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Politics

Interview | 'Fully Assured Caste Census Demands Will Be Met by BJP': O.P. Rajbhar

July 16 saw Rajbhar's return to the National Democratic Alliance. Angry with the Samajwadi Party, the veteran politician says he will continue to fight for the marginalised within the NDA fold.

Om Prakash Rajbhar is a member of the 18th legislative assembly of Uttar Pradesh. He represents the Zahoorabad assembly constituency since 2017. Though his party, the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, has been active in electoral politics since 2002, it was only in 2017, when it aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party, that it got its first breakthrough and won four out of the eight seats it contested.

Rajbhar became a cabinet minister on March 19, 2017, in the Adityanath-led BJP government, though he was later sacked from the cabinet due to anti alliance activities. For the 2022 assembly elections in the state, he aligned with Samajwadi Party and his party won six out of the 17 seats it contested.

July 16 saw Rajbhar’s return to the National Democratic Alliance, after months of speculation regarding his future plans since breaking up with the Samajwadi Party last year. Rajbhar is known for his outspoken nature and in conversation with The Wire, he covered future plans, his reasons for returning to the NDA after more than four years, his demands from the alliance and the future of his party legislator Abbas Ansari.

Edited excerpts follow.

People want to know why you change parties repeatedly.

Om Prakash Rajbhar is a voice that constantly raises the issue of the rights of the oppressed, the marginalised, the Dalits, the backward and the minority communities in Uttar Pradesh – both on the streets and in the assembly. SBSP [the acronym for his party] is always ready to align with any party that shares the goal of granting these communities their rights.

The primary objective of Om Prakash Rajbhar’s political career has been to ensure the rights of these people, and the fight will continue until they receive their due rights.

Whether we remain in opposition or in power, if someone sees our struggle as “party switching,” that genuinely doesn’t bother us.

What changed since the 2022 assembly elections that you were compelled to align with the same party, BJP, which you used to criticise and talked of removing from power?

Our primary priority was to be in the opposition, and we do not deny that.

At that time, due to certain policies of the BJP that went against our principles, we were seen as making efforts to prevent them from coming into power, and we aligned with the Samajwadi Party. However, it has been the SP’s history to deceive and exploit the oppressed, marginalised, Dalit, backward, and minority communities by simply taking their votes and focusing solely on the development of their own family and kin.

Socialism holds no significance for them.

Conversely, the Bhartiya Janata Party understood the seriousness of our concerns, and keeping in mind the interests of the marginalised communities, the Dalits, the backward classes, and the minorities in Uttar Pradesh, they were willing to accept our demands. Due to this, we were ready to join the National Democratic Alliance.

The successful leadership of our honourable prime minister [Narendra Modi], who raised the flag of India as a distinct entity in the world has also helped us in reaching our decision of joining the NDA. This fills all Indians with a sense of pride. Moreover, the numerous welfare schemes implemented in the country also contributed significantly to our decision of choosing the NDA over the opposition.

What do you think led to your alliance’s failure in the 2022 elections?

In the 2022 assembly elections, the SBSP formed an alliance with the Samajwadi Party to work towards the welfare and rights of the oppressed, marginalised, Dalit, backward, and minority communities. Thanks to our alliance, the Samajwadi Party went from winning 47 seats to 111 seats.

However, after joining forces with the Samajwadi Party, we realised that while they talk about issues concerning Dalits and marginalised communities, they deceive people of these communities entirely. When it comes to giving political representation and sharing power, the Samajwadi Party sidelines these communities.

Despite this, the SBSP faithfully followed the principles of the alliance and consistently tried to persuade Akhilesh Yadav to understand the right perspectives. Unfortunately, Akhilesh Yadav disregarded my advice – which looked at the interests of the oppressed and marginalised – and this led to the breakup of the alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the SBSP. This incident clearly highlights that Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav cannot tolerate valid criticism. The saying ‘meetha-meetha gup-gup, kadwa-kadwa thoo-thoo (‘when it’s sweet, eat it, when it is bitter, throw it)’ fits this situation.

Akhilesh Yadav and O.P. Rajbhar. Photo: Twitter/@VishvanathYad11

Akhilesh Yadav also talks about the PDA [an acronym for pichre (backward), Dalit and alpashankhak (minority)], which can be seen as addressing the concerns of marginalised communities. What is your opinion on this?

Akhilesh Yadav’s mention of PDA is merely a deceptive tactic. He is deceiving the people of Uttar Pradesh and attempting to mislead them. It is an attempt to deceive the people of Uttar Pradesh, especially the marginalised communities. If anyone has deceived and cheated the backward classes, Dalits, and minorities the most, it is the Samajwadi Party.

Akhilesh Yadav’s PDA slogan will ultimately be exposed as a hollow promise, and in the upcoming 2024 elections, the people of Uttar Pradesh will completely reject his bicycle symbol.

You had taken a strong stand on caste-based Census. Will your stance remain the same even after aligning with the BJP?

I have been advocating for a caste-based Census and Samajik Nyay Samiti [a social justice committee] for the past 20 years. The demand for free and uniform education, and free healthcare, has been my consistent stand for the past 20 years. The stand of the SBSP will remain the same as it has been before.

However, now that we are a part of the NDA, we will discuss these issues with all the constituent and allied parties of the NDA in order to address them in the future. But the SBSP will continue to push for the caste-based Census and the Samiti, which have been our party’s demands from the beginning.

