They said they were ordered to write that Kejriwal’s road-show was a flop, that it had a very poor reception.
‘My opponent, Rao Inderjit, is from the local Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of the area. He has been spectacularly non-performing’
‘Gurgaon is 100 times more difficult to contest from than East Delhi. I could have requested to be fielded from the East Delhi constituency.’
‘For me, politics is not just about votes; it is also about a vision of India, a vision that brings different sections of society together.’
‘I was named Salim in childhood. My grandfather was killed in 1936 riots in Hissar. My father saw the killing. He also saw the massacre of Muslims in 1947. It affected him deeply and he decided to give Muslim names to his children.’
‘But children in school would tease me. I told my father I wouldn’t go to school until he changed my name.’
‘We held the rally in Ghasera on the day Modi held his in Gurgaon because of the village’s symbolical importance. It was here Gandhi came on December 19, 1947, and asked the Meos not to leave India.’
‘There is an intuitive sense among Dalits that Modi does not represent their politics. I have heard them use four-letter words to describe him.’
‘The decline of politics in our country has meant loss of mediation among different castes and communities.’
‘A Lok Sabha constituency is so big that no one human being can do justice to the demands of his or her area’
‘Our democracy is systematically loaded in favour of big parties which have the money to throw around.’
‘Yes, if BJP were to come to power it would target AAP. But to fight for this idea of India, we must be willing to pay a price’
Political scientist and psephologist Yogendra Yadav has been thinking, commenting and writing about politics for much of his life. But as the poet said, between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow. Perhaps Yogendra Yadav realises this as he makes his electoral debut from the Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency, contesting on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket and encountering vicious mud-slinging, big parties with enormous funds, and motivated media reporting.
Ajaz Ashraf spoke to Yogendra Yadav, as he hopped from one stop to another campaigning in Gurgaon. Yadav spoke candidly about the controversy over the name, Salim, given to him in his childhood, the flawed nature of political representation in India, the partisan role of the media, about his political rival who symbolises what is called the royal feudal political culture, and the necessity of nurturing the idea of India.
To begin with, is it true, as has been alleged, that you have been introducing yourself as Salim in the Muslim-dominated area of your constituency?
AAP’s former Gurgaon district convenor, Ramesh Yadav, held a press conference alleging that I have been going around in Mewat introducing myself as Salim. I have made about 100 speeches in Mewat and over a dozen journalists have covered my campaign there. I couldn’t have gone around introducing myself as Salim without anyone noticing it. This allegation is nonsense. The question is: why did the name Salim come up? The fact is that this was the name I was given in my school.
It is part of my family history. My grandfather was killed in a communal riot in Hissar (in Haryana) in 1936. My father was just seven years old then. He saw the killing. My grandfather was the headmaster of a school. There was a riot during the Dusserra-Eid (festivities). The rioters wanted to enter the school hostel to kill the children. My grandfather said, ‘Over my dead body’. The rioters just chopped him. My father saw it. He also saw the riots of 1947. In this part of the world, Muslims were massacred, completely wiped out. I think it affected him very deeply. Well, he could have become your typical RSS member, having seen his own father, my grandfather, chopped. But the fact he saw both – he doesn’t like talking about it, I have tried probing him, but he doesn’t speak beyond a point – affected him deeply. He decided to would give Muslim names to his children. So he named his first daughter, my eldest sister, Nagma. My extended family objected saying her Muslim name would make it impossible for her to get married.
Was she called Nagma Yadav?
No, just Nagma. You see, my father didn’t use Yadav in his name for a long time. It was decided that a Muslim name would be given to a son. So Nagma became Neelam, the other sister was named Poonam. Then I was born, and I was called Salim. Since then, my entire extended family knows me as Salim. It is not my nickname. I was registered in school as Salim.
