On whether a positive outcome would be seen as a referendum on his popularity, Modi said, “BJP believes in collective leadership. It will be a referendum on our performance, intent and conduct.”
The PM strongly backed UP CM Yogi Adityanath and denied the state government had been shielding Union minister Ajay Mishra over the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. “Yogi ji has prioritised security (in UP) and improved its law and order,” the PM said.
Modi justified his dramatic decision to recall the three controversial agricultural reform laws. “I had said that in my address also that I was withdrawing the three laws in national interest. Future events will explain why doing so had become necessary,” said the PM when asked whether the retreat marked a personal setback.
He did not agree with the suggestion that being incumbent could hurt BJP in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. “Wherever BJP got the opportunity to work with stability, there is environment of ‘pro-incumbency’ instead of ‘anti-incumbency’. BJP always emerges victoriously with ‘pro-incumbency’ in elections,” Modi said.
He said the people of Uttar Pradesh have already thrown away the old theory of ‘ek bar aao, ek bar jao’ (come to power once and then go). “BJP has itself experienced that since 2014. People saw our government’s work and we again got elected in 2017 (assembly) and similarly in 2019 (Lok Sabha polls) as well. Now in 2022, they will see our work and again accept us,” the PM added.
Modi said the tie-up between SP boss Akhilesh Yadav and RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary could not be a hurdle for BJP, and recalled that the ruling party had got the better of Congress-SP alliance in 2017 and SP-BSP pact in 2019.
“We saw the game of ‘two boys’ earlier (2017 Uttar Pradesh elections) too … They had such arrogance that they used the words ‘Gujarat ke do gadhe’. UP taught them a lesson. And later, they had Bua (BSP supremo Mayawati) with them,” he said.
PM backed Yogi Adityanath on the charge that the UP chief minister’s approach to law order ran afoul of legal procedure. “He has done everything as per the procedure. Else, there would have been so many PILs against him,” he said.
Live updates: Assembly polls kick off today with 58 seats in Jat-dominated areas of UP
On the allegation the UP government did not take action against Union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra, Modi said the state government has fully complied with the Supreme Court’s directives.
He praised the Yogi government’s performance, highlighting what he called improvement on the law and order front. “People faced troubles during previous governments because of mafia raj, gunda raj and the manner in which the strongmen enjoyed political patronage and status,” he said.
“Uttar Pradesh saw this from close quarters, women couldn’t step out. Today women say that they can step out even after dark. This trust is essential for security. There was a time in Uttar Pradesh when goons could do anything they wanted, today they surrender. Yogi ji prioritised security and didn’t compromise with it,” the PM said.
In a significant remark on caste and communities coming to the fore during elections, Modi said: “There is an intense focus on divisions and social inequity and how many tickets have gone to which caste is discussed in detail. But there is no such discussion with regard to other communities which are treated as a monolith. I come from Gujarat and I have seen there are at least 70 OBC castes among Muslims in the state and they get benefits also. But these never got talked about. It is time that the debate moved beyond these.”
Asked about the polarisation and its potential implications for India’s image abroad at a time when it is soliciting foreign investments, the PM struck an assertive note saying that the country currently enjoys a solid reputation and that is largely independent of media. “You can see in FDI and FII inflows as well as the response to our PLI scheme,” he said.
The PM continued his attack on “nepotism” in politics as represented by family outfits which are governed by dynastic succession. “Such parties are now all over the country. They represent a threat to democracy by acting as a deterrent to youth who might wish to join politics but who realise that their future avenues would be blocked in a party where leadership is decided by hereditary succession. Even those who wish to leave BJP find themselves without alternatives and that is why our party keeps growing,” he said.