Ajay Singh | January 4, 2019 | Lucknow
As my vehicle drove through the gates of Bungalow no 5 on Kalidas Marg, the official residence of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, I could discern a marked difference. Austerity was in the air. Just before I reached there, he had hosted a plain vegetarian lunch for top police officers who had gathered in Lucknow to celebrate the police week. Barring a few vehicles of these officers flitting in and out to ferry them, there is no activity, no people except the staff, inside the bungalow. This was in sharp contrast to the past when the UP chief minister’s bungalow used to be a hub of power-brokers and favour-seekers. This chief minister does not allow hangers-on.
As I was ushered in the waiting lounge, the entire hall was empty. Yogi Adityanath is known for punctuality. I was told he would avoid discussing Ayodhya since the issue is in the court. However there is no restriction on the entire range of questions. Having heard his responses on the questions relating to encounter killings, mob lynching and cows, I have decided to skip them. Instead, I was keen to know his views on governance, society, spirituality and the constitution. In this wide-ranging interview conducted in Hindi, Yogi indeed spoke his mind, often caring two hoots about being politically correct. Here are excerpts of the interview.
Let me begin this interview by asking you as what difference you have made in Uttar Pradesh so far. How do you explain that?
I have changed the perception about UP. Two years back, UP shared a largely credible perception of being a state beset by corruption, lawlessness, anarchy and riots – not only within the country but also internationally. I will be completing two years in March. During my tenure so far, there have been no riots. We have controlled organised crime to a large extent. We have strengthened the rule of law. Barring a few cases of family feuds or personal enmity, people in the state are not insecure. This change in perception has attracted investment in the state. Today big industrialists in India and from all over the world are keen to invest in UP. As we complete two years in March, the state would have attracted investment over Rs 2 lakh crore, which is unprecedented.
This is one side of development. UP has made its mark in other areas as well, particularly in the flagship schemes of the centre, on which it performed dismally in the past. For instance, the state had figured at 23rd rank in the Swachch Bharat Mission. But the situation has reversed now as we achieved 100 percent performance as against the national average of 97 percent. When the Swachch Bharat initiative began, UP had 20 percent coverage against the national coverage of 44 percent. In rural areas, we have built 2.49 crore toilets. In urban areas, we have built nearly 8 lakh toilets for those who did not have this facility. In the PM Awas Yojana, in rural area, UP stood 17th; now we are number one. In our tenure, we have built 11.5 lakh houses in rural areas and 7.5 lakh houses in urban areas to provide homes to the homeless. Under Saubhagya yojana, we identified nearly 1.75 crore people who had been denied electricity connection. We will provide electricity connection to every family by January 15, 2019.
Let us take other issues like procurement of food grains. The state government used to declare the minimum support price (MSP) every year, but that was meaningless till procurement was done. During 2016-17 [under the Akhilesh Yadav government), the wheat procurement stood at 7 lakh metric tonnes through adhatiyas (middlemen). We removed adhatiyas and started purchasing directly from farmers. We bought nearly 37 lakh metric tonnes of wheat and paid them directly in their bank accounts. This year we bought nearly 53 lakh metric tonnes of wheat from farmers. We have ensured payment of Rs 44,000 crore to sugarcane growers. This is the highest payment to cane farmers in the country. In just 18 months, we brought in nearly 2 lakh hectares of land under irrigation. By the end of the next year , we intend to cover nearly 20 lakh hectares under irrigation facilities.
In dairy sector, there used to be 69 dairies under the banner of Parag Cooperative which were shut down in the past regimes. We know that to enhance farmers’ income, traditional agriculture needs to be supported by dairy and fisheries. We are building 14 new dairies under a milk cooperative federation with the help of Amul and Banas dairies, each having minimum capacity of 3 lakh litres to make them viable.
In the investors’ summit in July, the state got investment proposals worth Rs 5 lakh crore. Rs 60,000 crore worth of investment is already committed in a programme inaugurated by the prime minister. In skill development, we have enrolled nearly 6 lakh youth. Nearly 4 lakh youth are ready for placement after getting skilled. We have also come out with an innovative scheme of ‘one district, one product’ to promote distinctiveness of the districts of the state and commercialise it in a big way. Youth are enlisted in these schemes to spur growth.
