Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 51, Dated December 26, 2009
‘Mayawati Is Insecure As A Woman And Dalit’
Shahid Siddiqui, 58, Editor of Urdu daily Nai Duniya, is better known for his political avatar. A former close aide of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh, Siddiqui surprised many when he left the Samajwadi Party after it bailed out the UPA on the nuclear deal. He switched to Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, from which he was expelled without any notice. A relaxed Siddiqui shared rare insights on the woman who runs Uttar Pradesh, saying, “I never wanted to be part of her coterie because to be in it, you also have to be sleazy.” An edited version of an hour-long interview with HARINDER BAWEJA
|Photo: Vijay Pandey
Any regrets on being expelled?
Joining the BSP was the biggest mistake of my life. I thought I would be working for Dalits, the backward, poor and for the minorities. Minorities are like orphans in Indian politics, especially the Muslims. Muslims cannot form their own party because that will communalise Indian politics. They are taken for granted by most of the political parties. I thought that with the Dalit-Muslim combination, we can create a new politics in India. That did not happen because there is no discussion on policies in the BSP. You are just dictated because Mayawati is so insecure. She is terrified of the slightest dissent or criticism.
Why is Mayawati insecure?
I think she is insecure as a woman and as a Dalit. Whether it was Indira Gandhi or Jayalalitha, most women leaders at the top are insecure. They think society is working against them. They become aggressive and insecure. Another reason is that being a Dalit she may be feeling that she is not accepted. It is a psychological thing.
You seem to suggest that insecurity and women go together.
No. They are targeted for their gender because politics is male dominated. Indira Gandhi was targeted because she was a woman. Women who have come into politics have come because of their male counterparts, whether a father or a brother or a husband.
|‘MAYAWATI IS BUILDING STATUES LIKE
HITLER OR SADDAM HUSSEIN WOULD.
SHE IS A DICTATOR NOT A DEMOCRAT’
Are you hinting at Kanshi Ram being…
(Interrupts) No I’m not hinting at anything. Don’t put words into my mouth. In Tamil Nadu and elsewhere we might have had cases but I’m also not against that. Any relationship that is open and honest is wonderful.
Describe Mayawati’s functioning style
I know Maywaitji since 1984 and knew Kanshi Ramji since 1982 when I went to interview him at Regarpura, where he then lived in a small room. And I have seen how hardworking he was. He was one of the great Indian politicians who had understanding of Indian society. He was a great sociologist. He knew the caste system and how it functions better than most sociologists in this country. His mind worked like a computer. I have seen him growing and I have seen Mayawatiji growing in his shadow.
But I will give it to her that she built the party in UP, not Kashi Ramji. That is her contribution. And I also respect her because she came up, unlike so many alone. Kashi Ramji helped of course, but in UP it was she who was building the party not Kashi Ramji. So at one point she was extremely open with her workers. She used to mix with them. But once power came, as she became important, she started distancing herself from them, cut them off mentally. I have seen her erecting walls around her. That I have seen. Today she doesn’t want anybody to tell her anything. Even small things like why the towel was not placed on the chair properly. Because every chair, every podium is covered with a towel. She is afraid of touching the bare ground with her bare hands.
For little things she scolds her workers, yet I don’t see anybody really raising their voice. There was a time when people from different Dalit organisations interacted and gave her feedback, but not any more. Nobody in the party knows just who her advisers are… mainly a few bureaucrats. And she has her own mind of course.
Today they ask me why I’m going to the media. Well it was Mayawati who said you can to the media. You are only person who will be allowed to go to the media and participate in the discussions.
Is she afraid of the media or does she think she can do without the media?