Dara Singh Chauhan has rejoined the party now that you have returned to your old alliance. Are we going to see more people joining soon?

Samajwadi Party talks of PDA and in Dara Singh Chauhan’s return to BJP, the Samajwadi Party has lost its first PDA wicket.

The way the SP talks about Savarnas gives the impression that they do not desire the votes of the upper caste community. In such a scenario, upper caste people within the SP should distance themselves from the party. In the future, many leaders and legislators within the SP will bid farewell to the party, just like Dara Singh Chauhan did.

What did you discuss during your meeting with Amit Shah? What strategy will your alliance adopt for the 2024 elections?

There were open and frank discussions with the honourable Union home minister Amit Shah ji. There was agreement on several issues, and there will continue to be discussions and consensus on various matters in the future as well.

As for the strategy for the 2024 elections, let it remain a strategy. However, let me say that due to the alliance of the SBSP with the BJP, the opposition has nothing left in Uttar Pradesh. In the 2024 elections, SBSP-BJP will secure victory on all 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh under the successful leadership of the honourable Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi ji. Narendra Modi ji will become the prime minister of India for the third consecutive term.

Considering that you have emphasised on social justice and the fight for the rights of marginalised communities, and have spoken against the BJP on these issues, are you now confident that the rights of the marginalised and oppressed will be honoured?

Yes, I reaffirm that I have previously stated that during our [party national chief secretary Arvind Rajbhar and O.P. Rajbhar] meeting with the honourable Union home minister Amit Shah ji, there were discussions as well as agreement on various matters.

Therefore, it is evident that in the future, the ongoing fight of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party for the rights of the marginalised communities, including Dalits, backward classes, and minorities, will continue. Whether it is about the Samajik Nyay Samiti, inclusion of Bhar-Rajbhar caste in the Scheduled list, or the issue of caste-based Census, we are fully assured that our demands will be heard and fulfilled.

Congress Rajya Sabha MP Pramod Tiwari has said that no one can guess where you are today and where you will be tomorrow. How would you respond to this?

Let’s not even talk about Pramod Tiwari. Coming to Congress, the party doesn’t have any presence as far as UP is concerned.

Congress, despite being a national party, has become insignificant in Uttar Pradesh compared to the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party. Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party holds a greater number of MLAs than Congress.

Therefore, Pramod Tiwari’s statement only confirms that Congress has completely lost its ground in Uttar Pradesh. It is evident that many Congress leaders are making such statements due to their own perplexity.

Congress’s Pramod Tiwari. Photo: Twitter/@pramodtiwari700

How do you see the opposition parties like SP, BSP and Congress performing in UP?

The Samajwadi Party has been deceiving and exploiting the backward, Dalit, and minority communities. Keeping that in mind, the Samajwadi Party is now leaning towards becoming Samaptwadi Party (extinct party).

As for the Congress, it has completely lost its ground in Uttar Pradesh and has no support left.

While the Bahujan Samaj Party has its vote bank, it will not be able to stand against the NDA in the 2024 elections.

Speaking about the Aam Aadmi Party, it is thoroughly entrenched in corruption, which has caused significant distress to the people of Delhi. Many of their prominent leaders and ministers have even been sent to jail. In Uttar Pradesh, the alliance between the SBSP and the BJP has made the survival of these parties almost impossible.

If the main issues on which you have aligned with the BJP are not fulfilled, shall we once again see O.P. Rajbhar leaving the NDA alliance?

There are several issues on which discussions have taken place and agreements have been reached. Even in the future, there will be discussions on many such issues, and consensus will be reached on them. Therefore, when there is consensus on issues, there is no question of leaving the Bharatiya Janata Party alliance. Those who are making such statements are completely unsettled by the alliance between the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party. They are starting to see their own defeat even before it happens.

How many seats do you expect your party to get in the coalition?

When there is a consensus on several key issues and agreements have been reached, the allocation of seats becomes less significant. However, it is worth noting that the inclusion of Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party in the alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party carries its own importance. The allocation of seats is a mere formality, and the final decision regarding seats will be made through discussions between our leadership and the top leadership of BJP. 

Will all the leaders of your party also be part of the NDA? Including Abbas Ansari?

It is important to note that no specific individual from our party has joined the National Democratic Alliance. The coalition formed is between the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and the BJP, and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party has become a part of the NDA.

As for Abbas Ansari, he was part of the coalition between the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party during the 2022 state assembly elections. Under that coalition, the Samajwadi Party fielded 12 candidates on the symbol of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party. Upholding the principles of coalition unity, we supported those candidates under the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party symbol. Abbas Ansari is one of those candidates.

Now Abbas Ansari has to decide whether he will remain with us or decides to go.

Should we now consider this as O.P. Rajbhar’s final decision? Will SBSP now continue to be with the BJP?

Currently, we are a part of the NDA. It has been the history of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party that whenever we have been in an alliance, we have remained steadfast and committed to it with full strength and honesty.

Would you like to share your hopes regarding 2024 Lok Sabha elections?

The alliance between the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party has ensured that there is no opposition left in Uttar Pradesh. In the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections, all the NDA will work together to win all 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. With even more seats than the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, we will secure a massive majority and ensure the formation of a government and contribute in putting honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in office for the third consecutive term.