Let me understand the ‘one district, one product’ project. Is it about promoting the product identified with a district?
Absolutely. Take for instance Banarasi saris and Bhadohi carpets. These products are never given enough attention. Similarly, brass items from Moradabad, sports equipment from Meerut and perfumes from Kannauj used to be famous internationally. In fact, every district of UP has a distinctive product, which was largely ignored. There was no effort in the past for mapping, branding and marketing of these products. We are working on it. Now Varanasi alone gets export orders worth Rs 600 crore for saris. I personally went to Moradabad which got Rs 6,500 crore export orders for brass products. The government is actively promoting mapping, branding and marketing of these products to give a fillip to exports.
In Moradabad I held a meeting with entrepreneurs in order to resolve their problems. At the end of the meeting, the president of their federation said that it was for the first time that they felt they were a part of citizenry without facing any extortion threats or persecution by the system. They were also happy about 24-hour uninterrupted power supply. This is the same Uttar Pradesh where power supply was quite erratic except in the five big cities. Now we are giving 24-hour power supply to all district headquarters, 20 hours to tehsil headquarters and 16-18 hours in rural areas. This has enhanced agriculture yield as farmers get electricity for irrigation which is much cheaper than running the pumping set on generators. In effect, we are co-opting people at a larger level to associate them with the government’s initiatives to improve their lot. We are constructing roads at village, block and district levels all over the state. Similarly in tourism, the state figured at number three. After the Kumbh, you will find it at number one.
But isn’t that due to the importance of Kumbh itself? Or are there any other factors?
Of course, the Kumbh is one of the reasons. But UP would continue to retain the number one position even after the Kumbh. Similarly in the MSME sector we are sure to leapfrog to number one position shortly.
Are you planning to revive industrial estates? As of now the reality is that all industrial estates from Ghaziabad to Gorakhpur are almost dead.
The industrial estates were largely meant for big industries. And this issue is looked after by the UPSIDC [UP State Industrial Development Corporation]. The state initially formed development authorities like NOIDA or GNIDA to encourage industrial growth. But it did not work out. Instead, it became a source of ill-gotten money for a few people who subverted the system to pick and choose favourites. There was no policy as it allowed them (those ruling the state in the past) to play with the system. Now we have framed policies focusing on sectors and let everyone avail the benefits of the policy.
Are you saying that your policies are radically different from the policies of the past?
Ours is the only government in the country that has framed 21 policies for different sectors. Every investor coming to UP will avail benefits of these policies. We have framed policies on matters ranging from biofuel to make use of garbage and agriculture waste to other green source of energy. One plant is being set up at Sitapur. Another plant with an investment of Rs 1,200 crore is coming up at Gorakhpur. Even public sector companies like IOC and HPCL are also investing in this venture. Farmers will be able to sell their agriculture waste for Rs 500 per tonne. This will take care of pollution arising out of burning crop residues in the field. Similarly I sent a proposal to the prime minister to overcome the crisis faced by the sugar industry. Given the international glut in the sugar market, I proposed that ethanol should be manufactured directly from sugarcane. That policy is now approved and we have got various proposals for this sector. Those making ethanol directly from sugarcane will get higher prices. Farmers will get their remunerative prices and the industry will be able to overcome its crisis. The manufacturing of ethanol will also reduce the country’s reliance on crude oil imports. Even if we reduce crude oil import by 25 percent by replacing it with biofuel, it will save nearly Rs 2 lakh crore in foreign exchange.
Industry has genuine concerns in shifting to ethanol manufacturing. Is this economically viable?
More than industry, ethanol manufacturing is objected to by global organizations as they feared that it would make sugar manufacturing unviable. But we are committed to protect our farmers’ interests. If they find sugar manufacturing unviable, they can switch over to making jaggery.
In Madhya Pradesh, particularly in Gwalior region, I have seen farmers’ switching to jaggery instead of sugar. But is it sustainable?
Today the prices of jaggery and sugar are almost the same. Fifteen years ago, jaggery was a lot cheaper than sugar. Now our policy has facilitated setting up a mill in Gorakhpur to make ethanol from sugarcane. Let me assure you that our initiatives would bring about a radical change.
Are you implying that UP would see the kind of change that we have not seen before?