No, just Salim. I grew up in the border town of Ganganagar. In school, they would tease me mercilessly. For instance, they would say you are not your parents’ real child. I began to ask my father as to why he had given me such a strange name. I was five years old then, and I said to my father that until he changed my name I wouldn’t go to school. It was then that my father gave me a set of five names and asked me to choose one. I chose Yogendra.
The funny thing is that though the teasing stopped, the name of Salim remained stuck to me. In my village, Ganganagar, school and college, people continued to call me Salim. In fact, when I began to appear on television, I got a few calls saying, ‘Salim, we saw you on TV, but why have they given you the name of Yogendra Yadav’. My universe is divided into two. When I hear someone call me Salim, I know it has to be someone from my childhood. Yogendra is my formal name. All my family members still call me Salim.
Why did you decide to hold a rally in Mewat on the day Narendra Modi had his in Gurgaon? What was the symbolic importance of the venue?
Narendra Modi represents a challenge to the very idea of India. This is not something I am saying now, or after becoming a candidate, or after joining AAP. I have been saying this ever since the Gujarat massacre of 2002. Therefore, we thought we needed to respond to his coming to Gurgaon. There is a lot of hype around him, and we wanted to respond to that. But why respond from Mewat? That is because Modi is an issue in Mewat. He is not an issue in other parts of the constituency like Rewari.
Why isn’t Modi an issue in areas other than Mewat?
That’s because the BJP hasn’t been an important force in this part of the world, because much of the hype around Modi is non-existent once you go to rural areas. Here people are concerned about their bread-and-butter issues, about the real development issues, so on. Why is he an issue in Mewat? Because Mewat happens to be a place where there is a large Muslim population, and they have, by and large, kept a distance from Muslim politics of the country. But Gujarat or Narendra Modi has affected them. It is one of the few national issues that the Meos of Mewat have noticed, and have an opinion about. And they don’t like the prospect of his becoming the prime minister.
Did you hold the rally in Mewat to convey to its Muslim population that you would stand with them?
Yes. The prospect of Modi becoming Prime Minister and what it means to the idea of India is something I have talked about at every single rally there. Therefore, it was only natural for us to send out a message to him from Mewat, to also demonstrate to its people as to who is really fighting Narendra Modi. One of the things that I have talked about in Mewat is that AAP is the only party today which is taking Modi on, which is capable of taking on the BJP. We pose the only serious challenge to the BJP.
That was what we wanted to concretize in the rally at Ghasera, which happens to be the almost perfect symbolism of what we wished to say. This is a village which Mahatma Gandhi visited on December 19, 1947. He came here when thousands of Meos were leaving this country, and had lost hope of living in their motherland. This is where Gandhi arrives. He holds a mahapanchayat and assures them that India is their country, that the Meos are a proud community, that they have an integral deep connections with India, that they must not leave the country. He translated the Constitutional promise of secularism to them in simple words. He assured them that in this country no one community will be able to dominate, that they would have equal say and equal rights. This assurance prompted 70,000 Meos to travel back, on foot, from the border and settle here. Ghasera is as important as, say, Champaran and Jallianwala Bagh are in our history.
The message from Ghasera is that this election is about either choosing Narendra Modi’s way or Gandhi’s way, that is, either you take the majoritarian politics of Modi or you take the inclusive politics of Gandhi. Modi or Gandhi, that is symbolised by Ghasera. That was why we held the rally there.
Apart from Muslims, have any other social groups or categories of voters who have expressed worries about Modi?
When I look at Dalits, there is an unstated irritation with him. There is a sense among them that Modi is not our man. Their reaction to him is very, very sharp. I have heard them use four-letter words for Modi whenever he is discussed. There is an intuitive sense among Dalits that he does not represent their politics. Much of the excitement about Modi is largely in the urban drawing rooms, or among the rural upper crust. These days, in villages, there is a service class, which dominates discussions.
By service class, do you mean retired government officials?
