In 2014, Modi Talked About Gujarat Model; In 2019, When He Hasn’t Delivered, They Say ‘Let’s Have Continuity’: Jayant Chaudhary
Veteran journalist Javed Ansari & RLD vice president Jayant Chaudhary in conversation about 2019, Gathbandhan, agrarian distress & more.
In an exclusive interview with NewsCentral24x7, former Lok Sabha MP and the vice president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Jayant Chaudhary speaks to senior journalist and political analyst Javed Ansari about upcoming polls, gathbandhans in Uttar Pradesh and the wave against Narendra Modi.
Javed Ansari: Today I am interviewing, interacting with the third generation of Chaudhary’s. Way back, as a college student, I had the privilege of attending the legendary Chaudhary Charan Singh’s rallies — watching him from afar. In my 30-year-span as a political journalist, I have covered Jayant’s father, Chaudhary Ajit Singh Ji’s election rallies, and in fact, charted his growth — from a debutante in 1984 to the leader that he went on to become. And now, of course, is Jayant Chaudhary. Interviewing him for NewsCentral24x7 is, indeed, a privilege. Jayant Chaudhary is a third-generation leader; one of the few, among the current crop, who has cross-party linkages. He was a very distinguished member of the Lok Sabha from 2009 to 2014. He moved a very significant legislature — the Land Acquisition Bill. In the same session, the government moved its own bill, and it incorporated large parts of what he had suggested.
The seed for the mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh was, in many ways, sown in Kairana, and Jayant Chaudhary had a very important role to play in it. He spearheaded the Opposition’s campaign there and ensured that the BJP lost that seat.
Welcome to NewsCentral24x7 Jayant. You are among the few who have cross-party linkages. You share, by all accounts, a very good equation with both Akhilesh Yadav of the SP and Rahul Gandhi. You’ve now chosen to cast your lot with Akhilesh. You had to make a choice between two friends. How easy or difficult was that?
Jayant Chaudhary: I think these are always hard decisions. But it’s not just, you know, black and white. In politics, you are confronted with situations where you have to take measured decisions. And ultimately, talks of an alliance is one thing; but decisions have to be based on what the ground feedback is, what the organisation wants.
Javed Ansari: And what was it?
Jayant Chaudhary: You know, for the last — at least six months — we have been talking about the need for an alliance in U.P. Like you said, Kairana was a test-case, and we were successful. And that established the public sentiment…
Javed Ansari: Set the template…
Jayant Chaudhary: Set the template and set the tempo in favour of an alliance. And you know, Congress was not in active negotiations with any of these parties. So, when we actually got down to sitting across the table and talking about the details, it was very apparent that Congress was not going to be in the mix. So, for the last two months, consistently, the message that we have gone to with our workers; now is not the time to up-end that and come up with a new formula.
Javed Ansari: So, you believe that this is now, an open and shut case, and there is no room for any new entrants now?
Jayant Chaudhary: No, I think just minute details have to be worked out. The direction is already set in stone for us. And I think it’s a positive step; it’s a step that has real consequences, in terms of putting up strong opposition in front of the BJP. Because if we look at vote-share between SaPa and BSP; if you look at worker bases — how motivated they are; and our own party: all three vote-banks, all three organisations will have no problem meshing with each other. So I’m confident that this is the real alternate to BJP.
Javed Ansari: You made a very important point here. You said the important thing is to stop the BJP. There are many who believe that had this gathbandhan been a mahagathbandhan and include the Congress and Om Prakash Rajbhar as well, they would have, for all practical purpose, have shut the doors for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. There are some polls that suggest that this mahagathbandhan, then, could have ended up winning anything at least between 75 to 78 seats. In that sense, it’s an opportunity missed.
Jayant Chaudhary: You’re someone who’s seen journalism for a long time; you’ve been part of that. So, you know that almost every story that gets put out has backend to it. Why is it being put out? Why is that narrative being set? And I think talks of, you know, this would have been stronger if Congress was there — yes, I mean if we could accommodate everyone… but we’re not the only ones in this, and all parties then will eventually have to sit down and talk on hard truths. How many seats can we give? How much space can we exceed? How much space is something that the other party is willing to take up? And, you know, this is the real gathbandhan now. And I think, in terms of setting the narrative, setting the tone in the next two months, we will successfully establish within the minds of the voters, that we are the ones who are the alternate to the BJP.
