Interview: Dalits not forgetful, Mayawati not missing, says BSP's Akash Anand | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Interview: Dalits not forgetful, Mayawati not missing, says BSP's Akash Anand

Apr 20, 2024 07:58 PM IST

In an interview with HT, BSP leader Mayawati’s successor Akash Anand describes himself as a custodian of the party

One of the key factors in the Uttar Pradesh polls has been the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’s decline in recent years and Dalit voters transferring their votes. BSP chief Mayawati has been doing a low-profile campaign amid allegations of an understanding with the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Speaking to HT’s Sunetra Choudhury, her nephew Akash Anand said that Behenji (Mayawati) was not missing and called it a false narrative about the party. The 27-year-old also describes himself as a custodian of the party, someone who is there not to fight elections but to nurture it for the future. 

BSP national coordinator Akash Anand addresses a public meeting ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in Agra on April 11. (PTI)
BSP national coordinator Akash Anand addresses a public meeting ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in Agra on April 11. (PTI)

Q. You’ve spent five years in active politics. What do you make of the Narendra Modi government and its policies? They are confident they are coming back.

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One can have false confidence. I think that’s what it is. As far as policies are concerned, they talk about the free ration schemes, subsidies, Make in India, and Digital India, But if you look at the data available on government sites, we have been a net importer from China in the last fiscal year. I think this fiscal year as well, we are looking at a 100-billion-dollar import. I don’t understand where is Make in India as a project if we’re still importing in such large chunks. As far as the policy for employment is concerned, Narendra Modi ji or the BJP government is quite proud to say that we have been able to feed 80 crore people through these free ration schemes. If you’re looking at 80 crore people out of a 150 crore population, half the country is below the poverty line. That speaks volumes in terms of what kind of work this government has done in the last decade. The people below the poverty line used to be a figure of about 3-4 crores in overall population size. Now it is above 23-24 crores as per the last data. So I don’t see them as a very successful government. I don’t think they have been very good at formulating policies that will support the general public- whether it is healthcare or infrastructure development. There are multiple gaps on their end. What they are great at is marketing those initiatives. They spend a great deal of time and effort in marketing those initiatives and that’s what has created this false narrative that they’ve done a great job and that they’re coming back with larger numbers.

Q. You can call it a marketing gimmick, but would you acknowledge that there have been some kind of lapse on the BSP’s part, that your core voter has moved?

We were looking at a 19% vote share for the BSP. In 2014, it was the same at 19%.

Q: But, it fell in 2022 in the assembly polls?

Yes, we saw a little bit of a decline in the assembly elections. About 12 per cent of the vote is what we are standing at. And there has been a steady movement from the BSP to other regional and national parties. But I don’t think we are losing ground. There have been some internal challenges as well while there has been a broader narrative of Hindutva, but we feel that people have had enough of this Hindutva as a narrative.

Q. So, do you think the Hindutva narrative was appealing to the Dalit community as well?

I think they got swayed at the initial stage, but they realised that due to Hindutva, the BJP has been able to successfully sideline the initiative and the work and the needs of the Bahujan Samaj. People have started realising that there’s big talk but little work. They (BJP) can have a good talk about Ram Mandir, but not about employment or empowerment.

Q. The INDIA bloc is talking about increasing reservations. Would you accept that’s something that the Dalit community is looking at?

The Dalit community is not as forgetful as one might think of them. The community has not forgotten that Behanji (Mayawati) and Manyavar Sahab (Kanshi Ram) had to fight with the Congress party to get Babasaheb (Ambedkar) the Bharat Ratna. They haven’t forgotten that the BSP was the one who had pressured the central government to implement the Mandal Commission report. The Congress is talking about increasing reservation after 75 years of independence, out of which they have ruled for 60-plus years. They had full majority governments running across not just the country, but also a lot of states as well. They had plenty of opportunities to prove their point. I don’t think these governments should come up with manifestos and promises, they should come up with a track record of what they’ve done in the past and let the people decide what the true approach is.

Q. The Samajwadi Party was your partner and you had got 10 seats with a successful alliance. When they are talking about PDA -- pichde dalit alpsankhyak-- that has to have some hold.

The Samajwadi Party is very indecisive- even if it is about the full form of PDA, they have changed it multiple times as per their convenience. Their leadership is not even able to decide on the seats and tickets. It’s very difficult for the community to trust a leader who can’t be decisive. They have had their government in the past and what they are famous for is the goonda raj and the mafia raj. People are very aware of such things.

Q. They were good enough for you to trust them, right?

Everybody makes a mistake.

Q. Is that the reason why you didn’t go with the INDIA bloc?

We didn’t align with their policies. What we are standing for in this election cycle are law and order, employment, and development. We’ve got a nice track record to prove the same. The Congress and the Samajwadi Party have nice promises, but they don’t have a track record of it. Our voters will trust a party which has a proven record.

Q. Behan Ji was known for social engineering, but now social engineering is something that BJP leader and Union home minister Amit Shah is credited with. Because he’s got the non-Jattav, the OBCs, that’s created what they call a rainbow coalition.

