‘Onus is on Yogi to address allegations of Thakur appeasement’

Uttar Pradesh deserves a modern approach and a leader with a big and liberal heart, says RLD vice-president

Rashtriya Lok Dal vice-president Jayant Chaudhary speaks on the upcoming Assembly bypoll in Uttar Pradesh and days after he was lathi-charged by the police while going to Hathras to meet the family of the rape victim.

Your party has fielded a candidate in the upcoming bypoll in Bulandshahr and is supporting the SP in the other six seats. Is this your direction for the 2022 election as well?

Yes. We have been consistent on this. We tied up with them in the previous Lok Sabha and in the long term that is the kind of direction we want to give to U.P. Today people are realising that with a brute majority how the BJP is actually suppressing a lot of issues that should have been a priority on the development front. All it is talking about is Mughals, love jihad and divisive issues. With Akhilesh’s leadership and track record, and our grassroot connect, I think we can actually give an alternative to the voters.

Did you expect the police to lathicharge you in Hathras? Their explanation was that Opposition workers were breaching the COVID-19 protocol.

No. As far as COVID-19 goes, it gets very convenient because you get more people walking in a street market in any town in U.P. When incidents like these (Hathras rape) happen, people want to reach out to the family and express solidarity. The key operative thing here is that I was escorted past the barricade. The barricade is there to maintain order. It was the police’s failure that they could not enforce the barricade. There were five-six people on the other side of the barricade. What was the need for lathicharge? We were not posing any threat. If you look at the police manual in U.P. and the Supreme Court decisions, there are actually procedures in place. You have to give a warning. You need the presence of an administrative official. The SDM was there but he did not give any verbal warning. It was a violation of our rights as citizens. In the political space we are an Opposition, but I never really thought that something like that we will have to encounter.

Has there been a change in attitude of the U.P. police under the Yogi Adityanath government?

Top down, there is an impunity. Structures are put in place to reward violent behaviour and action by police, whether it is encounters, shooting someone or a lathicharge… this notion of strict policing. Yes, we need strict policing in U.P. but we also need sensitive policing. And in the Hathras incident, they should have been more sensitive. Their handling of the family, the complaint and the Opposition leaders who wanted to reach out, I think in all the three aspects, it showed a very insensitive side of the police. And Yogiji is the Home Minister. Who else will we hold responsible?

A section of the media is arguing that because of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s ventures in U.P., the Congress is emerging as a leading Opposition in the State threatening to dislodge the SP and its allies. Is it too far fetched?

The Congress has always been there. Every party is doing its own efforts. But it’s easier for the Congress because they are a mainstream national party and what they do perhaps gets more coverage. But they have no extraordinary impact on the grassroots right now.

Do you feel the BJP has a weak link in Yogi Adityanath’s personal image?

The BJP’s political strategy is to talk in many voices. From being a ‘right’ party, they have also gone a little bit extreme to the right and Yogi is also in the same framework. I think U.P. deserves a modern approach and a leader with a big and liberal heart. I think that space will exist for us to attack Yogi and the BJP. This hard-nosed might is right sort of politics, can’t survive in the long run.

There is an allegation that the State government is appeasing Thakurs, the caste Yogi was born into. Do you think such a thing exists and will it have an impact in the coming future?

The people who belong to the CM’s caste, either in arrogance or affinity, they feel it is ‘hamari sarkar’ (our government). You actually need a CM who can be a moral guiding force and then can tame his or her own supporters. On the other hand, what Yogiji is doing is he is not restraining anybody. It won’t be proper for me say if they are doing Thakurvad or not, but definitely there are visible signs and discussion is on, the onus is on Yogiji. Only he can address this issue.

You have held mahapanchayats with SP in Muzaffarnagar, Mathura and now Bulandshahr. You are opposed to the three new farms laws. What are you you telling the voters?

U.P. has relaxed some laws and a lot of crops were taken out of the APMC. The market infrastructure was already getting dismantled. Now these laws have come about and have raised a real concern on what will happen because eventually over 5-10 years if the market shifts to trade outside mandis into private hands, will they crowd out the state? And what will be the role of these mandis? Will the government stop purchasing from farmers? What will be the viability of MSP? These are the concerns that should have been addressed. But a government that is so eloquent in communicating its political messages in election time, it has been its typical failure in communication [on farm laws].

Farmer leaders of Haryana and Punjab stormed out of the Krishi Bhawan completely disgruntled and tore the copies of the laws. You have a crisis in Punjab, because farmers are sitting there on a rail roko. But somehow the national mainstream reporting is not showing the alarm that should be there. And nor is the government responding. It is clear no farmer or farmer organisation actually asked for these changes or reforms. They are unpalatable for the farmer but they are being told it is beneficial for them.

What do you feel about the government’s repeated allegations that the Opposition leaders were trying to trigger a caste riot over the Hathras incident?

It’s so easy when an upper caste Chief Minister talks about crime not being caste-specific. When, in fact, we do know that the weaker sections get targeted. There is a reason why the Home Ministry and the NCRB collect data on Dalit atrocities. And Dalit women are often targets of such crimes. As per the latest report in 2019, 10 Dalit women are raped daily. When I visited the family, we saw and heard of panchayats [by caste groups] happening… It’s really shocking that you have public mobilisation to garner support for a rape accused. It’s never happened in our country before. We have had agitations to support the victim.

This is a dehumanising experiment that the BJP has indulged in.


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