Javed Ansari: Does a triangular contest… Will this not lead to a division of votes?
Jayant Chaudhary: Well largely, in our area, from whatever feedback I’ve got, from my own sense of the grassroots, it might again be a polarised election. And therefore I don’t see a three-cornered fight. Yes, in some seats where the Congress has had some connect, in terms of leadership — which is capable at the district level — you could say that they could fight well. But then I can’t speak for Congress. I can speak for myself, and the interactions I’ve had with my own people, they tell me that this is the alliance to beat.
Javed Ansari: You spoke of a polarised atmosphere. And polarised atmospheres, in the past, we’ve seen has worked to the BJP’s advantage. And now with Pulwama and war clouds looming overhead, don’t you think the BJP starts with a big advantage there?
Jayant Chaudhary: See, they’re in government. And when you’re in government, you have all the levers. But you know, there’s a big difference between what we’re headed for now, and what was the environment in 2014. They were in Opposition. They could pretty much point ant everything and promise the moon and the sky. And they did. And you could also run a very aspirational campaign. So, Modi ji was, he talked about the Gujarat Model. No one’s really understood what the model was. They don’t talk about it anymore. At that time, Modiji was presented as the biggest change-agent. And for all the people who were frustrated with the system and the inequities of the system, the inefficiencies of the system, with corruption, with basic poverty-alleviation schemes not being able to impact their own lives, it appeared that he’s going to transform the system. Today what is their campaign? “Let’s continue with him.”
So now, from being a big change-agent, when they’ve realised that they haven’t delivered on anything, they’re presenting themselves as a case of, “You know, let’s have continuity. And let’s have stability.”
That’s a big change. And then in 2014, they were promising things. Now they’re not talking about what they’re going to give. They’re just saying that “Majboori hai. The nation needs a strong leader. Majboori hai. That’s why you should vote for us.”
Javed Ansari: In fact, he’s pushing many buttons…
Jayant Chaudhary: It’s not aspirational though.
Javed Ansari: Yeah, but they talk of the Ujjwala scheme. They talk of the huge highways and the impressive network of roads that they’ve laid. And now, yesterday, Mr Modi initiated the largest direct cash transfer scheme in the world, directed at farmers. So, in your assessment, do you feel this will work to his advantage?
Jayant Chaudhary: You know India hasn’t really progressed as much as they’d like us to believe. The old issues are still burning issues of today. Farmer discontent is real. And this government’s intent is being questioned. You know you had ample opportunity, you have ample time. People gave you such a great majority. He could have enforced anything he wanted. What did they do? First six to eight months, this government spent on changing the very Land Acquisition Bill that you spoke about. Why? What was this great hurry of changing that bill? And they presented it as a case, that if we don’t change the bill if we don’t take away the clause that gives consent to landowners, we’re not going to see any development. Well, they backtracked from that. So, I mean there’s been no real continuity.
If you look at all the statistics — you’ve mentioned highways — they just changed the metrics. And they repackage things and present them in a manner which seems more palatable to the people. But they haven’t really made any real impact. You know, from April 1st, I think it was 2017, they’ve changed the measurement. Earlier, a four-lane highway, if we made one kilometre, it was counted as one kilometre. Now it’s counted as four kilometres of highway made. So if you look at almost every statistic — on 19 January 2019, Modi ji said that “We have made 1,25,00,000 houses for the poor.” And just a few days later on 1st February, Piyush Goyal announces that we’ve made 1,53,00,000 houses. Now, 28 lakh houses were not made in those ten, twelve, eleven days. Almost every statistic that the government puts out is fake.
Javed Ansari: It’s fudged, you’re saying.
Jayant Chaudhary: Yeah.