Yes. You will be surprised to know the extent to which people have been cheated in the past. Let me explain to you with one episode. In Uttar Pradesh, nearly 200 blocks (almost 25 percent of the rural parts of the state) were declared dark zones in the past regimes. Farmers were prevented from installing pumping sets to irrigate their fields, and there were no alternative sources of irrigation. When I asked on what basis these orders were issued, I was wrongly briefed about a court order. I asked for the file which came to me after six months after a lot of persuasion.
Did the bureaucracy delay it even when you asked for it?
Not only delay, they prevaricated and finally gave me the file which referred to an order in the early 90s that restricted companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola from setting up plants in areas where farmers are largely dependent on underground irrigation. This order was used to deny farmers basic facilities like irrigation.
Was there a problem of ‘dark zone’ or was it just cooked up?
They had no authentic data to substantiate the order. The problem was simply created. There was no such problem as such.
What I gather from your initial remarks is that the government went into an overdrive for food grain procurement. But do we have adequate storage facilities? Large scale procurements often turn out to be a big racket. How can you prevent that?
We have developed adequate storage facilities. We have promoted private parties to construct storage or silos. We have also renovated our old godowns and warehousing. In fact, under the food security law, we need this much of procurement. We have 3.5 crore ration cards holders, which cover nearly 15-18 crore people. In addition, we need adequate storage of food grains for mid-day meals for 1.77 crore schoolchildren. This was a new experience in procurement for the government.
I took oath on March 19 last year . And procurement for wheat had to begin from April 1. When I asked officials to remove intermediaries, they said there was no such mechanism. I sent them to Chhattisgarh after talking to [the then chief minister] Raman Singh. By the time they returned, we had opened 5,000-odd centres for procurement.
You spoke about providing every house with electricity connection and improving power supply. But electricity consumption does not seem to be drastically improved. This is the story across the country where power generation is in surplus but consumption is static. Does it not show that people’s purchasing power has not improved?
This is not correct in UP. We generate only 12,000 MW electricity though we need nearly 16,000 MW for consumption and peak demand is around 22,000 MW. With increased supply for industry and agriculture, consumption has reached around 21,000 MW and to bridge the deficit we buy from NTPC and the power grid. Within five years, we intend to generate 5,000 MW through solar energy.
That’s a tall order. How much do you produce now?
As of now we produce only 500 MW [of solar energy]. We are setting up other plants as well. We are determined to make UP a power-surplus state within five years. We will have enough electricity to supply to our population, industry and agriculture. Our target is also to reduce transmission and distribution loss. When we came to power it was around 37 percent. Now it has come down to 23 percent. Our target is to reduce it to 10 percent to ensure 24-hour uninterrupted power supply across the state.
You spoke about the success of the investors’ summit. We have seen many such summits of various states, where big promises are made but little comes out of it in the end. How can you claim that UP will be an exception?
In our case, we have received commitments. The prime minister has already performed ground-breaking ceremonies for projects worth Rs 62,000 crore. We already have Rs 70,000-75,000 investment in pipeline in which industrialists are fully committed. For instance, Samsung committed Rs 5,000 crore investment outside the investors’ summit.
Isn’t Samsung an old investment?
It was not. It came up during my time. After our prime minister and the South Korean president inaugurated its unit, I came to know that the management was being harassed by the labour department. I called both the parties and found that they were unreasonably harassed. The official concerned was suspended immediately. At that very moment Samsung committed another Rs 3,000 crore for investment. Now we have all top industrialists who are keen to invest in UP. The Tatas are willing to invest. When we came to power, TCS was packing up from Lucknow. Now they are planning expansion and setting up a unit in NOIDA which will give employment to 30,000 youth. They will soon have their ground-breaking ceremony in which Ratan Tata will participate. What we are doing is entirely different from the past. Earlier the government and the bureaucracy were in the pick-and-choose mode. Now we have framed policies which will not discriminate anyone.
On your first day as the chief minister, you had ordered to make roads free of pot-holes. In my own experience of visiting many parts, that does not seem to have happened yet. How do you explain that?
If people use the road, there will be potholes! In statistical terms, there were stretches of 1.20 lakh km of road in the state full of potholes. Now except for the areas entangled in litigation, the problems are being attended to.
UP figures among the lowest on the human development index. Going by what you have just told me, it appears things are improving. But it is not reflecting in the HDI. Why is it so?