Both. She is afraid of the media and believes that it is dominated by the upper caste who are anti-Dalits. She would also say, “I have always won despite opposition from the media, so I don’t need them at all.” What I had been telling her was that if you want to expand the party you will need the media. With the Dalits you may be able to do without the media, but today there’s a growing middle class and even people in rural areas have middle class aspirations. So I told her she should try cultivate the media, even set up a media centre. But she totally refuses to do that. The reason, I’m sorry to say, is that her style of functioning is totally undemocratic, and the media asks critical questions. And she cannot take that. She is unable to take that. So that’s her psyche. This could be because Dalits have been oppressed for thousand of years and they think any hint of criticism is an attack on their Dalit identity. And in the party of course nobody speaks.
For public meetings people are brought from all around the state. She herself comes at the last moment like a queen, speaks and goes away. The point is this is happening with most of the regional parties, and not just to BSP. This is because we have given the handle of the anti-defection law to regional satraps as a result these parties, many of them which were movements, like Lalu’s party or the Akali Dal, have turned into family enterprises. The family now has the power to throw out anybody who disagrees with its functioning. So you have this contradiction, where you have a democracy but political parties are autocratic. Once in five years you have elections and for five years you have autocratic rule by individuals – the chief minister or his family or those who are financing them. I’m not speaking against Mayawatiji or the BSP, but generally. I am making an academic point. But it was not taken by them and I am not sorry for that. Mayawati made an announcement, saying she was grooming somebody to take over. Now who is this person?
You can call Mayawati despotic; you can call her arrogant, but you have to concede that she is a grassrooots politician.
Yes, she is… she is… in fact she was. She was a grassroots worker for nearly 20 years. But after she became chief minister three-four times she grew so fond of these trappings of power that she gradually got cut off from the grassroots. No party worker can meet her anymore. Even as general secretary, I could not meet her. I made hundreds of calls to Lucknow but still could not talk to her. You just talk to Babu Singh Kushwa she says, and he says “OK, karenge karenge, baat karenge”. You cannot talk to her. Even in the Samajwadi Party and the Congress you have meetings. The decision may be taken elsewhere, but there is at least a pretense of democratic functioning. Here you don’t even have that much. She says, “Hamare samaj mein aise hi chalta hai.” Thing is each time she came to power lots of her partymen defected, and this has made her extremely wary. This is why she keeps such an iron grip on the party. Her reasoning is: “If I permit the slightest dissent today, tomorrow a hundred more will be dissenting. So nip the trouble in the bud.”
You said that in the BSP one gets orders from the top and no discussion takes place. What kind of orders did you receive? Say I’d be told to go and campaign in some area or support somebody or… that’s it, and it happens very suddenly: “You have to be in Lucknow at 9 am tomorrow.” Now come what may, wherever you are in the world, you’ve got to be there. You wait there, she comes, she makes her speech and goes away. Most of the information comes through the party coordinators who are briefed by people like Nasimuddin Siddiqui or Kushwaha. There is no system.
In your 17 months in the BSP, how often did you talk to her?
Yes. And that too with difficulty. In the BSP, there is no pretense of democratic functioning. She is afraid because she has faced defection in the past.
You have never had a one-on-one discussion with her?
No, I had. But it was always on an individual basis, like the one at her house in Delhi in her house where she was very nice to me, very open. We sat for hours together with her brother’s kids, they playing with her and I with them and talking to her. I must admit that she has throughout been very respectful to me. The reports that she misbehaves with her party workers are not true.
Is Mayawati worried about the Rahul Gandhi factor in UP?
Yes, she seems to be very worried. The thing is the Dalits came to the BSP with lots of aspirations. They support the party blindly thinking it will pull them out of their thousands of years of misery. But now she is giving tickets to many people from other classes, and most of them are rich. They finance election campaigns and pay the party bosses, and so they are extremely arrogant. They have no respect for the common man or the rank and file. And they want returns for their investments. They don’t give a damn about Dalits. They take them for granted thinking they will get Dalit votes anyway. Since other parties do not think they will, where is the point in spending money on them? This is causing resentment to build up not only among the Dalits, but also educated people. I find people very unhappy with BSP MLAs. But Mayawati is afraid of taking action against any legislator because she fears that if she does they will all unite to unseat her. This is why she sidelined SC Mishra. There was a rumour that he was hobnobbing with the Congress to become the CM. Legislators are minting money, using the bureaucrats. The ground situation in UP is terrible. Mayawati has reason to be worried, because if the situation is not controlled then, the BSP too could go the SP way. She may have won in the by-elections by using State power and money, but in the next elections even the Dalits may begin to move away from her.