Javed Ansari: You’re young. You’re connected to the youth. And you belong to… you represent the farming community of this country. These are two issues, considered two burning issues. One was joblessness, and the other is farmer distress. Do you believe that the measures announced by the government in the last budget, in the interim budget, have assuaged some of those concerns? Or do you believe that those issues are still alive? And will come back to hurt them.
Jayant Chaudhary: Well in terms of joblessness, the PM has himself said that the government doesn’t have any real data. And that very government has stopped collecting data. That very government — you see Niti Aayog, you see the way they were just trying to deflect attention — they don’t want to release the data. So forget about any yojana, you know Start Up, Stand Up India, Digital India, these are all just names and concepts that they throw around. This Rs 6,000 that they are talking about. You know, when you announce a new policy, it has to be well-thought-out: How well can you implement that? What’s the follow-through? What are going to be the systemic impacts of that when you bring it in? That was not very well-thought-out. You know after they announced it in the budget, you had the government contact the state governments and ask them to start collecting data. In Telangana, they… the Rythu scheme, they did a survey. Every house they went, the government sent a survey team; they understood what the data was. In states like U.P., you’ve seen haphazard implementation. Yesterday it was announced, just today, the Hathras district president of Rashtriya Lok Dal, he’s an ex-MLA. Today, this morning, I was sitting with him. He’s telling me his wife has gotten Rs 2,000. He was saying she doesn’t deserve it. But she’s gotten it. So when it’s going to be such a hurried implementation, because of the elections,
Javed Ansari: Even if it is haphazard. And even if the beneficiaries are those who don’t deserve it, the fact is that the transfer is happening and those who got it will certainly not vote against them. I mean that’s something that’s not going to, you know, instigate them…
Jayant Chaudhary: But if you ask me about the efficacy of a policy, then I’m going to discuss it differently. If you speak about political impact, yes. Politically, they can say that we’ve given money. And you’re right, someone who gets money… but the question is how much is it? Is it something that is meaningful for them? It’s just five to six per cent if their yearly average national income. It’s nothing. You know, you can’t buy a bag of seeds or fertilisers in that much money. So, in real terms, it’s not much at all. And you’ve seen the first four years of this government. If you compare it to the four years of the previous government, agricultural production, GDP growth — it was 5.2 per cent in UPA-II — It’s 2.5 per cent. Terms of trade have turned against the farmer. Every time the farmer’s crop was ready, he brought it to the markets, and you saw that realisation wasn’t there because we’d already imported more than we needed. We had a net agricultural export surplus of $25 billion in 2013-14. That dropped to $10 billion in 2017-18. We started importing more. We started exporting less. And you know, their entire, this whole obsession with price-to-consumer, with keeping a nice, sort of healthy margin for the traders, has impacted the producers. If you look at milk, they do a lot of halla about gau mata, but the person who’s actually rearing the cattle, the persons whose lives depend on that cattle; today a litre of milk, I mean he can’t recover the costs. So, if you look from the producers’ perspective, if you look at it from the farmers’ perspective, he knows that the last five years of this government has been a complete disaster. So, right in the end, if you say we’re going to give you Rs 2,000, it’s not going to mean that much.
Javed Ansari: So you believe it’s a case of “too little, too late”?
Jayant Chaudhary: Yes, and not enough intent behind it. And people don’t believe that they’re going to carry on. And I also question this fact that there is also this lobby that says that, “Okay, now we’ve given you Rs 6,000. Now don’t ask for more.” There is a sense amongst farmers also who say that now we can’t speak in terms of other measures. There’s this whole lobby that says that you should cut down on agricultural subsidies because now, you stop this government purchasing of grain. You dismantle the entire systems we had in place of providing support to farmers because now you’ve given Rs 6,000. And that’s all the government can do. So, you can’t wash away… you can’t completely walk away from your responsibilities.
Javed Ansari: So those who believe that this is a game-changer are, in your view, barking up the wrong tree?
Jayant Chaudhary: Too little, too late. It’s not going to reach the people who deserve it. And people are also going to question the intent and timing.
Javed Ansari: In the last couple of days, we’ve seen the BJP, especially Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah, are focusing big-time on Uttar Pradesh because live everybody else, they too realise that if their stranglehold slips over U.P., this could be curtains for the government. Amit Shah is on record having said that Mr Modi will come back as prime minister and U.P. will continue to provide the bulk of the MPs.