The state has a vast population, and a sizeable chunk of people were denied basic facilities like electricity, water, healthcare, education, road and sanitation. They were not part of financial inclusion. When the NITI Aayog identified backward districts, only eight of our 115 districts figured in the list. We then focused on these eight districts and launched sustained programmes there. Now latest reports show that we are making good progress. All of our aspiration districts have made rapid progress in every aspect of human development like education, healthcare and sanitation. We focused on schools and nutrition programmes in a big way. We have organised a nutrition fair to educate people about healthy eating habits. We provided two uniforms and bags to 1.77 crore school going children. Some of them were wearing the shoes and socks for the first time. We monitored mid-day meal and gave the contract to good organisations. I am sure these efforts would be reflected in the HDI in future.
You often talk of Ram Rajya. Can you elaborate what you mean by that?
Ram Rajya is a concept of state in which people are not discriminated on the basis of caste, religion or race. In such a system, welfare schemes must benefit those on the last ladder – without any discrimination. A poor man getting a house, toilet and access to electricity, gas connection and job opportunity fits into the concept of Ram Rajya.
That is fine, but another feature of Ram Rajya is that even on an unverified complaint, Ram sent Sita to exile. In essence, a mere allegation is enough for penance or action. But you seem to brazen out allegations levelled against you.
No, this is not correct. We evaluate the complaints on the basis of merit. We have received nearly 77 lakh complaints of which 72 lakh have been successfully disposed of. I have given instructions to address the remaining 5 lakh complaints within a time frame. We have to analyse the merit of complaints. If they are genuine, we take effective steps. And if the complaint is not genuine, we let the complainant know of it so that he should be careful in future.
Before you, there was only one precedent of a saffron-robed chief minister, Uma Bharti. But you are also the head of Gorakhnath Peeth. Do you not find that status in conflict with your constitutional post of chief minister? As far as I can understand, your pursuit is spiritual but you have strayed into a different world.
I do not understand why our intellectuals fail to make a distinction between ‘dharma’ and ‘panth’. It is precisely because of their ignorance that they declared an intrinsically panth-nirpeksh India as dharma-nirpeksh (secular). There is a difference between the two. Dharma is an eternal system which commits to our duty, morality, ethics and right conduct. If you divorce religion of these values, life would be meaningless. Panth connotes a particular style of worshipping. Any system of governance cannot be committed to a particular style of worship or to a particular community. This is not how it should be. No doubt, the state cannot be partisan to a particular community or Panth. But if dharma educates people of their duty, morality and ethics, they are values of life. I find no difference between the objective of dharma and democracy. They are guided by the same principle.
Don’t you find any contradiction in your spiritual role and your chief ministerial assignment?
I have associated dharma with seva (service). Since I do my job in the spirit of seva (service), I also enjoy spirituality in this work. How I do my worship is my personal space and determined by me. No government can determine that. What I need to do for spiritual evolution is to be decided by me. But life’s eternal values transcend barriers of time and space and are all pervasive.
There has been no precedent of any religious head occupying the post of chief minister of the country’s largest state. Are you aware of the fact that it has induced fear among a section of people, particularly among Muslims?
Yes, they would have been scared because of false propaganda since independence. I am sure you will be aware of the fact that people who live in close vicinity of the Gorakhnath temple feel more secure. Most of them are Muslims. And if during my stint there have been no riots, people must be feeling safe. If a girl, irrespective of her religion, is not scared of anti-social elements, she must be thanking me for creating a safe scenario. This is a big achievement for us.
Notwithstanding your spiritual persuasion, how do you commit yourself to a constitution drafted by men?
After independence we agreed to commit ourselves to abide by the constitution to conduct our democracy. This is a pious document. Our tradition, our saints have been deferential towards the constitution evolved by our great freedom fighters. And even when there was no constitution, our society used to be guided by smritis (codes) evolved by great sages. In different times and spaces, various codes were evolved. From Manusmiriti to others, there is a long series of codes that guided our society. I see the constitution in that continuity.
I find your interpretation quite audacious and new. I have never heard of such an interpretation.
But this is the reality. The constitution has evolved through the same process. In different times and spaces, various codes evolved in consonance with the time, but the spirit is the same – though character or names may change.
