As soon as the convoy pulls up, I am quickly whisked inside a vehicle where Saryu is seated at the front, dressed in a white kurta and a saffron shawl wrapped around his neck. A senior BJP leader and former food and supply minister in the outgoing state cabinet, 65-year-old Saryu is contesting the upcoming Assembly election in Jharkhand from Jamshedpur East constituency as an Independent against incumbent chief minister and BJP candidate Raghubar Das.
From the photos, I had imagined Saryu to be particularly tall and daunting, but he appears rather welcoming. He greets me with a warm handshake asking if my journey was alright. I reply in the positive.
As the vehicle heads towards the next destination, a local meeting at an urban village in Balidih, the interview starts.
My first question was to find out the political ideology of the man who has chosen to rebel against the BJP, the party to which he earlier belonged to and whose ideology he now lambasts as one of “slogans” and empty rhetoric devoid of the philosophy that led to the saffron party’s birth.
As the conversation proceeds, I ask if he is saddened by the fact that his long association with the BJP has come to an end with an ugly break-up.
“I am not sad, but disappointed yes,” he replies.
Our conversation is interrupted temporarily as we arrive at the main venue for the meeting.
“I never asked the party for a ticket and there’s no question of asking again in the future. But a situation was born in which I… there’s a quote by a great man ‘a time comes when disobedience through law becomes duty’… I felt disobeying was my duty. So, I disobeyed.”
Edited excerpts of the interview:
There’s a lot of interest about Saryu Roy both in Jharkhand and outside. Could you please tell us a little bit about your political ideology?
I was with the BJP because my political ideology matches with that of the party. But before that, I worked independently between 1984 to 1993. I was associated with this group prior to that as well. Some situation arose in the 1980s because of which I separated from this group. In Bihar, I was working with a group of my colleagues Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Shivanand Tiwari. But my activities were non-political. JP Vishal Manch was based in Bihar.
I also worked as a journalist between 1986 and 1994. The independent views which I had back then are still there today, and even within the BJP, I had my independent views. But if you talk of ideologies as such, the philosophy-based ideologies, are not visible anywhere. The Left Wing is almost at the brink of being finished off, and even in the right-wing, the philosophy-based ideology which the BJP had is not there. You can definitely say it’s a slogan-based ideology. So, it’s difficult for me to explain my ideology today.
Why did you choose social activism as the route to enter politics?
When we entered politics and social work, at the beginning of it was the JP Movement in Bihar. As a chief minister, he brought changes in education policies, (tackled) corruption, rising prices and unemployment. I liked that. I have always said that when we are in power we should help the poor and the downtrodden who are unable to help themselves. We should help those who can’t help themselves. Because those who are strong will help themselves somehow. I have always said that even when I am in the government I will keep one leg inside the government and another outside with society. I can keep both legs outside the govt. But when I am in the government, I can’t keep both legs inside the government. I take a stand on public issues. So, you can say this is my ideology and my thinking. Ideologically, I find myself close to the objectives of Mahatma Gandhi and JP Narayan.
Next year, Jharkhand will complete two decades since formation, but the condition in the state is still the same…
You have made a statement of very minute analysis. One who has seen Jharkhand of 2000 and the Jharkhand of 2010, there has been changes in many fields. Every government has done its bit. And the things that have been done should be accepted. To say it’s still the same is to say that people’s standard of living in villages and urban areas is still the same. It’s not like that, is it? It has improved. But there are problems and problems are compounding. There has been development. Jharkhand has developed. People have invested a lot of money. Even in our developed states, there are problems in their municipalities. A city like Chennai is facing drinking water crisis, Mumbai gets flooded during monsoon and look at the air pollution in Delhi. So, it won’t be right to say Jharkhand is still the same.
When it comes to development, what are the areas in Jharkhand that need special focus?
People look at development from a relative perspective. I think the lives of the downtrodden and poor have changed for the betterment. So, somewhere the fruits of development has reached the bottom. It’s not like development has not happened. It has happened everywhere. And it’s not just because of the state, there are several schemes of the Central government which are benefitting people. But yes, we can say that if the government performed better, it would run with faster speed. The government spending on normal people would be higher. Otherwise, even if there is no government there would be this much of development.