Jayant Chaudhary: Well, tell me one politician without bluster. We all approach elections with supreme confidence. And every pollster who then talks to us, even after elections are done, we all profess to know that we’re going to come back with a majority. No one ever says that we’re in bad shape. But if you look at all the signs, if you look at the way they performed in recent by-elections in U.P., they’ve lost every single one. And that tells you that the sentiment is against them. Yes, they have huge machinery in place. They have a cadre that they’ve supplied, you know, that is today motivated enough because of various reasons, that could stand at the booths. But, when you have public sentiment against that, the entire machinery, the cogs stop working. So I really do feel that all this booth management, all these organisations that they have in place, they’re not going to be able to withstand public sentiment, which has clearly turned against them.
Javed Ansari: The BJP won a whopping 73 out of 80 seats from U.P., and any number-cruncher will tell you that you need a huge wave to be able to overturn that. Do you believe that there is a wave building up, against Modi, and in favour of the gathbandhan?
Jayant Chaudhary: Yes, like I said, there is negative sentiment. The last election was an election of hope. This election is an election of desperation for BJP. And you can see the desperation the pitch of their campaign. You can see how, even after such a massive tragedy for the whole nation, when the entire country is mourning our loss… And you know, people are forgetting about political lines — we don’t care. Elections, we’re not thinking about. Even in that environment, they’ve not stopped campaigning. You know in a village in Bijnor, their workers were going with their flags, trying to set up flags. And when two young people opposed — they objected to this, this is not the time for politics — those young men were sent to jail. So, I mean, there’s a time and place for everything. People are watching all of this. And therefore there is, yes, there is negativity for BJP. They’re also saying that BJP is running a very negative campaign. And I think this will not work for them. This will hurt them badly.
Javed Ansari: Between now and the elections, although a week is too long in politics, between now and the elections, what is it that you fear could spoil the party for the gathbandhan? Pulwama? A military confrontation with Pakistan? Or some kind of social tensions in U.P.? Which is the one that you fear the most?
Jayant Chaudhary: Pakistan is not an issue that you can take lightly. It’s not an issue that we can frankly discuss in five minutes. You need to have a comprehensive policy in place. Right now, our policy of Pakistan is very reactionary. “Okay, let’s stop cricket matches,” and “Okay, let’s deny some visas,” and “Okay, let’s give a few strong statements.” But there is no real policy. Are we looking to have cooperation with Pakistan? Do we intend to have better relations with Pakistan? And in the absence of policy, what you see is rhetoric. And that rhetoric may inflame emotions in the short-term, but people also see that “where are the results?” Amit Shah, in 2014, said if Modi ji becomes prime minister, no one will dare cross the border and do terrorist activities. You’ve seen the results. More jawans have been killed. We’ve seen more attacks. And this recent event has also highlighted the failures of government. So I think in terms of fear, yes, like I said, the government can do so much. But if they try and play with people’s sentiments, and you know, hype up this nationalism and think that it’s going to yield results for them, I think people are smarter now.
Javed Ansari: One last question before we go. You said any new entrants to the gathbandhan can be ruled out. That possibility seems to have…
Jayant Chaudhary: All I say is it’s not for me as an individual to comment.
Javed Ansari: Okay. But what about… there is this talk in political circles, of the Opposition putting up a common candidate — one single candidate against the prime minister in Varanasi? Is that a possibility? Has that eventuality been discussed? Formally or informally…
Jayant Chaudhary: I’ve discussed that informally with Akhilesh ji once about Benaras. And when I meet him again, we’ll talk about Benaras. That’s all I can say right now.
Javed Ansari: So, you’re neither ruling it out nor ruling it in.
Jayant Chaudhary: Like I said, that’s power for course in politics, isn’t it?
Javed Ansari: Jayant, thank you so much for speaking to NewsCentral24x7.
Jayant Chaudhary: Thank you.
Javed Ansari is a senior journalist and a political analyst. He tweets at @javedmansari.