Sitting in his drawing room, the lush green lawns seen through the large windows, Mulayam Singh Yadav (72) looks quite relaxed despite his hectic poll schedule, which includes both poll management and campaigning. No signs of fatigue or any boredom.
On the wall facing his chair hang the portraits of 14 late leaders he had idolised or worked with, viz Gandhi, Chandrashekhar, Charan Singh and Ram Manohar Lohia. The last in the row is that of his trusted friend Janeshwar Mishra. Though news keeps trickling in about the party's rising fortunes, Mulayam prefers to be conservative and cautious in replying questions on various issues including the ongoing tussle for Muslim support. Here is Yadav in conversation with Sunita Aron.
Of late, the Samajwadi Party has been sending a clear-cut message against criminals in politics. Has your party been careful in the selection of candidates?
Yes, not a single candidate has a criminal record. The basic criterion in their selection has been the winnability factor. Most of them are good, all are in the fight while some are clearly ahead of rivals. However, people may always find fault with a few in a list of 403. But we are convinced about their credentials.
How do you assess your party's prospects?
All of us are working extremely hard for a clear majority. A party with dedicated workers is bound to do well. Then there is no dissidence. There may have been some protests after denial of ticket, but now they have sunk all differences and are working hard for party's victory.
Who is your main rival?
All are our rivals. We are pitted against all. They have their pockets of influence in the state. But SP is in the fight everywhere and that is a good indication.
The Congress is aggressively pursuing the Muslim agenda. Would it not harm your party’s prospects?
The tours that I have done so far have further convinced me that Congress is not in the fight. I went to Sitapur, which used to be their stronghold a few years back. People heard my speech soaked in rain despite the chilly weather. Do you think the Congress is a factor there?
Rahul Gandhi has dared you to include higher quota for Muslims in your party manifesto?
We are releasing our manifesto tomorrow. And we are determined to implement the recommendations of the Sachar and Rangnath Mishra commissions. But I want to ask the Congress as to why they are sitting over the recommendations. It was the Congress which had constituted the Sachar committee. The report was also submitted to them. They should either reject or accept it.
The Congress is also pursuing a backward caste agenda for the first time?
What have they done for the backwards in the past? It was in the early 1960's that they had made one deputy minister in the state government. The party never gave tickets to the backwards. People have not forgotten or forgiven them for the apathy.
A perception is growing that Congress-SP-RLD would form the next government?
Our party is working for a clear majority as only then the government can deliver. But we don't want a majority government like that of Mayawati's. A government that doesn't deliver.
Will you prefer to sit in the opposition than form a government if the party lacks the requisite numbers?
We are working hard for a clear majority. And people also want a majority government.
You had once said that the Congress believes in taking support and not lending it?
Yes, that's true. Historically the Congress has always watched its own interest. They don't believe in making sacrifices. We, the socialist, can do that. We have never betrayed anyone. They say I betrayed Rajiv Gandhi when they had supported my government. The fact is I had not betrayed, he was misled by some of his trusted partymen. He was a good man but surrounded by wrong people and that's why I said nothing after his demise.
As the party's national president as well as his father are you satisfied with Akhilesh Yadav's performance?
He is doing hard work; he is delivering the right speeches. His interaction with the workers is also regular. I am told he is also influencing the voters — young and old alike. So far I have not heard any criticism and what is most important is that the party worker is quite enthused. If the party is satisfied, I am also satisfied.
Do you think he is now ready to shoulder a major responsibility in government?
Let others in the party answer this, not me.
But Shivpal Singh Yadav said Akhilesh would be the chief minister?
There is no such talk in the party right now. It is for the MLAs to decide after elections.
Do you think corruption is an issue?
Yes, corruption is a major issue in Uttar Pradesh. I don't understand why Anna Hazare did not tour the state which saw so much corruption. He should have campaigned here.
The Election Commission ordered veiling of all statues of elephants. The Congress now is demanding freezing of the BSP symbol. Your take?
I don't want to comment on the EC's decisions. It is a constitutional body. But the Congress is unnecessarily raising a controversy now by demanding freezing of the BSP's party symbol.
Do you miss the glamour that the Bollywood stars or veteran politicians from other states used to add to your campaign? Earlier, we had an alliance with Jaylalitha, Gowda etc. I don't expect any leader from any party to campaign here in UP.
Any two decisions that your government will take in 24 hours?
Don't want to spell it out now. But yes, one immediately after taking charge and another within 24 hours.