Like her administration prevented Rahul from visiting the university…
See my take is that if people have to fight the Gandhis they need to do it politically. We must organise rallies and go and work among the Dalits, because every one is ignoring them. By stopping Rahul like this she is only strengthening the Congress.
Did you tell her this?
I did, but I had to wait for nearly six months to be able to do it. I had wanted her to support the Ganga Nath Mishra Commission report. Under the Kashinath Memorial Awaas Yojana houses are being built for the Dalits, but the Muslims, most of whom are homeless, are not included. I had pressed for a 15-20 percent housing quota for Muslims. I said do not reserve anything but tell the bureaucracy that you want these many Muslim names otherwise if the list is to be cleared. This is what Bahuguna had done in his time, but she just comes back to the single point, “Tumhare Mussalmano ne vote kyun nahin diya.” Every time you meet her she says, “Tumhare Mussalman gaddar hain.” So when I realised that I could do nothing for the Muslims, the Dalits, Indian politics or go speak to the media I quit. Some would say that you are speaking now because you are bitter about the experiment.
But that is natural because when I spoke out I was expelled. Now that I have been expelled, I can speak freely.
You spoke to the media, but did you speak to her?
Many times. I told Nasimuddin Siddqui, SC Mishra, Kushwaha and others that this was not the right way. I told her on telephone a couple of times that we must have a plan to bring together the minorities. Earlier, when I had joined the party, I gave her notes about how we should go about it and she promised that she would implement it. But she did not. Later she said that since Muslims had not voted for her, what was the point? I told her that Dalits also started voting for you only gradually. It is a fact, though, that Muslims are not attracted to the BSP. They have moved away from the SP but they are not coming to the BSP, and the Congress is trying to cash in on that.
But why aren’t they coming to the BSP?
Because they feel that the BSP has no place for Muslim leaders. They need somebody to tell their problems to and she is not ready to do anything about their development, growth and backwardness.
Where from do BSP legislators and MPs get so much money?
I don’t know if they have the capacity to pay or to win. What I do know is that they in some particular area they will give tickets to a particular caste, because in the neighbouring one another caste has benefited. This is called caste engineering and not social engineering. The media uses the wrong word. Each time you meet Mayawati you have to pay in lakh. It’s a total money game. You can’t survive in the BSP unless you make illicit money, and then don’t give it up.
How did you survive for 17 months?
I survived because I stayed away. If you tell them that you are bringing something on her birthday you will get faster appointments.
You have always been in parties where individuals have mattered more, like Amar Singh who dominates the SP.
When I joined the SP, Amar Singh was not that dominating. There were discussions. There were a lot of socialist leaders then. What I am saying is that with this anti-defection law, leaders think they can get away with anything, because defection requires two-thirds majority. Where MLAs do not have any influence they have to move like sheep. That is why people like Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad and Jayalalithaa are where they are these days. People saw how they became so powerful. Karunanidhi was not so powerful 6-7 years back. Today his family is. The media should study this phenomenon. I am talking about this and facing the music. I was a journalist and continue to be one and so I ask these questions, look at things differently. That is what I am doing.
What is Amar Singh’s hold on Mulayam?
That nobody has been able to figure out. Even if a senior leader makes an innocuous remark about Amar Singh, he is made to apologise publicly. If somebody says “aap bahot accha kaam karte hain par thoda sa bollywood se door rahiy,'’ it will be enough for that man to be humiliated. Mulayam Singhji has total faith in Amar Singh.
What is the reason for this?
