Bhopal: Arun Subhashchandra Yadav is in the middle of his life's biggest political mission but the sangfroid in his demeanour seldom betrays any anxiety, or nervousness. He smiles wholeheartedly, switching between responding to various phone calls, interruptions by various leaders and party workers seeking instructions, clarifications, and answers.
He adds a line or two, beyond the answer sought, sometimes a quip, at times a joke, or a colloquial observation, and occasionally an aphorism so rustic that it lightens the mood of the tense room where almost everybody is doing more than one thing, and everything is a few hours behind schedule.
At the politically infantile age of 44, Yadav has seen a lot already in politics. He is a two-term Lok Sabha Member of Parliament, has been in the Union Cabinet of the UPA-2 led by Manmohan Singh as Minister of State, holding a wide range of portfolios including Sports and Youth Affairs, Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, and Agriculture.
Following the crushing defeat of the party in the Lok Sabha in 2014, the Congress, where he served as a secretary to the AICC, made him president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, making him one of the youngest Pradesh Congress Committee heads in India, before he recently handed over the reins to Kamal Nath. In over three years of leading the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, he has strengthened the party in the state and led several agitations against the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in the state, and has now, after being made a member of the highest body in the party, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), been asked to directly take on Chouhan, the three-term chief minister, in his den of a constituency of Budhni (Budhani).
In an interview, Yadav exuded confidence without sounding arrogant about his prospects, and more importantly, the prospects of the party in the state. Edited excerpts follow:
You have been asked to contest against the extremely popular three-term chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the elections. Some might call it a suicide mission. What are your chances?
Let me tell you that the adjective that best describes Chouhan, and his government, now in the state of Madhya Pradesh is "extremely unpopular". Yes, in Indian politics, standing against any incumbent is tough, more so against someone who has been at the helm of affairs in the state for three terms. But if you see the mood of the people in the state you will realise the anger has crossed all thresholds.
People are angry, disappointed and furious. They are now taking lead ahead of our party leaders and workers in questioning and opposing the BJP. In that sense, maybe Budhni, which bears no semblance to the constituency of a big leader, much less a chief minister, marked with no development, no facilities, no infrastructure but abounding in illegal mining and corruption of the family members of Chouhan, might actually turn out to be the "safest" seat for a Congress candidate today.
What are the issues on which your party is fighting these elections against the BJP?
The biggest combination of all issues is the position of our state in the nation on all accounts. After three terms, what has the BJP done for the people? The highest number of farmer suicides take place in Madhya Pradesh, and one of the districts badly affected is Sehore, the home of Chouhan. There are no jobs. Youths are unemployed and frustrated. Women don’t feel safe. Look at the state of our infrastructure. There are no new investments. The state is at a worse level than in 2003 when the BJP came to power.
But on the other hand, corruption is rampant. BJP leaders make money on everything. The sand mafia rules the state. Family members of not just the chief minister, but all leaders are involved in illegal mining, illegal construction and takeover of government contracts. Nothing gets done for the people, BJP leaders become richer.
What does the Congress party offer as an alternative?
We have always delivered what we have stood for, and what we have promised. The Congress will first address the farmers' issue by ensuring lower priced and better quality inputs like seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, urea on the one hand and better than MSP prices for their output. We will waive loans of farmers of up to Rs two lakh in one go. We will also give them income support of Rs 3,000 per farmer family.
We will deracinate corruption in every ministry and department ruthlessly and with zero tolerance. We will be providing a support internship of Rs 4,000 to unemployed youths till they get jobs. Job creation and development are top areas of focus and we will revitalise the economy of the state with a new investment and industrial policy. Our 'Vachan Patra' (manifesto) has also promised that we will scrap the Vyapam Board, (MP Professional Examination Board) through which Chouhan has destroyed or robbed the careers of lakhs of youth.
There is lot of 'soft' Hindutva in both your campaign as well as your manifesto – Ram Yatra, cowsheds, beef….
The Congress is a secular Indian party. We are true Hindus, who don’t use religion for political gains. We don’t make false promises. We respect all religions and will obviously work for not just the economic and practical aspirations but also the religious and spiritual aspirations of our people.
Your party has no chief ministerial face while taking on the BJP, which obviously has Chouhan, popularly called Mamaji. Will that prove to be a mistake?
No. Our party has a policy of not projecting chief ministerial faces. The entire party works together and ensures under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi that we remove the BJP from power here. Once the counting is done and we are ready to form the government, the high command will decide.
The Congress in Madhya Pradesh has often been found to be at cross-purposes. The infighting among leaders has cost your party a lot. How united is the party this time?
Absolutely united. We are like the Pandavas, brothers together, taking on the Kauravas and we will change the future of our state.
Has your party made a mistake by not having an alliance with the BSP?
Historically, the BSP has had a small but consistent vote share and an alliance would have helped. Similarly, we could have also brought in the Samajwadi Party, because it also has a following, especially in the areas closer to Uttar Pradesh. An alliance therefore would have given us bigger margins and more seats. But while it did not happen, it won’t impact the overall outcome that the Congress is coming to power after 15 years in Madhya Pradesh.
How many seats do you hope to win?
My own internal assessment is around 154 to 163 (out of 230) as of now, but it could go up.
Is Budhani one of them?
(laughs) You will see on 11 December.
Updated Date: Nov 14, 2018 10:05 AM