By service class, I mean people who have jobs. In fact, whatever little prosperity you see in villages is largely through this service class. In this class there is some excitement about Modi.
Do they manage to change the political discourse of villages?
Yes, they do have opinion making powers. In fact, opinion-makers both in villages and urban areas have been excited about Modi; he has some traction there. But I don’t think this excitement is spread across the entire political spectrum.
Gurgaon, like so many Lok Sabha constituencies, combine distinct rural and urban segments, each with its own needs and demands. How do you reconcile these?
This is a challenge of politics, which is all about mediation. Unfortunately, the decline of politics in our country has meant loss of mediation. Gurgaon is a very interesting constituency. It combines almost all the diversities that India has. It has Mumbai-like urban places; in Mewat, it has some of the most backward parts of the country; it has industries and a large rural agrarian hinterland; it has Hindus and Muslims. As a large diverse place, the problems of the people are also very, very different. Much of the politics in this area has been around one caste or community. One caste or community projects its leader and then that leader manages…
Can you explain that?
There are two or three dominant communities here. There are Yadavs, who are a dominant agrarian community and are about 25 per cent of the population. Then you have the Muslims, who are actually the single largest community, a little less than 30 per cent. Third, Dalits comprise 20 per cent. You have urban voters who are not seen in caste and community terms. The traditional politics in this area has been that someone would try to get all the Yadav votes, and then make opportunistic alliance elsewhere and do some vote buying. Or someone will get Meo votes and have a little add-on because of the party he or she represents. They have simply not even attempted to bring all segments of the society together.
This is what we are trying to do. For the first time, someone who is not a Meo is trying to get votes in Mewat. Till now, the assumption has been that if you are not a Meo, don’t even try to get votes in Mewat. What distinguishes our campaign from others is our attempt to speak to every social segment and bring them together. No one has attempted this in the past. Everyone finds it ridiculous and tells me, why are you even trying this? You won’t get these votes. For me, politics is not just about votes; it is also about a dream of India, it is about a vision of India, a vision that brings different sections of society together. It is about getting the urban Gurgaon voter to speak to Dalits of villages in Bawal. Unless you do that, you don’t have serious politics. It is hard because there is no precedent of this kind here.
Apart from the fact that your hometown – Rewari – happens to be in Gurgaon, was there any other reason why you chose to contest the Lok Sabha election from here?
I was born here, my village is here, my town is here, my social circle is here. For the last 12 years, whatever little work I have done in social and political life, it has been focused in this area. In 2002, we took out a yatra through Haryana, at the end which we formed the Sampoorna Kranti Manch. The Manch has worked in Gurgaon, Rewari and Mewat areas. Our aim was to create political consciousness, to raise issues which were not being raised, and participating in popular struggles. I have been involved in many farmer agitations, two or three agitations on the issue of land acquisition – one in Bawal in Rewari, one against the Reliance SEZ in Gurgaon district, and one in Mewat.
As I keep saying, I did not choose this constituency. It is this constituency which chose me. I did not want to contest from a safe seat. My residence is in East Delhi, and I could have requested to be fielded from the East Delhi constituency. Gurgaon is 100 times more difficult to contest from than East Delhi. I have always felt that this is where my politics is. Even though I have stayed in Delhi for 20 years, I have never cast my vote there. I always had my vote in the village.
What can an MP who is not in the Central government do for his constituency? After all, under the MPLADS allocation the MP can suggest a development project of Rs 5 crore a year, or Rs 25 crore over five years, which is an insignificant amount for a large parliamentary constituency.
It is absolutely true that nobody in this country knows what precisely the role of an MP, because legislation is something no one cares about. The area is simply so large that no one human being can do justice to the demands of that area, because people expect from an MP what they expect from a sarpanch, municipal councilor, MLA. It is extremely difficult for a person from a ruling party or outside it to meet these expectations. It becomes tougher if you are not from the ruling party. It is not the ruling party at the Centre that matters, it is the ruling party at the state which matters here, because most of the problems get resolved at this level. Formally speaking, the MP has to perform some high-end functions. In reality, though, much of MP’s role lies in articulation of demands and issues. People expect an MP to at least speak, or mount pressure on authorities to deliver, to ensure their problems become visible.