It is more of ‘whitewashing’ than actual representation of these communities. Why didn’t they invite the President of India, who comes from a tribal background, for the inauguration of the new Parliament, when you had Bollywood actors there? If you cannot represent a community in true form and fashion, it’s all just whitewashing. Yes, we’re able to do social engineering but the true hidden agendas are visible in these small actions of theirs. People are sharp and they do take note of such things.

Q. You sound anti-BJP, but why is it that there is a wide impression that the BSP is in some kind of agreement with the BJP?

That’s a narrative that plays well for both the Congress and the BJP. The BJP knows that its biggest competitor and biggest threat is the BSP. They do it in order to make the BSP a weaker player, and to make the voters believe that they are part of the coalition.

Q. Tell me something that Behan Ji has opposed them on.

When the whole country was bragging about the Ram Mandir issue, no leader in the country had the strength to talk about Babri Masjid, but Ma’am (Mayawati) was quite open about it. People who understand the BJP also understand that they stand for one religion, one party. Whereas, in the BSP, we believe in a secular country, and we believe in all.

Q. There are people who say that by not aligning with the opposition, you are dividing the vote, and thereby you’re helping the BJP.

I’m sorry half the country is not aligned with these guys--the Indi bloc. Mamata Banerjee is not with them.

Q. Mamata Banerjee is with them in other places, not Bengal.

Everybody is fighting for their ideology.

Q. One of the things that is building up this narrative is that we’re not seeing enough of Behan Ji. Why isn’t she campaigning more?

Ma’am has already done about 25-30 rallies and she has about 45-50 more planned in the next 30 days. If the media is not taking note of it, then they should, but people are seeing it on the ground.

Q. Earlier, we used to see her doing press conferences. Isn’t she missing from the campaign?

We believe in working on the ground. We believe less in building narratives. We’re a party which focuses on cadres on ground, and that’s what we’ve done for the past three years. Recently we ran a campaign of ‘Gao chalo Abhiyan’, where we were building both level workers across UP and it was a very successful programme.

Q. There’s been the emergence of a new kind of Dalit leadership as well, like Chandrashekhar Azad and others. What do you, and Behan Ji, make of someone like him?

Ma’am has made this very clear that back in Manyavar’s time there were multiple leaders who were propping up and we saw what happened then. Manyavar Sahab gave a very nice answer to this question, and it is applicable today also. He wrote a book called “Chamcha Yug’ and it addresses all these small-time prop-ups. They see an opportunity to cut into the woods of the BSP, but there is no serious competitor that can rival the BSP’s cadres and voters across the country.

Q. The Prime Minister says regional parties have propagated dynastic politics or parivarvaad. What would you say to him since you are the next generation of the BSP?

He has a friend from Gujarat and his son is in the BCCI. He has a fellow in his government who had promoted him as the PM candidate, and his son is also in the party. When one accuses other political families of dynastic politics, one should look at their own political party. Ma’am was very clear, and it (my appointment) came as a surprise to me as well. Family is not going to be part of this political affair. Ma’am had given opportunity to other 4-5 people who couldn’t rise to the opportunity or the responsibility, and it (my appointment) was not her decision at all. A couple of senior leaders had proposed to her- you’ve made a commitment, just like Manyavar Sahab, that no family would be involved in this politics, but to maintain the movement, you may bring a custodian from the family. But, ma’am put a strict condition that if we bring in a custodian to the BSP from the family, then the condition remains that they are not going to fight the Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha election. So, we have come in as custodians of this movement. Our job is to ensure we can put the message out, increase the footprint and bring the community together under the BSP’s umbrella. It’s not a dynastic politics that’s handed over from one generation to another.

Q. So, you won’t fight elections.

A: No. Ma’am’s statements have been very clear and I think she doesn’t change her decisions.

Q. So, what role do you see yourself playing?

Managing the day-to-day affairs, managing the strategy, and the on-ground execution of those strategies. We will continue to ensure there is a brighter future for many younger leaders who will come and grow out of this Movement. The BSP is the only party which has been successfully giving a lot of minority leaders voice in Parliament as well as in the Vidhan Sabhas. We will make sure that the marginalised communities continue to get new leaders and voices in Parliament.

Q. Some of the people who were leaving say they couldn’t get enough time with Behan ji.

A BSP worker, who had the same opinion, spoke to me recently. He said, “Behan Ji ke sath interaction nahi ho pa rha hai… bahut samay se nahi ho paa raha hai. But ab aap aa gaye hai hume pata hai jo Behan Ji soch rahi hai… wo aap kar rahein hai…Jo hum keh rahein hai, wo behan ji ke paas pahuch rha hai. (Our interaction with Behanji has not been happening for a long time. But now we know that you are there. We know you are implementing Behan ji’s plans. And we know what we say will now reach Behanji)”. And that’s what my role is. Ma’am has not disappeared from the scene. It’s just that she is selective with time. She spends most of her time strategising, managing, and taking the party through these turbulent times.

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