He controls the finances and these poor people who come from regional caste-based parties don’t know how to manage their finances. They were not getting money from the big industries. If you have people like Prem Gupta or Amar Singh and they have a role to play, then… They were there in politics earlier too, but they were not party leaders then. Today money is so important in elections that no leader can survive without pots and pots of it. People who can manipulate and manage money are welcome in any party and become powerful day by day.
Just two days, before the nuke deal you switched allegiance to the BSP and told me that Muslims do not vote on issues related to foreign policy.
That is true. For me the nuclear deal was very important, but for ordinary Muslims it may not be because they don’t vote on such issues. Muslims voted for the SP and the Congress. They didn’t vote for parties opposing the deal like the CPM. Look anywhere around you, Indians don’t vote on foreign policy issues; but that does not mean that I should not have my views on it. I felt the nuke deal was not in the country’s interest. Everybody, including Mulayam Singh, agreed but suddenly there was a switch. It was a deflection of the party from its own ideology. Now they agree with what I said. They say that it was a mistake to support the Manmohan Singh government and the Congress on the deal.
Why did Amar Singh take that decision?
That’s what I wanted to know. They told me this is politics, you won’t understand. I don’t know how the nuke deal can be politics because it involves the country’s future, its environment’s future, its generations’ future. Energy security is extremely important for India, but there should be no investment in nuclear energy. We will need it after 30 years. Right now it is solar, hydro and wind energy that we require. I got so involved with the issue that I went to the US to study the whole energy security question. How was the West planning its energy requirements? Suddenly I was told that I was wrong.
Why did you lose Bijnor?
There were two reasons. First, I did not have money. People before me had lots of money and the media was for sale. The media played a big role in defeating me because I did not have the money to pay them. So you get negative reports, get blackmailed openly by the media barons. They told me that for not publishing damaging news about me “aapko 25 percent ka discount ho jayega”. The person who was contesting before was part of the mining mafia – Avtar Singh Bhadana – who was spending crore of rupees. He came from the SP, then switched over to the NCP. Secondly, the BSP coordinator worked overtime to defeat me. He told every MLA, “Agar yeh jeet gaya to tum sabko agla ticket nahin milega.” I got the DM changed to an honest one. I saw that many of the trucks were impounded. They were making money from the traffic movements between UP and Uttaranchal. I got that stopped. Here I was fighting to stop corruption, but then I saw that my own party people were totally corrupted. I was defeated by 20,000 seats. I got more votes than most of these people. Five MLAs who were working there had done nothing, and I had to face the music for them. There was no electricity or development. People are angry. UP is in a real bad shape
So these MLAs were able to work against you despite knowing that Mayawati wanted you to win?
Mayawati called them, but they did not bother. She told me that she would take action against them. But after the elections she said, "Abhi kuch nahin kar sakte, ye bhaag jayenge." These MLAs only want their family members in the party, no one form outside it.
What is Shahid Siddiqui’s political future now?
The future is very bright. Political activists who can speak their mind should come together and form a group, rising above party divisions and working for better governance and delivery. I feel democracy has failed somewhere. It is not just about collections. Corruption is eating into the core of our democracy. You can’t fight it unless you can rise above party divisions. There is autocracy in the parties, which needs to be fought. We have a semi-feudal democracy, and I have believed this to be true for years. I would like thinking people, not just those who are in politics but also those who say that corrupt people have spoilt politics, to come forward.
What about the SP?
I am not going anywhere right now. I am going to enjoy my freedom. If the SP democratises and changes itself, then I will welcome that. I feel regional parties are most important because India is a federal society and it has to be decentralised. There are so many interests that they can’t all be handled by a single party, so we need regional parties. And these need to interact with each other. Because of the anti-deflection law you can’t say anything in Parliament too. Earlier you used to have 200 days of Parliament sessions; now there are hardly 80-90 days. Nobody cares. Where is the point in wasting the nation’s time in discussing things in Parliament if you can’t convince or be convinced? I believe that neither does Parliament nor our parties offer a platform. What kind of democracy is this? So I believe if I join a party again my voice will be stifled.