Lok Sabha elections 2019: ‘Cong and SP-BSP alliance fighting for their existence; they know BJP’s strength’
Union minister Manoj Sinha spoke to Kumar Uttam on the campaign trail in his constituency — Ghazipur — ahead of elections there on May 19.Updated: May 01, 2019, 09:10 IST
Union minister Manoj Sinha, 59, is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prominent upper caste leader from Eastern Uttar Pradesh, who is seeking his fourth term in Lok Sabha. Sinha spoke to Kumar Uttam on the campaign trail in his constituency — Ghazipur — ahead of elections there on May 19. Edited excerpts:
How formidable is the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance in Uttar Pradesh?
This is the second time that they have come together. When they first joined hands in the early 1990s, they had a vast social base. Today, their support is limited to a few castes. After years of power struggle, which was acrimonious, they have joined hands and are now facing issues at the ground level. They will not make any impact.
What makes the BJP so confident about its performance in Uttar Pradesh?
We have delivered several benefits to the people… not only economic… Women faced a lot of trouble because of the lack of toilets. When toilets are built, it is about the honour of women. The Ayushman [National Health Protection] scheme has ensured that villagers do not have to sell their jewellery or land to get treatment. Direct payment to farmers [under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi] has had a huge impact. There is no scope of leakage in it. We have promised pension for farmers, and small businessmen.
This is having a huge impact.
You reaped benefits of several such benefits in the 2017 assembly election when the Opposition was not as united as it is now. Does not the BJP have a disadvantage in 2019?
I do not feel the Opposition is as united as it was in 2014. Leave one state. See West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh or Telangana.
The people have not forgotten the misrule of the SP and BSP... They want a new kind of politics. They will support us.
The SP and BSP had a sizeable chunk of votes even when the BJP-led alliance got 73 seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2014. Would not their unity hurt the BJP?
This is not the arithmetic that you join their votes and say the first party had 20% and the second 18%. So, going together they will get 38%. Politics is about chemistry, not arithmetic. The chemistry in Uttar Pradesh is different this time. There is a new confidence among people. The government of India was never seen in villages. Today, go and ask people who is giving power, toilet, treatment; and they will reply, “[Prime Minister Narendra] Modi”. This is the first government after independence that is being seen in villages and at the doors of the villagers.
Will you be able to win 73 seats again?
There will not be any major loss. I am confident we will retain the tally.
Will the Congress’s appointment of Priyanka Gandhi as its Eastern Uttar Pradesh in-charge have any impact?
I do not feel so. It is the people who believe that. I will request you to go around and find out what impact she has in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. After you are done with it, you will also agree with me.
The Congress is not a part of the SP-BSP alliance. Is it good or bad for the BJP?
The Congress is fighting for its existence. The [SP and BSP have formed the] gathbandhan [alliance], too, for their existence. They knew the BJP’s strength and PM Modi’s popularity. They knew fighting election will be difficult this time. [Congress chief] Rahul Gandhi is not confident of winning his seat in Uttar Pradesh. So, he has gone to Kerala to contest a second seat, not on the Congress’s strength but on that of the [ally Indian Union] Muslim League.
The BJP government introduced the 10% reservation for the economically weaker sections to offset anger over its move to restore the original provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. How is the move playing out?
The Supreme Court gave some order relating to the SCs and STs. There was no role of the government. Some people were provoking them. The government understood the sensitivity of the matter. We felt those who are deprived should get an opportunity. We made changes to the Constitution and ensured it.
But it is equally true that there was a large section, which felt it should not be ignored only because they are poor from the general category.
It was a historic decision of the Modi government that we focused on them. It should not be seen as any sort of compensation against our stand on the SC/ST Act. In doing so, we have ensured there is no tampering with the rights of the Dalits and the backward communities. This has been done beautifully.
It should be remembered how social harmony was disturbed during [the implementation of the] Mandal [Commission report for 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes in 1990]… Have you seen any such discontent this time? It has been handled properly.
Why has the BJP been forced to fall back upon nationalism even as you have named several welfare schemes that will work in your party’s favour?
Nationalism is our commitment, and our party was born over this issue. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was a member of [Jawaharlal] Nehru’s cabinet but he formed a separate party on the issue of nationalism. We did not raise this issue. We did not invite the terrorists to come and attack our jawans in Pulwama.
If CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] jawans are killed and we maintained silence, you would have said this is an incompetent government.
If the government is doing its job and asking forces to respond adequately, we are accused of trying to politicise the issue.
But you leaders are raising this issue in every rally.
You [media] are raising it. Who is doing politics? The Opposition asks the government to deliver proof of the air strike [carried out in retaliation to the Pulwama attack]. If they are asking for proof, we have to give it. If the country needs development, it also needs security. National security is important.