On Wednesday, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, fresh off completing 100 days in office, spoke to Republic TV's Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in a super exclusive and no holds barred edition of Nation Wants To Know.
Adityanath had come into power in March this year after the BJP had emerged victorious in the critical UP Assembly elections, trouncing the then incumbent, Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, which had allied itself with the Congress party.
On being asked about the time when he first found out he would be assuming the CM's office, Adityanath recounted how it had been BJP party president Amit Shah who had coordinated the ascension. He spoke about the days in the immediate aftermath of the election results, when he made multiple to-and-fro trips between New Delhi and Gorakhpur, finally arriving in the National Capital by a chartered flight and being asked to take oath as Chief Minister.
Asked about his reaction, he said that he viewed it as a responsibility which he would try his best to fulfill.
In terms of his metamorphosis from being a face of Hindu politics to the positioning of a development-focused Chief Minister, Adityanath opined that Hindutva wasn't against development, but that there is an attempt to make Hindutva communal. He said that Hindutva backs the idea of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas, with which his government is moving forward.
With regards to his previous campaigns, such as 2014's Love Jihad, which some of his own party's leaders had opposed, Adityanath said that his government's actions were transparent and goal-oriented -- in line with what they are known for.
Harkening back to his pre-CM days, when his party had lost by-elections in 2014 and he had been unable to address a lot of public meetings, Yogi Adityanath said that the then-state government had denied him permission, not his own party.
Coming to the first 100 days, with reference to senior officers in his government pushing for the speedy filing of FIRs without consideration to religion, caste or community, Yogi Adityanath said that the intention behind the directive was to ensure the delivery of justice to everyone. He said that the previous government used to provide protection to culprits, citing that victims of riots used to be sent off from the police stations without their FIRs being lodged.
Adityanath claimed that there was a discriminatory aspect to the previous government's actions, entailing divisions along the lines of family name, caste, creed and religion. His government, he added would decide a punishment in the event that a Police station refuses to lodge a victim's FIR.
On the topic of the big decisions taken by his government in the first 100 days, especially the ban on illegal slaughterhouses, the UP Chief Minister denied there being any Hindu appeasement involved. He instead offered that direction from the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued in February 2017 was the lynchpin for the ban. He also enumerated a number of other key decisions, such as stopping illegal mining, scrapping illegal toll collection and clamping down on the land mafia. Adityanath put forth that the welfare of the state and non-discrimination were consistent themes in his government's decision-making.
When asked about another early and controversial decision, that of the anti-Romeo squads and the government's role in the matter, Yogi Adityanath connected it to the Muzaffarnagar riots and others, where he said girls had been harassed and kidnapped but the governance and administration had been silent. He also spoke about how during the campaign trail, a number of families had expressed fears for the safety of girls -- several even having sent them away, to relatives and hostels, for their studies. This, he said, lent to the conception of the anti-Romeo squad.
Coming to the results of the squad's activities, he put forth some very high numbers, with actions taken including sending offenders to their families, making them understand and also, legal recourse. He said that anti-Romeo squads were part of a big, ongoing mission and process.
On being asked about his opinions on Love Jihad and interfaith couples (esp. Hindu-Muslim couples), and whether they had anything to do with the anti-Romeo squads, Adityanath got to the specifics of boys and girls spending time together: He said that a girl and a boy sitting together in a park or walking together on a street will not be bothered so long as there is with mutual consent. In case such a thing did happen, i.e. they were bothered, he said, inquiries have been conducted. He was, however, adamant that boys and girls not hang around late at night, as it then becomes a question of their safety. The police and government's duty is to ensure their security, not interfere in what happens between people by mutual consent, he concluded, extending this philosophy to inter-faith marriages as well.
Yogi Adityanath also defended his promptness in acting on the Central Waqf Board's recommendation for the Sunni and Shia Waqf Board's dissolution citing corruption. He said that both the government and the CBI had asked for an enquiry in the past as well, and with regard to the Allahabad High Court passing an order saying that the Waqf board members weren't given an opportunity to speak during the dissolution, he said that an inquiry process has been launched, as per the court's orders. He denied it being an anti-Muslim move, and he also denied his overall agenda taking a controversial path.
Coming to the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, the Chief Minister said that it is good that people wish for a Ram Mandir to be built in Ayodhya, but there would have to be a consensus from both sides first; only then would the state government be able to do anything. On being probed regarding his past comments regarding this issue not being as nonpartisan, Adityanath brought up the Supreme Court's recent order stating that both sides should sit together and take the decision, which he said he welcomed. And about his own role in bringing about 'consensus', Yogi Adityanath said that the state government would play a part only once the two sides have concurred and found a solution.
He also sought to clarify that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) bringing in stone-laden trucks was more likely for the Karsevak Puram, which is not sub-judice, rather than the Ram Janmabhoomi. For the Karsevak Puram, Adityanath stated that no approval was required and that there was no need for his interference.
When probed about why he had gone to visit senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and the others when they had come to Lucknow for the framing of charges in the Babri Masjid Demolition case, the UP Chief Minister said that he wasn't sending a message; rather he had gone simply because they were prominent leaders and he wanted to show respect.
He went on to state that there was no contradiction between Yogi Adityanath the CM and Yogi Adityanath the politician, and that he would take whatever step benefits the state.
On the topic of Law and Order, Yogi Adityanath denied that there were certain groups that weren't being controlled, namely the Hindu Yuva Vahini, adding that anyone, without exception, who takes the law into their own hands would be appropriately dealt with by the authorities. He also slammed the previous Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party-led governments for the law and order machinery they had passed down. He said that under his government, action had been taken, whatever the incident may be and irrespective of 'connections'.
He reversed former UP CM Mayawati's allegations about him not intervening during the Saharanpur clashes, saying that if the BSP supremo hadn't gone there, matters wouldn't have escalated as much. He added that the caste clash that resulted brought the SP and BSP's role to light, and that there had not been a single riot in his government's first 100 days. All those responsible for the Saharanpur clashes are in jail, he said, emphasising his administration's quick action and the message that was sent out -- that whoever tries to mess with the law won't be forgiven.
As the interview touched upon India's cultural history and a recent comment Adityanath had allegedly made regarding the Taj Mahal 'not representing Indian culture', the UP CM clarified that what he had actually stated was 'India's identity had revolved around the Taj Mahal, but has now been taken to the Bhagvad Gita and the Ramayana.' He did, however, emphasise that Indian identity cannot revolve around the Taj Mahal and on being questioned about what it could be identified with, he listed the Ramayana, the Vedas, the Bhagvad Gita, the Puranas as well as other traditions -- but not solely with the Taj Mahal. He added for good measure that doing so constituted naivety. He was also careful to restrict his focus to the Taj Mahal only, rather than attaching the Qutub Minar and the Golden Temple.
Watch the episode here.