Azam Khan Behind Muzaffarnagar Riots: Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan
Sanjeev Balyan, Union minister of state for water resources, was a little-known BJP leader till September 2013, when he was booked for violating prohibitory orders during the Muzaffarnagar riots. Q&A
File photo of Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan, who along with other leaders met UP CM Yogi on Monday. (Reuters)
Sanjeev Balyan, Union minister of state for water resources, was a little-known BJP leader till September 2013, when he was booked for violating prohibitory orders during the Muzaffarnagar riots.
Of all the BJP leaders accused of inciting violence in riot-torn western UP in 2013, Balyan’s rise has perhaps been the most meteoric. The debutant MP was given a place in the Modi cabinet after he won the Muzaffarnagar Lok Sabha seat in 2014, and sources say his proximity to BJP national president Amit Shah has helped him emerge as the party’s star campaigner in the communally restive region.
As a Jat leader, he has been instrumental in bringing the community closer to the BJP. For many, however, he continues to be a divisive figure. Balyan spoke to News 18’s Uday Singh Rana on the upcoming UP assembly elections, Muzaffarnagar riots, Kairana ‘exodus’ and more. Excerpts:
Q: Your party has not yet announced a Chief Ministerial candidate for the UP assembly polls. Is it because BJP wants to avoid a messy power struggle within?
A: No, there is no power struggle. We are a united party. The only states where we announced CM candidates in the recent past were Assam and Delhi. In most other states, like Haryana and Maharashtra, we went in without a CM face and we swept those polls. With Modiji at the helm, there won’t be infighting. He is the undisputed leader.
Q: But even at the lower levels of the party, there seems to be infighting. There are some constituencies where there are over 20 people vying for one ticket. How do you plan to manage the infighting at the district and booth level so close to the polls?
A: First of all, I want to tell you that every single party worker in the BJP has the right to demand a ticket and then it is up to the leadership. We are not like the BSP, where tickets are sold to the highest bidder. We only look at merit and nothing else. As far as managing expectations is concerned, they can be managed easily. Every time there are elections, especially recently, BJP tickets are always in demand. There are multiple contenders for every seat in every election. In that case, damage control is not tough. Eventually, everyone rallies behind the official party candidate.
Q: The Supreme Court recently ruled that no party or candidate can ask for votes on the basis of religion, caste, ethnicity or race. However, many BJP leaders have been known to give polarizing statements. The recent example of Sakshi Maharaj’s comments against Muslims is an example. Will this affect the election campaign?
A: I am still waiting for the day the media pulls up Mayawati for the comments she made the day after the Supreme Court verdict came out. She openly said that she has given a large number of seats to Muslims. By making this statement and asking Muslims to rally behind her party the very next day after the verdict, she has insulted the apex court. It seems the media has exempted Mayawati from everything. If any BJP leader had made such comments then the media would have crucified him or her. As far as Sakshi Maharaj’s comments are concerned, I spoke with him personally after the incident. I think he has said nothing wrong. He did not speak about any particular community. He only raised concerns over India’s growing population.
Q: But ‘4 wives, 40 children’ was a clear reference to Muslims.
A: I do not want to make any such inference. He did not mention any community by name. And even I agree that population growth is a problem in the country.
Q: This was not the only incident of divisive issues being raised by the BJP. When Kairana MP Hukum Singh alleged that 250 Hindu families had fled the town due to “pressure from another community”, the party threw its weight behind him. Even you claimed later that other areas had witnessed similar incidents.
A: If we had not raised this issue then we would have been asked, ‘Why are you not questioning the government?’ We are the Opposition party in UP and it is our responsibility to question the government when it is failing. The families that fled Kairana left due to rising crime. It is a law and order issue, not a communal one.
Q: But why talk only of ‘Hindu families’? Surely, other communities are just as affected by crime.
A: Of course, law and order concerns everyone. But the fact is that 250 families in Kairana did flee the town and all of those families happen to be Hindus. We are only stating the facts. Hukum Singh has spoken nothing but the truth.