When you interpret the constitution in this manner, don’t you feel that a section of people would find it a Hindu way of interpretation?
I fail to understand why people do not realise that there is an entity called Hindu in this country. You see, two words – Hindu and Bharatiya – are in currency in the country. When we say ‘Hindu’, it connotes a large cultural identity of people. If you go to Nepal, people call themselves Hindu with a sense of pride. Anybody migrating from this large geographical tract to any part of the world would call himself a Hindu. But those living in India call themselves Bharatiya that denotes geographical identity. Hence, the word ‘Hindu’ contains a deep meaning. It was not without reason that Swami Vivekanand said, “Garva se kaho hum hindu hain (say with pride that I am a Hindu)”.
When you say this as chief minister, does it not trouble you?
Why should it trouble me? It is a fact.
Let me press further. When your government welcomes kanwariyas by showering rose petals on them, does it not violate the spirit of the constitution? Historically the state does not display any religious proclivity in this fashion.
We are often wrong in understanding the spirit of the country. This is a country of astha (faith). Let me recount a story of Achutha Menon, a Marxist who later became a chief minister of Kerala. He wrote an article in a Malayalam magazine discussing the Marxist view of India being divided into many nationalities after independence. But later after touring through the country, he realized that the Marxist view was wrong. When he learnt about the life of Adi Shankaracharya, who left Kerala to set up four temporal seats in four corners of the country, it proved beyond doubt that though India may have been politically divided but it was culturally one. And the places which we call merely temples are not only places of worship and faith but are also symbols of India’s integrity. This was stated by a communist leader.
When we shower flowers on kanvariyas, it is guided by two objectives: respecting the sentiments of people, and keeping a close watch on anti-social elements in the crowd. I know that mischievous elements can cause serious trouble; so through helicopters we keep a close watch on them in western UP. I did not highlight this issue as I believe in handling such elements with strictness. Showering flowers was only intended to convey the message that the government respects devotees’ sentiments. We kept a vigil on anti-social elements as well. We will do it in future also. In the Kumbh Mela, we will do it on a big scale. I have done it in Ayodhya by organizing Deepotsava in Diwali.
Does this facility apply to festivities of other religions as well?
During my stint, all sects, religions and groups have never restrained from doing their worships, rituals or celebrate their festivals. But all this has to be done within the parameters of law. We have given all assistance to everyone.
Let me ask you about the Kumbh. I have heard that you have virtually transformed Allahabad. Narendra Modi once told me in an interview that the Kumbh is a reflection of real India where a population equivalent to Australia comes and goes daily in most disciplined manner. How do you see it?
The Kumbh is the biggest congregation of humanity where culture and spirituality amalgamate. This is the why UNESCO, at the behest of the prime minister, has declared the Kumbh as intangible cultural heritage. We have made elaborate arrangements to give it a grand scale befitting the divine experience. We began it with the Ganga Puja which was performed by the prime minister. For the first time, nearly 72 missions from across the world have pitched their tents in the Mela area. And for the first time representatives of nearly 192 countries would participate in the Kumbh. Nearly 6 lakh villages of India will be represented there. We have substantially expanded the geographical area of the Kumbh. We have set up a tent city. At Prayagraj where the Kumbh is held at the confluence of Yamuna and Ganga, we are making arrangements for devotees to have darshan of the Saraswati Koop [the well where the mythical Saraswati river is lost]. We are opening the Akshay Vatt [an old revered tree] for devotees after 450 years. The PM saw this tree during his recent visit. We have undertaken massive infrastructure development in Prayagraj in view of Kumbh. We have made arrangements for night stay of pilgrims and rebuilt many ashrams to facilitate the pilgrimage. We are working on war-footing to improve the facilities and revive the old spiritual heritage of Prayagraj. This is the first Kumbh to visit which you can travel by air, water and road. Air connectivity has been ensured by the civil airport which was inaugurated by the prime minister. Road connectivity is substantially improved from all over the country. And we have connected Prayagraj from Varanasi through river journey.
Why not Kumbh at Allahabad?
Now it is Prayagraj.
But what’s wrong with Allahabad?
I have no problem with Allahabad. I have only restored the city’s pristine and original identity. I have not changed the name.
[This interview has also been published on FirstPost.com]
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