitabh Bachchan for the campaign -- what Singh refers to as 'philanthropic activity' -- the businessman-turned-politician has scored a coup in what has become a star-studded election road show.

In a tape-recorded interview in Lucknow, Amar Singh told Sheela Bhatt that the BJP had institutionalised crime in Uttar Pradesh, where mafia dons now carry 'the halo of political power'. Excerpts:

What are the new trends in this election?

The Samajwadi Party was known as a party of the rural area. Now you'll see a sea change. We will get equal acceptance from urban areas as well.

The basic problem people face in rural areas is the plight of farmers. Urban areas [face] law and order [problems]... criminalisation of politics. Here, mafia dons carry the halo of political power.

Goons and hoodlums who were rounded up by the police have become Cabinet ministers. Crime has been institutionalised by the BJP. It's pinching us more because the BJP was talking about chaal (ways of functioning), chehera (face) and charitra (character). They made the moral high ground a big plank in the election.

Amar Mani Tripathi has been caught [by the police] in the case of kidnapping children. He was a minister in the BJP Cabinet for five years. And Raja Bhaiya [Raghuraj Pratap Singh], Lalla Bhaiya, mafia don Brijesh Singh and his brother Harishanker Tiwari, Markandey Chand and Brijbhushan Singh are with the government.

But most of them were in the Samajwadi Party before. Rajnath Singh says "ye aag aapney lagayi hai (you started this fire)".

The Samajwadi Party used to get lambasted and lampooned for its association with the likes of Ramakant Yadav and Umakant Yadav. We have removed them. The day we removed D P Yadav (former Samajwadi Party MLA from Bulandshahar), he was given the lotus symbol to fight against Mulayam Singhji. And the day we dropped Ramakant Yadav and Umakant, both "bhaiyas" (dons) were quickly adopted by 'Dada' Rajnath! Not only that, Kushabhau Thakre (former BJP president) who used to talk about the politics of suchita and shudhta (good character and purity in public life) was very quick to adopt them. These two brothers are accused of torching four Rajputs.

All these things are etched in the public mind in urban areas. Like a hypocrite, I am not saying that we were above board in the past. But this time we have taken special care to ensure that we will not give or take the support of any such elements.

We are ready to sit in the opposition, but we will remain committed.

People talk about charge-sheeted criminals being given tickets by the Samajwadi Party. But they are in the league of L K Advani; he too has been charge-sheeted by the CBI. But this charge sheet [of SP candidates] carries a different connotation altogether.

The government can do anything. I too was arrested by the BJP government in Shahjahanpur -- that doesn't mean I am a criminal. Mitrasen Yadav is our two-term MP from Faizabad, near Ayodhya. He was arrested and kept in a jail for two months. Kamlesh Pathak, our leader in Kanpur, was shot at by Minister Devendra Singh Bhola. Instead of him [Bhola], Pathak got arrested. The court intervened and helped Pathak and the poor guy was released on bail.

When Sakshi Maharaj was with the BJP, he was accused of an alleged rape. When he was with the SP before he rejoined the BJP, PM Vajpayee himself told me, "What kind of a person are you promoting?" He is back with the BJP. Rajnath Singh is promoting such hoodlums. Rajnath Singh is the real dada of all the bhaiyas of Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP's chaal (way of functioning) is very shameless. Their chehera is very cruel. And their charitra is totally gone. The BJP was talking about a society without bhay, bhukh aur bhrashtachar (fear, hunger and corruption). They have made UP's society fearful. When a UP businessman says, "Give me two Bangarus", it means he is asking for two lakhs. Since the day BJP chief Bangaru Laxman was caught accepting a bribe, the BJP has been exposed. Ask any farmer his plight. The provider of food himself is hungry.

Our slogan is dawa-padhai muft hogi, kapda roti sasti hogi (medicines and education will be free, clothes and food will be cheap).

So your party is now going urban as well.

Allahabad is the stronghold of Murli Manohar Joshi, but the mayor belongs to my party. Lucknow is PM [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee's constituency. Still in the mayoral election we only lost by 12,000 votes out of the 12 lakh votes that were cast. The administration played a dirty role, otherwise Lucknow was a gone case for the BJP.

Today I can see a wave in favour of the Samajwadi Party, which will be converted into a big storm. All these parties will not be able to stand the onslaught of the Samajwadi Party in the days to come.

But the BJP alleges that Mulayam Singh Yadav initiated the criminalisation of politics in UP.

Okay. I concede. Subah ka bhula ghar ata hai to use bhula nahin kahte (if a person who goes astray returns to the right path, he is no longer considered wayward).

But what about you? The BJP was talking about character and all that. We were the bad guys, you were the good guys. We have understood our negatives, we want to improve, but oh, Rajnath! why do you want to stoop so low? Rajnath hosh main aao (Rajnath, come back to your senses)!

