Indian religion

India as a state has no religion…our agenda is social justice, and we are only raising that: Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel

One of only two BJP allies in the Uttar Pradesh elections, the Apna Dal (S) brings to the table the Kurmi vote and a strong performance in the last two polls as an NDA partner. As party leader and Union minister, Anupriya Patel edged out the rival Apna Dal faction led by his mother. Also in alliance with the BJP, the 40-year-old tried to chart her own course, fielding a Muslim candidate (the only NDA in the state) and stressing that the community is not an outcast for her.

Anupriya Patel talks to Liz Mathew about the UP election, the role of caste equations and her party’s relationship with the BJP:

What is your reading of the UP polls, which have entered the third phase?

The voter’s mood is very clear. In the phases already completed, they voted in favor of the NDA, including in the Suar Tanda constituency of Rampur where we lined up Haider Ali Khan against Abdullah Azam. The enthusiasm indicates that people voted for the development that the NDA government has brought in five years.

The Assembly poll is seen as caste versus religion. Do you agree?

You can never deny the impact of caste equations. But when the government has pushed for development, people from all communities and castes want to see the state grow because it provides opportunities for every individual. The social measures of the government, the massive development of infrastructures… the aspirations of all castes and all communities have been fulfilled.

Will the exit of leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya and others from the NDA split the OBC votes?

This is a narrative that some want… But my view is that these are people who had the privilege of being ministers in the NDA, (and) quit just before the election!… If they had had a OBC welfare issue, the outing could have happened another time.

Also in alliance with the BJP, Patel tried to chart her own course, fielding a Muslim candidate (the only NDA in the state) and emphasizing that the community is not an outcast for her.

Did their exit also give the Apna Dal, with its influence among the OBCs, more bargaining power within the NDA? And will it last after the elections?

First of all, I object to the use of the term negotiation for small parties. Large parties are tough negotiators, so the term should be used for large parties. Our alliance with the BJP is very stable. This is the fourth election that we have contested together… We had differences, but I would say that whenever we have raised concerns related to our ideology, these have been resolved. As a reserve for NEETs in the all-India quota, the Prime Minister took notice. Whenever we disagree with the BJP, it is about the welfare of the marginalized sections.

But the BJP also made you minister only before the UP elections?

Small parties have their own strengths, aspirations that big parties are not able to achieve… This unease will always be there because a national party would never want a regional party to come into existence… But when we come together, it is like 1 and 1 is 11 The synergy has a great effect and an unexpected impact. You remove the Apna Dal from this alliance and assess the situation of the BJP before it. The same goes for the Apna Dal. Both need each other and must continue to balance each other’s interests.

In Eastern UP, you get huge support. Did you get a fair seat sharing deal?

We were able to increase our share from 11 seats to 18. We spread the seats beautifully across the length and width of UP.

How do you see the hijab row?

Honestly, now is not the time to say anything about it and stir up controversy.

You are the only female minister among this government’s allies. Is there an attempt to intimidate Muslim women?

As we are in an election period, I would not like to add fuel to the fire. But I want to add this: the country will operate in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and the NDA government is committed to the empowerment of women. The Constitution guarantees minimum rights to everyone and there are also duties.

You spoke of a census of castes. But the BJP government seems reluctant about it.

I stand by what I said… India’s social fabric is governed by different castes and sub-castes. It is important to make a good scientific assessment of castes and sub-castes, which is why a caste census is extremely important. We have entered the Amrut Kal (golden period), we have no reason to run away from the reality of our social fabric.

Have you raised issues that you disagree with, such as its leaders’ rhetoric against minorities, with the BJP?

We raise issues. The BJP has a larger setup…and for them to come to a consensus, it may take a long time as there may be differences of opinion. But if there is merit in a particular case, national leaders take it seriously.

My party’s policy does not revolve around religion, it has always stood for social justice. So when it comes to a question about the cause of a disadvantageous item, we always raise it. Some problems are fixed. For others, it may take time because social justice is a larger agenda. I raised caste census, establishment of a separate OBC ministry, constitution of All India Judicial Service and anomalies in state level competitive examination in which SC/ST and OBC candidates have to getting higher thresholds compared to candidates in the open category… At the end of the day, I would say that democracy is a numbers game and we are limited because of our numerical position. If it rose, my intervention would become stronger.

My party’s policy does not revolve around religion at all. India as a state has no religion and everyone has liberty and freedom to practice any religion of their choice. Our agenda is social justice, and we are only raising that.