Q: In 2014, you were elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time and were given a position in the Modi cabinet. Many would say that you owe your meteoric rise to the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 where you are one of the accused. Several other riot-accused BJP leaders, such as MLAs Suresh Rana and Sangeet Som, rose within the party’s ranks. Is the BJP rewarding controversial leaders?
A: All of us were booked only for violating Section 144 (prohibitory orders). We do not have criminal cases against us. There was not a single BJP leader in the region who was not booked. It is not a question of rewarding someone. Who else do we give tickets to when all of our leaders are being booked? Besides, the role of the state government has not been looked into.
Q: You have been a bitter critic of SP leader Azam Khan for his alleged role in the riots. Do you think he was involved in some way?
Yes. I think his role should be looked into. It was under his influence that the district magistrate and SSP of Muzaffarnagar were transferred. For an entire day, Muzaffarnagar kept burning and the district was without either a DM or an SSP. In the meantime, seven of the people involved in murdering Sachin and Gaurav (the two boys whose murder sparked the riots) were let off. On September 7, 2013, people returning from a mahapanchayat were fired upon near Jauli Canal. It is odd that the assailants were carrying automatic weapons. Clearly, this was all planned. We are ready for a CBI probe into this but it cannot be constituted without the recommendation of the state government. If we come to power in UP, we will ask the Centre to constitute an enquiry.
Q: In the Lok Sabha polls, the Jat community voted heavily in favor of the BJP. Now, however, that enthusiasm has waned after the Haryana Jat agitation. Many Jat outfits have spoken out against the BJP and said it was an ‘anti-Jat’ party. They feel let down after assurances of quotas were not fulfilled. As a Jat yourself, how do you respond to these allegations and do you think it will be tough for BJP to win UP without their support?
A: Those who say we have let Jats down are wrong. There were some problems in the way the UPA government pursued the case for Jat quotas. They never got the nod from the National Commission for Backward Castes. That is why the matter is still in the courts. It is not the BJP’s fault. In fact, we have been in favor of Jat quotas from the beginning.
Q: Last year, the BJP had launched a massive Dalit outreach program but that seems to have fizzled out. Is it because the BJP has lost hope of winning Dalit votes after incidents such as the Una floggings and the suicide of Rohith Vemula?
A: That is not true. We are constantly reaching out to all sections of society. BJP is an inclusive party which has more Dalit MPs than any other party. As far as those incidents are concerned, you can’t use singular incidents to decide the mood of entire communities. You can’t paint everyone with the same brush. If some wrongdoing has happened then it should be punished. However, it does not mean all our Dalit brothers and sisters have left us because of these incidents.
Q: The Samajwadi Party is in the middle of a bitter internal feud right now and some feel the party is headed for a split. Will this help the BJP?
A: I don’t think the party will split. This is a well-scripted family drama. The director, producer, script-writer and main actor of this play is one man – Mulayam Singh Yadav. He wanted everyone to stop asking Akhilesh Yadav what he has achieved in the last five years. He wanted to improve his son’s image. This is a great diversionary tactic.
Q: Speaking about Western UP, a lot of industries, including the brass industry in Moradabad and the Khurja pottery industry, were hit hard by demonetization. Opposition parties will try to make this a major electoral plank. How do you plan to counter the anti-demonetization sentiment?
A: We have never denied that there were problems. However, people have overwhelmingly supported this move. There have been no major incidents of violence or unrest. Everyone thinks that the decision will bring long-term gain to the economy. The Opposition can try to make this an issue but the people won’t support them.
Q: Who will be your main opponent in the upcoming assembly polls: SP or BSP?
A: My prediction is that SP and Congress will form an alliance and they will be our main opponents. Both parties are weak and will try to rely on each other. BSP will finish last since ‘Behenji’ is busy counting money. She has lost touch with the people. BJP will form the government with full majority.
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