The Election Commission on Wednesday cancelled former BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav’s nomination, saying that he did not submit a certificate from the poll body stating that he had not been dismissed from service due to “corruption or impropriety” on time. Even before he was made the Samajwadi Party candidate, Yadav had spoken to The Wire about why he wanted to contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi. This interview was first published on April 11, 2019 and is being republished on May 2, 2019.
How and why did the thought of contesting against Modi from Varanasi occur to you?
We are not against Modiji or the Bharatiya Janata Party – we are not against anybody. Our fight is against the country’s rotten system.
Even before coming to power, Modi had started playing politics over the army. In our country, the armed forces are held in high regard, but what Modi did was create a diversion in the name of the army to score political points. In the case of Hemraj (in 2013, Lance Naik Hemraj was killed and beheaded by Pakistani troops along the India-Pakistan border) Modi went full throttle on the issue – and how! The entire country felt that if he came to power he would greatly strengthen the armed forces.
What happened was just the opposite. Since he came to power, the number of martyred jawans has been the highest – the number of jawans martyred last year alone exceeds the figure of the last 10 years put together. Most importantly, the one thing that the media has not highlighted is the fact that as many as 997 jawans from the paramilitary services alone have committed suicide in the last one year. And Modi is responsible for it.
In the current dispensation, the rules being followed have resulted in the ill-treatment of jawans and driven many to suicide. Consider this: jawans are denied time-bound leave and they are not allowed to use their mobile phones [smartphones]. After I raised the issue of the inferior quality of food provided to us (by posting a video online), the use of mobile phones was disallowed. This was because many jawans started speaking out against corruption and the government felt that all the skeletons in its cupboard were tumbling out — hence the move to tell jawans not to use mobile phones.
Prime Minister Modi made many promises, but has fulfilled none. Although he had earlier stated that pensions would be restored in the BSF, he has not uttered a word about it. Another of his promises was that BSF jawans too would be awarded the status of martyrs, but there has been no progress on that whatsoever. People may shout themselves hoarse calling the jawans martyrs, but the truth is that while BSF jawans have certainly died doing their duty, they were not given the status of martyrs. No one talks about the jawans of India in the various paramilitary forces and the army. Nobody spares a thought for them.
One comes across discussions on the plight of farmers and weavers. Granted, no action is taken, but at least there is some talk about the problems facing them. Since the issues of jawans have not been raised by anybody, we have mounted a campaign to speak first and foremost for the well-being of the jawan of this country. If the jawan is happy, the entire country will be happy.
If fighting the rotten system is your aim, you could have fought the election from anywhere. Why have you chosen to stand against Modi?
Because Modiji was the one who started it – playing politics in the name of jawans, that is. Now we jawans will confront him and teach him what politics is all about. That is the reason why I am contesting from here – to give him a lesson in politics.
You have claimed that you have the support of 10,000 ex-servicemen who will campaign against Modi.
We have not 10,000 but 50,000 ex-servicemen with us. They are in regular touch with us. Since one is hampered by a lack of resources, it is difficult to make arrangements for their stay and food. We are not politicians that we have the luxury of big money to back us.
Are these supporters from the BSF or from the army as well?
They are from the paramilitary as well as the armed forces, and they are from different places. But none of them is an officer. They stop short at the rank of a junior commissioned officer (JCO). And they are all retired. Even if jawans in service wanted to join us, we would not be willing. Our constitution does not allow for it. We need to respect our constitution.
You were with the BSF during the time of the UPA government as well. Has there been any change in the jawan’s working conditions during the tenure of the Modi government?
I have already made it clear that no one has thought about us. I spent 21 years in service, saw many governments come and go. The first time the NDA formed a government their prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, put a stop to our pensions. The governments may have changed but our issues have remained the same.
We did have hopes of Modi, but in his tenure the politicisation of the armed forces has reached a level where jawans have lost the appetite to be in service. It is in the reign of the Modi sarkar that jawans are being harassed beyond limit. Earlier the armed forces had their own system of working. Now everything happens the way Modi wants. Nothing moves without his order.
We all know the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but after the Pulwama attack, Prime Minister Modi stated that the armed forces had been given a free hand. It proves that Modi has them under his thumb.
Modi runs the military as he pleases. If the chief of any of these forces decides to protest, he will be sent packing and someone else will be made to take his place. Democracy has been murdered in our country.
How do you see the recent statements of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi that ‘Modiji’s army’ carried out an air strike?
Yogi Adityanath spoke about ‘Modiji’s army’. Modiji also stated that he had given the armed forces a free hand. Isn’t it obvious that the military is under his control – whatever he says will be done. When he gives the order, the army will fire upon Pakistan. If he says, no firing, let the jawans be killed, then there will be no firing.
Their statements make both Modi and Yogi look every bit as tyrannical as Aurangzeb. There is no independence. The president of India should take notice of it, but he does not say anything.
The point is, who will say this to their faces? They are in no mood to listen. And if someone does decide to speak out, he will suffer the same fate as Judge Loya.
How are you meeting your campaign expenses?
I have shared my account number and PayTM number on social media so that anyone who desires to help may do so. Come what may, this election has to be fought.
How was your experience of working for the BSF?
I joined with great enthusiasm. I felt it was an opportunity to serve one’s country. However, once I was sucked into the system, it felt as if I had entered a prison.
What is your opinion about the Balakot airstrike and the Pulwama attack?
The government has made mistakes. But the politicians are not concerned – their children are not in the line of fire, after all. The army is being used for political ends. If that were not so such attacks would not take place.
Former army chief V.K. Singh has said that those who made the comment about ‘Modiji’s army’ are traitors. Do you agree?
Yes, he put it well. A case of treason should be slapped on Yogi Adityanath. In fact, V.K. Singh himself should register a complaint against Yogi.
Are you getting the support of other political parties?
The Aam Admi Party has said they are with us but have not made any formal statement yet. We have approached the Samajwadi Party too. Akhileshji has asked for time. Om Prakash Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samajwadi Party has told us clearly that he will support me.
Do you think the people of Varanasi will support you?
After coming here and meeting the people of Kashi, one is assailed by a feeling – who knows, Modiji may end up losing by a huge margin.
What is the biggest difference between you and prime minister Narendra Modi that may turn out to be the reason for victory or defeat?
The biggest reason is the difference between the real chowkidar and the fake chowkidar. That is my slogan and battle cry as well – ‘the real chowkidar versus the fake chowkidar’
Rizavana Tabassum is an independent journalist.
Translated from the Hindi original by Chitra Padmanabhan.