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
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.
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.
‘Mayawati is building statues like Hitler or Saddam Hussein would. She is a dictator not a democrat’
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.