Rashtriya Lok Dal vice-president says the BJP has indulged in a dehumanising experiment with the Hathras incident’s narrative
Rashtriya Lok Dal vice-president Jayant Chaudhary speaks to The Hindu ahead of the upcoming Assembly by-polls in Uttar Pradesh, and days after he was lathi-charged by police while going to Hathras to meet the family of the rape victim.
Your party has fielded a candidate in the upcoming by-poll in Bulandshar and is supporting the Samajwadi Party (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 (Bharatiya Janata Party) is actually suppressing a lot of issues that should have been a priority on the development front. And all it is talking about is Mughals, love jihad and divisive issues. With Akhilesh’s [SP’s Akhilesh Yadav] 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 lathi-charge you in Hathras? Their explanation was that Opposition workers were breaching the COVID-19 protocol.
No. As far as COVID 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 [the Hathras murder and alleged gang-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 restriction. There were five-six people on the other side of the barricade. What was the need to lathi-charge? 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 (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) 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 we will have to encounter something like that.
Has there been a change in the attitude of the U.P. Police since 2017 under the Yogi Adityanath government?
Top down, there is an impunity. Reward structures are put in place to reward violent behaviour and action by the police, whether it is encounters, shooting someone, or a lathi charge…this [is the] notion of strict policing. Yes, we need strict policing in U.P. but we also need sensitive policing. And the Hathras incident — they should have been more sensitive. Their handling of the family, of the complaint, and of the Opposition leaders who wanted to reach out, I think in all three aspects, it showed a very insensitive side of the police. And Yogi-ji is the [State] 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 the leading Opposition in the State, threatening to dislodge the SP and its allies. Is that too far-fetched?
The Congress has always been there. It is not a new party. And it’s there in the national stage also. So you can never count the Congress out. Every party is making 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 [-wing] 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 cannot survive in the long run.
There is an emerging allegation that the BJP government under Yogi Adityanath is appeasing Thakurs, the caste he 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 caste of the CM, either in arrogance or affinity, they feel it is ‘hamari sarkari’ (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 Yogi ji. Only he can address this issue, whether it is real or a political tool being deployed. So far, the perception is growing.
You are already on the ground and held mahapanchayats with SP in Muzaffarnagar, Mathura and now Bulandshar after the lathi-charge incident. You are opposed to the three new farms bills. What are you you telling the voters?
On the farm bills, UP is affected differently like every other state. Since May, UP relaxed some laws and a lot of crops were taken out of APMC. The market infrastructure was already getting dismantled. Now these bills have come about and they 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 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 is a atypical failure in communication [on farm bills].
The farmer leaders of Haryana and Punjab stormed out of the Krishi Bhawan completely disgruntled and tore the bills. 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 organization 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 Opposition leaders were trying to trigger a caste riot over the Hathras incident? Does this incident have the potential to create a caste divide in the region?
It is so easy when an upper caste Chief Minister, who openly bandies about his caste affiliation, or at least those allegations are being openly talked about in the political corridors, talks about crime not being caste-specific. When, in fact, we do know that the weaker sections on many occasions actually get targeted. There is a reason why the Home Ministry and the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) collect data on Dalit atrocities. And Dalit women are often targets of such crimes. As per the latest report of 2019, 10 Dalit women are raped daily. You cannot just ignore that aspect. I am not here to add fuel to the fire, but when I visited the family, we saw and heard of panchayats [by caste groups] happening…It is really shocking that — you saw it in Kashmir and now in U.P. — you have public mobilisation to garner support for a rape accused. It has never happened in our country before. We have had agitations to support the victim. In the 2012 Delhi rape case, people came on their own accord where they felt empathy. This is a dehumanising experiment that the BJP has indulged in.