Are you saying that the development which has happened would have happened even if there was no state government?
There is a momentum of the government. Work is done even in the days when there’s President’s Rule. A government decides its priorities. Based on the priorities there’s more development in priority areas.
You are contesting the election against Raghubar Das from Jamshedpur East. And you have accused him of corruption and even called him Raghubar ‘Dag’. Could you please elaborate a little on these allegations?
I have not raised these (issues) today. I have not even made corruption the issue in this election. I have raised the corruption issues since day one of the government. I think, when a person works, mistakes can happen. But when mistakes are pointed out they should be corrected.
But if you don’t correct them and keep making mistakes over and over again then it shows corruption. Since the very first day when I joined the government, I have raised a number of points on a number of issues. Some of my suggestions were accepted, but on maximum occasions, even officers stopped replying to my queries. So I say that I have been raising these issues from the beginning.
The impact of these issues is that I was a denied ticket from my earlier constituency (Jamshedpur West). If this issue has been made because of that — a party has every right to deny a ticket to anybody, to any of its leaders — but then, I had asked them in the beginning if they would give me a ticket or not. They said, prepare for (the) election. So, I began preparing for the election. But when the first list was issued, my ticket was put on hold. So, I went to Delhi and told them, please don’t hold my ticket, rather deny me the ticket. But they didn’t deny the ticket to me either. Even after the third and fourth lists were out, my ticket was on hold. It was then that I announced that I don’t want a BJP ticket. I will contest the election against the chief minister. I took that decision and am contesting the election accordingly.
On what issues are you contesting the election in Jamshedpur East?
They are mainly local issues. One is — there are 86 plus villages in Jamshedpur East. Since the chief minister was an MLA in 1995, he has been saying that he will get them ownership rights. And as the movement for ownership rights grew strong, his winning vote margin also increased. Now he is saying that he can’t get them these rights. This was never an issue here. So, it’s a betrayal. The people are appealing and saying that he has betrayed them.
Secondly, this is an industrial area, there are a number of companies. Many companies have shut shop. Tata Hitachi went to Kharagpur, TRF is in bad shape, Cable company is still closed. When a few wire products companies opened, the previous period’s salaries were not given to the workers. Even in the employment sector, the representation of Jamshedpur’s youth is very low. Only those who are recommended by the lobbyists get the jobs.
Third, the family of the chief minister has become very arrogant. His brother, his nephews, his own son, his own brothers-in-law have started creating troubles for the people. In the last five year, this problem has compounded. So, it’s a big issue. They have created an environment of fear. People out of fear would remain silent They think, even if they report it to the police, they won’t act on it.
The police have not been acting on people’s complaints. The police don’t even file a report. These are the three main problems that are in people’s psyche. And they are opposing these. I had brought a private member’s bill in 2006 to get ownership rights to these villages, but it didn’t pass.
What do you have to say about the rights of the displaced people in Jharkhand and the tribal rights on forests?
So far we have been talking of constituency-specific issues. If you want to talk on the state level, it has to be on merit — what we called as merits and demerits. All the decisions — who are displaced, who have gotten a job or not. It cannot be like anyone who says he is displaced is entitled to job. The government should work on merit. The government is not able to do anything for a long time that’s why this problem is becoming more and more difficult.
When it comes to tribal rights — the people who talk of forest rights — they forget that there are many wrongdoings happening. There’s a lot of mixup in the rights that are given to those settled in forests before 2005. Many who were not there have gotten rights while many who were there have not gotten their rights. The rights have to be given after due diligence because forest security is also important.
So, I would want that action should be taken based on the provisions of the Forests Rights Act.
Many governments make it their objective that they have to give this much. How are you going to do it? How are you setting a target? Whatever is the actual number of people whether it is 10,000 or 10 lakh have to be given rights. But how can we fix a target that these number of people have to be given rights? So, the government’s homework in this is very weak. Because the government is not doing its homework, the problem is growing. Laws are made but not implemented.
