LUCKNOW: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has been in the news. First over his handling of the Covid situation in India’s most populous state; then, over the results of the panchayat polls; and finally, on account of a two-day meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s central leadership in Lucknow that sparked off speculation about changes in the government and the party organisation ahead of next year’s assembly elections. In an interview, Adityanath, who travelled to all 18 administrative divisions of the state between April 30 and May 27, spoke about the devastating second wave of Covid-19, his state’s preparedness for the third wave, and the challenge of 2022. Edited excerpts
We believe the recent meetings of the party in Lucknow were to assess the political situation and discuss changes in the organisation and government? Do you think there should be a reshuffle months before the elections?
Every individual performs according to his or her capacity. One should have expectations accordingly. The ministers were touring their constituencies and it is only because of the joint efforts of my cabinet colleagues, party workers, officials and the medical staff that we could face the challenge of the first and the second waves. Look at the state’s recovery and positivity rate today. Our positivity rate has come down to 0.4% when compared with 22% in April while the recovery rate stands at 97.1%. Uttar Pradesh has also become the first state to cross the five-crore (50 million) testing mark.
Do think you need a cabinet reshuffle months before the elections?
The government and the organisation will together take a call and do what is needed. The media cannot decide that.
Then what was discussed ? We believe another meeting is scheduled in Delhi on June 5?
We regularly hold meetings and discussions. It’s a normal practice in our party. We meet every six months but because of the pandemic, there was some delay. Similarly, there is nothing new in PM meeting CMs. Definitely when we meet we discuss both achievements and shortcomings and take appropriate decisions.
So, it was a preparatory meeting to discuss the forthcoming elections?
BJP will form a majority government in 2022. Remember my words, we will meet again after that. As for the poll strategy, it is not discussed or decided by media. It’s an internal exercise. The poll issues will be spelt out in the manifesto. But certainly, government’s performance – security, good governance and development — will be issues people will judge and vote for.
Why did the BJP perform so badly in the panchayat elections? Are you worried?
Panchayat polls are not fought on party symbols. Mark my words. SP won in 90% of panchayat seats in 2016 but lost in 90% of seats in the 2017 assembly elections. They will again lose 2022 badly. Otherwise also, the panchayat elections are only half done.
The forthcoming election will be fought under your leadership and will be a referendum on your government’s performance while the 2017 elections was primarily fought on the charisma of the Prime Minister.
The state has acquired a new image in these five years — a progressive state in the country. No riots, improved law and order, no discrimination in distribution of central and state government welfare schemes, the ease of doing business, the investment summits. Yes, the pandemic may have slowed down the pace, but could not stop the overall growth. Work on Ram temple construction too got delayed but it will soon pick up speed. And now we are again gearing up on our various development projects while simultaneously preparing for the third wave.
Are you confident because the Opposition is fragmented?
We will win elections on our strength and mission.
The Opposition has been very critical of your management of Covid.
I believe it is easier to be a critic from the comfort of your home through statements on social media. I would like to invite them to visit the rural areas and see for themselves how the state government has managed the second wave and the figures clearly reflect the same.
During your extensive tour of the state, what were the major shortcomings that you thought needed immediate attention?
I wanted to assess the on-ground situation. I have travelled more than 6000 km by helicopter and by road across 45 districts, including the ones which were most affected, to assess the ground situation and motivate the local health staff and district administration. I spoke to citizens, Covid-19 patients, doctors and administrators to review the situation and give directions to the staff. Also, being a team leader, I think me being on-ground motivates and inspires others.
There is a possibility of third wave coinciding with the election dates? The decision to hold West Bengal elections has been criticised world over. You think it would be judicious to defer elections in case third wave proves as devastating as the second wave?
Elections should be held on time though it is for the Election Commission to decide. We are poll ready. The second wave has been contained in a month’s time and we are better prepared for the third wave .
UP has been accused of fudging or concealing real Covid data
About 2,000 delegates of World Health Organisation visited the state. WHO has also appreciated the UP model of triple Ts — test, trace and treat. Should people believe data or of those who, because of some wrong perceptions in their mind, doubt the fact that the state has actually contained the second wave efficiently.
They can’t believe that the state with over 240 million population saw 64 deaths per million while United States with 328 million population saw 1796 deaths per million.
Wasn’t it upsetting to see bodies floating in the river?
Yes, it’s very painful, but this is not the first time bodies were seen floating in the river. Similar scenes were witnessed in 2012, 2014, 2016. Besides starting an awareness programme, my government had only last year alerted local bodies. Jal Pravah (water burial) is a tradition and now the saints have also joined the campaign to stop this practice.
The only way to fight Covid-19 is by vaccination and there is a shortage of vaccines. Do you think the Centre should come up with a better distribution formula?
The Centre has evolved a formula and all states should follow that. We are quite happy with the current formula of vaccines being supplied to the Centre.
By July adequate vaccines would be available in the country. We have already vaccinated 1.90 crore (19 million) people till date and have an ambitious vaccination plan for July. We are committed to free vaccination for all in the shortest time possible.
Global tenders for vaccines have not worked.
Uttar Pradesh was the first state to float a global tender to procure 40 million doses of vaccines. In the pre-bid meeting of the global tender, representatives of six companies, including Pfizer and Moderna, also participated. We have revised the tender and now the manufacturers of vaccines requiring storage or transportation at temperatures like -20 degrees Celsius, -70 degrees Celsius or -80 degrees Celsius can also participate. We are in touch with all manufacturers across the world and these companies have communicated with us too.
There is wide reluctance to get vaccinated among some communities. Women in rural areas are generally reluctant to go for test or vaccination. How would you motivate them?
WE are trying to raise awareness and bust myths. The Opposition is spreading misinformation. However, we are helping people in rural parts to register on the app via 1.33 lakh common service centres across districts.
Is there a need to launch a polio like campaign across the state involving community and religious leaders?
Ans: Uttar Pradesh is already reaching the last mile with its micro- management strategy and door-to-door visits. I have myself held meetings with religious leaders, sportspersons, gram pradhans and we will continue to consult with every group and community to spread awareness and create interest in vaccination in the state.
In retrospect, you think holding panchayat polls was a blunder? Many believe it triggered infection in the rural pockets.
Panchayat elections are the most difficult elections to hold but polls were also held in Tamil Nadu as well as in Kerala and West Bengal. You can compare their positivity and recovery rate with that of UP and see the difference. Secondly, there were no elections in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh or Rajasthan or Delhi. Let’s focus on ground realities, The last phases of panchayat polls were held on April 26 and 29 and counting took place on May 2. The peak of 38,000 cases per day was reached on April 24. Thereafter, the number of cases started coming down steadily. Thus, it is not based on data and figures that the virus spread because of panchayat elections. In fact, the extent of cases has come down since elections in UP.
Do you think somewhere the state too has to own responsibility for large number of deaths as there was a delay in improving health infrastructure, including medicines, oxygen supply, beds etc?.
Despite the sudden surge of Covid-19, our cases per million and death per million has been much less than many states of the country and much less than the most developed nations of the world. I think we should avoid doing politics on such issues.
We were the first state to create a system where oxygen supplies to medical colleges or private colleges and overall oxygen supply was managed very efficiently. We didn’t have in-house manufacturing plants, but we made arrangement to get oxygen from various places as far as Jharkhand. We received ample assistance from the Central government. Also, we were the first state to implement “oxygen audit” which has been replicated by many other states.