I feel Lok Sabha constituencies are just too large for anyone to fight elections without money.
Money or no, the Lok Sabha constituencies are physically…
No, the reason why I ask you is that the sheer size of Lok Sabha constituencies is to the advantage of big parties which are in a position to mobilise massive funds. Don’t you think Lok Sabha constituencies should be split?
Absolutely. Money apart, I think it is bad for democracy to expect one MP to look after and represent a constituency of 18 lakh voters and a population of 25 lakhs, as is true of Gurgaon. This is humanly impossible, especially because there is no delineation of what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to perform municipal functions, that of an MLA, and that of an MP. There is something very flawed about the scale of representation in our country. Given this enormous scale, only those who can throw money can connect in some way.
In other words, our democracy favours big parties and big money.
Of course, it does. It is systematically loaded in favour of big parties which have the money to throw around.
On your campaign in Gurgaon, what are your arguments to people why they should choose you over BJP’s Rao Inderjit Singh, who won on the Congress ticket in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections?
The fact is that it would be hard to think of an argument for him, and I am saying this not simply because I happen to be contesting against him. He comes from that royal feudal culture of politics, where these people thought it was their birthright to become members of Parliament. Rao Inderjit is from the local Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of my area. His father Rao Birender Singh, I think, became an MLA or minister in 1952. Since then, the family has been ruling the roost, apart from one or two elections. I don’t think even his supporters would claim he has done any work in this area. This is old-style politics: you are laidback. Inderjit has been inaccessible to people, positively rude to them. The legend is that if you go to his place, he would ask you the name of your village and then call his secretary to pull out information. He would turn to you and say, from your village I got just 300 votes, why are you talking to me? He has been spectacularly non-performing, spoke three times in five years in Parliament, asked 10 questions. Even by the standard of non-performing MPs, this is particularly shocking. It is not that he is not an articulate person. He is English-educated, of the kind feudal lords have been.
The reason why he left the Congress was because he fell out with both Sonia Gandhi and Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, tried very hard to regain (his footings), and then realised that no way he would be admitted back into the inner circle of Congress. So six months before the elections, he floated a sort of forum and, finally, made his way into the BJP.
Is it true what is being rumoured – that he tried to get the AAP ticket?
I should not comment on that. It would not be fair of me to comment on it at this stage. His performance is a clear negative. There are two things that sustain him. One, he tends to fall back upon caste-community pride. He would go around appealing to village heads that, look, it is a matter of my prestige, which is exactly what he is doing now. Two, he is also trying to make this election into a Hindu-Muslim issue. That if you don’t vote for me, INLD’s Zakir Hussain would win. He is trying to create a polarisation. Besides that, his only plank is Modi. His hope is that Modi would help him counter the negatives of his non-performance. In this constituency, leaders don’t even think of cross-sectional mobilisation, even the possibility of getting support across castes and communities don’t strike most leaders.
AAP has been very critical of the media. What constitutes the core of your criticism?
We have been making a distinction between the character of the journalist and the character of the media. The character of the media is not determined by the character of the journalist, but by the ownership structure, by the larger interests involved. Poor journalists are mere cogs in the media wheel.
Basically, what you are saying is that the freedom of speech has been usurped by media-owners from journalists?
Absolutely. For me, the character of local media has been quite an eye-opener.
You mean, media based in Gurgaon?
Gurgaon, Rewari, Mewat, different places. You would think I have a media profile in this country. Six months ago, local newspapers would vie for an interview with me, for a sound bite. But now that I am here as a candidate, I have encountered very strange reactions. There is a lot of pre-fabricated stuff that finds itself in newspapers. All kinds of non-issues are made into issues, and the coverage can be brazenly partisan.