What's the ground reality?

We are going to form the government on our own. I have a logic for that. Last time we were lying low. Everybody had ruled out our victory in the last parliamentary election, but we still won 27 seats. We won in 135 assembly segments. Now, the Leftists are with us. Even in the worst situation we can't get less than 135 plus Leftist seats.

Also, now journalists and poll predictors are forced to accept that we are leading. In that case we'll get 200 seats.

What about the Bahujan Samaj Party's strategy of cutting into your votes by giving more than 80 seats to Muslims, many of whom are rich enough to spend money?

Musclemen unko mubarak (They are welcome to their musclemen)! We will sit in the opposition, but we don't want goondas (goons). This election is our final test. BSP's Amar Mani Tripathi alias 'Dadua' gave a statement warning voters that "button dabao hathi pe, nahin to goli khao chhati par aur laash milegi ghati par" (vote for the [BSP's] elephant symbol or prepare to die).

We are ready to face bullets on our chest, but we don't want the Daduas of UP. If Mayawati wants to build a society with such people, good luck to her. After all Mayawati is the B team of the BJP. Dada Rajnath and Didi Mayawati can have a field day with their 'dons' in tow, I am not bothered.

Rajnath Singh's closest ally is Brijesh Singh, who is the biggest mafia don of eastern UP. His brother Chulbul Singh is a BJP MLC. His son Susheel came to the Samajwadi Party for a ticket. We refused.

Rajnath Singh sent him to Mayawati. The dada-didi combine is going to rule the roost if they can have their say.

What about Ajit Singh's influence in the western UP Jat belt?

When Ajit Singh was with us in the United Front, he could win only nine seats. Ajit Singh being a political weathercock has lost a lot of his halo. I do concede that in western UP Mayawati's BSP is our prime challenger. We were nothing in that area, but this time we will surprise you with our emergence.

What about the Muslims in western UP? There are so many Muslim candidates from the BSP in that area.

Oh, Muslims know very well that Mayawati had two political honeymoons with the BJP. They are well aware that Lalji Tandon, Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh are close to her. Muslims know that the fielding of Muslim candidates by Mayawati is a BJP ploy to make inroads into the Samajwadi vote bank. Twice before the Muslim votes got divided and they weakened themselves.

In the last Lok Sabha election, Muslims were divided and SP lost some 15 seats just by a margin of 100 to 5,000 votes. In a Lok Sabha [election] 100 to 5,000 votes is nothing. If we had won those 15 seats then the destiny of country would have been different. There would have been no Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Again this time does the Muslim vote bank count in UP?

They won't break this time. They are quite mature now. There was a provocation by communal forces in Gonda, but they didn't respond. In normal circumstances there would have been riots. It didn't happen this time.

This time Mulayam Singh Yadav is skirting the Ayodhya issue keeping an eye on the Hindu votes too.

Absolute nonsense! We are not at all silent. We will accept the verdict of the court. The BJP wants to communalise the atmosphere, but we are behaving in a mature manner by not getting provoked. What we have done to save the Babri mosque is part of history, nobody can stand in competition to us! We don't talk. We act. My leader's name is Mulayam (soft), but his work is fauladi (strong).

What about Amitabh Bachchan? Why was he wearing a mask? Why didn't he come out in the open and support you in your political battle?

Amitabh is not wearing any mask. PM Vajpayee is wearing the mask, as his party man [K N Govindacharya] alleged. Amitabh is not a politician. We don't want to exploit Amitabh. Every second man in the industry is my friend. If I request Boney Kapur and Sri bhabhi (Sridevi), they too will come for an election campaign. But Amitabh is absolutely an apolitical person. He was used by the Congress to defeat [Hemvati Nandan] Bahuguna. But he thought politics is not his cup of tea, so he ran away from there. And ever since he has not gone back to politics. He is an elder brother. Rotary Clubs and bar associations are calling him for charitable causes. And if these clubs are not calling the BJP and Congress, it's their bad luck.

Come on, it's such an open secret -- he is posing with you and Mulayam Singh on stage. Is he not implying to fans to vote for the SP?

Will Sonia Gandhi or Atal Bihari Vajpayee decide whom I should be in love with? With whom I should have dinner? With whom I should wave hands from a stage?

You are using the country's best icon but not openly.

This is an insult to my elder brother. He might be an icon for the country, but to me he is an elder brother. I am not using him. "Use" is a dirty word. We are all together and doing philanthropic activities. Those who have sucked the blood of the people since the last 50 years cannot tolerate our blood donation for the public.

SP will get votes because of the policies of Mulayam Singh. Amitabh is with us since many years. Voting and Amitabh Bachchan have nothing to do with each other. When we sit with Amitabh in the public, only the media and politicians feel disgruntled. The public is enjoying us. He is with us, will remain with us.

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