You are contesting as an Independent candidate but you have not yet resigned from BJP membership. Is that true?
The BJP constitution says that anyone who contests against the party candidate, his membership is cancelled right then and there. There were two moral points. I resigned from the ministership and I resigned from the Assembly. The reason behind resigning from the Assembly is that I am contesting the election after quitting from the party membership. Now the party has to decide.
After the election, if it’s required, will you offer support to the party in forming government in Jharkhand?
Whether it’s BJP or JMM (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha)government, my stand was independent and will be independent. I will have no role in government formation.
You have been a huge supporter of Narendra Modi. Your Facebook page still has a photo of you and Narendra Modi. But when it comes to the election, Raghubar Das has the support of the party, party workers and star campaigners like Modi and Amit Shah. Some critics are saying that they may impact votes that could have gone in your support.
It’s likely. I am not denying it. When I decided that I have to contest against the chief minister, I didn’t decide thinking I will win. When I will be in the misconception that my win is 100 percent secured, then I can’t fight only. That’s a risk factor. I decided to walk. And I am getting the public support. I think, my and the public’s wavelength is together.
What the BJP does and doesn’t do, I have said that I am not against any party. I am not against the BJP. Congress has fielded its candidate against me, I am not against them either. Nitish Kumar’s party JD(U) has given their support. Lalu (Prasad Yadav) has instructed his party (RJD) workers to offer full support to me. JMM has openly said they are in my support. AJSU party has also said that they will support. AAP has also given support to me. So, I am neither against BJP nor Congress.
There are some tendencies — which has affected people’s psyche — and which didn’t care about the impact it would have on the psychology of a person like me. I have always said that I have got a lot by being a part of the BJP. They made me an MLC, MLA, minister and party general secretary and spokesperson. I never asked for anything. Not once did I ask for a post in the party nor did I ask for a ticket. So, when the matter emerged that Das won’t give me a ticket, I went to the central leadership. I said that please tell me. If you want to deny (me ticket), please deny. So, I never asked and there’s no question of asking again in the future. But a situation was born in which I… there’s is a quote by a great man ‘a time comes when disobedience through law becomes duty’… I felt disobeying was my duty. So, I disobeyed.
You were the Food and Supply Minister in the outgoing government. Between 2014 and 2018, several cases of starvation have emerged in the state…
There’s no connection between cases of starvation deaths and Food and Supply Department. The Food and Supply Department supplies food to those who have ration card. It’s not the department’s responsibility to give (food to) the remaining. Still I defended the government. Because I accepted that this section, which is always against the introduction of Aadhaar and technology, is raising issues for no reason.
I also made a grain bank upto mukhya-level in Panchayat and ward commissioners in urban areas with a permanent fund of Rs 10,000. The mukhyas and ward members can use the fund to give grains and help anyone who doesn’t have a ration card and are facing starvation due to lack of food. So, I have made a foolproof plan so that there are no deaths due to starvation. But if people are still dying due to starvation, the responsibility needs to be fixed.
And it’s a matter for the health department. This is not something that concerns our (food and supply) department. Technically, our department is allowed to give food to anyone who has a ration card. It is not allowed to give food to anyone who doesn’t have a ration card.
Do you accept that there’s a problem of deaths due to starvation in Jharkhand?
No. This is a fictitious issue. This is a created issue.
Are you upset that the party has not given you ticket considering this is your last election?
I am not upset, but it has definitely hurt my self-esteem. If you think from the party’s point of view, what the BJP has done, according to them whether it is right or wrong, they have taken a decision. But they should have told me in advance. I wouldn’t have had any problem. But the way they have behaved with me, their treatment with me, it seems the entire party leadership is in the grip of the chief minister, they do whatever the chief minister says.
It hurt my self-respect and my pride. That’s why I made this an issue.
It was said that Ram Mandir will be a major poll issue in the Jharkhand Assembly election. Is it?
There is no impact. Even Article 370 has no impact. Assembly elections are always fought on local issues.