For instance, Arvind Kejriwal was here for a road-show in the town of Rewari. The road-show was for two and a half hours, and the streets were spilling over with people. In one particular corner, six people stood with black flags. They did not have the courage to look into our eyes; they were looking down. Next day, most newspapers had the headline, Kejriwal greeted with black flags.
Are you talking about local or national media here?
You see, what people don’t realise that big newspapers in Hindi are not your so-called national newspapers. It is the Dainik Jagrans, the Punjab Kesris, the Bhaskars which are the big ones. In these big newspapers the news was about black flags. It was not just about headlines. The entire coverage made it out to be that it was as if it was a flop show. It happened with one big national newspaper and one big Hindi newspaper. I will not name the two. One dealt with the rally in Gurgaon, the other with the roadshow in Rewari.
I happened to know the journalists. I called both. I said, the report is factually wrong and you know it. Both of them said, yes, the reports are completely mistaken. Both also said, we had sent a different copy, but our office ordered us to write something else. These two are very large newspapers. They are not your tiny fly-by-night operators. They said they were ordered to write that Kejriwal’s road-show was a flop, that it had a very poor reception.
You are talking about two national newspapers.
Ya, they are two of the biggest newspapers of this country – one in Hindi, one in English. All kinds of tendentious stuff have found their way into newspaper reporting.
What about the news item that reported 200 people returning AAP caps?
This happened in two ways. First, newspapers started saying that thousands of AAP workers are going to join the BJP, that 15000 workers are going to do that. Now, we don’t have so many people in this city of Gurgaon working for us. Finally, they managed to show that 200 workers returned their cap. Yet, none of them tried to check whether they even knew the names of AAP leaders. Only three had something to with AAP. This was a non-serious episode that happened.
The serious episode happened when Arvind (Kejriwal) came. Ramesh Yadav resigned. It was news worthy. I wouldn’t say it wasn’t, for he was the district convenor. But he said the entire executive has resigned. Every newspaper carried it verbatim. They didn’t check who the executive members are and whether or not they have resigned. The fact is, only four people had resigned. When the next day we said that, nobody cared. The elemental thing about checking doesn’t happen.
Again, a leading newspaper published a report saying I hadn’t disclosed my social media accounts while filing my nomination. He called me to check and I pointed to him exactly where I had disclosed my accounts. I told him that I was given an old form which did not ask for this information. When I went to file my nominations, they said this form didn’t have a column for this information. They told me where to write my social media accounts. So I wrote it there. For that journalist, the news should have been dead. Yet, the next morning it was still there. Obviously, I denied it.
Why is the media against AAP?
In Gurgaon, we have a certain presence at the ground level. We are a threat. But in many other constituencies we don’t pose such a threat. Unlike the Congress, we pose a moral challenge to the BJP. We stand in the way of Mr Modi’s dream-march to power. The Congress poses zero challenge to them, largely because it has lost all legitimacy. Because Aam Aadmi Party questions the BJP on the moral plane, we are the only party which is creating difficulties for them. The Congress-BJP exchanges on TV are like dewar-bhabhi joke. Underlying all their exchanges there is cordiality. But when it comes to AAP, the BJP reacts strongly. That is because it hurts them where it hits most.
If the BJP were to come to power, they are going to target AAP.
Of course, they will.
Are you all prepared for it?
If you are going to fight for something as big as the idea of India, then you must be willing to pay a price. There is no doubt that they will get after people like me, in fact even before me, Arvind.
AAP has been talking about Lal Bahadur Shastri and Bhagat Singh. The Congress has Nehru, the BJP Sardar Patel. Why have you all chosen Shastri?
Shastri fits in our narrative perfectly. Shastri represents a very clean style of politics, in public memory his personality symbolises probity. Bhagat Singh is an icon available for something radical.