Manoj Sinha, minister for telecom (independent charge) and MoS for railways, is fighting in his sitting seat of Ghazipur against Afzal Ansari, who is contesting on a BSP ticket. Ansari is the brother of don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari, who is now in jail. Sinha, seen as BJP’s face of eastern Uttar Pradesh, spoke to ET between rallies.

Purvanchal or eastern UP is crucial for BJP. What are the party’s prospects?

Purvanchal has been neglected by all previous governments. After Modiji formed the government, the region has become the centre of development work. An All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Gorakhpur, urea production unit and two cancer institutes in Varanasi, an AIIMS-like facility in Banaras Hindu University, fourlane roads between major cities, turning Grand Trunk roads into six lanes, setting up of units by PSUs, renovation of all railway stations and doubling and electrification of all railway lines are some of the initiatives being undertaken for Purvanchal. As a result, people know about the changes being undertaken under Modiji since he decided to contest from here (Varanasi).

But BJP lost to a united opposition in Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls.

Those were by-polls fought neither to elect a PM nor to form a government at the Centre. The 2019 polls have completely different issues. They are being fought to elect a PM and form a government. In the Kairana by-poll, the gap between our candidate and theirs was less than 5% votes, which will be easily filled this time. Moreover, the SP-BSP-RLD alliance is not a mahagathbandhan but a mere coming together of a few regional parties. The Congress, along with some small players, is fighting separately. Also, this is not the BJP of 1994. Between 1993 and 2019, a lot has changed.

Are you referring to the BJP of 1994 that won votes on the plank of Hindutva?
No, I mean, earlier BJP was considered a party of Banias and Brahmins. When Kalyan Singhji came, he brought along OBCs. Now, each and every section of the society is with Modiji. Today BJP is the party of the poor who are determined to elect Modiji as their PM. After 2014, the party’s expansion has happened across all sections.

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Will OBC, Dalit and Muslim votes go to the BSP-SP-RLD alliance?

I don’t think so. A major chunk of OBCs and Dalits voted for Modiji in 2014. In 2019, the percentage will only rise.

What about Muslims? Why will they vote for the BJP when none has got a ticket in a state?
Religion has never been the basis on which tickets are given in BJP. Winnability is the only factor. Who has worked in the constituency? Who is winnable? Only these matter.

With 3 lakh Dalits, 3 lakh Yadavs and 1.5 lakh Muslims, the Opposition claims they will easily win Ghazipur.

Three factors have infested today’s politics — jaaativad, parivarvad aur sampradayvad (casteism, nepotism and communalism). Those who are making calculations on the basis of caste will be let down. We are fighting only on the plank of development.

SP national president Akhilesh Yadav is contesting from Azamgarh. Will that be a difficult seat?

Azamgarh has been a bastion of the SP. After SP-BSP gathbandhan, Akhilesh may have gained a bit, but BJP has given the ticket to a very popular Bhojpuri singer and actor, Dinesh Lal Yadav (known as Nirahua). The result will be very interesting. We must wait.

The gathbandhan has fielded Afzal Ansari, brother of Mukhtar Ansari, against you. Mukhtar has reportedly said that you want him dead. Your reaction.
It will not be appropriate for me to react to his comments. These are gangsters and dons who are known for their bad deeds and are harassing the helpless. People are aware of this as they are of the development work we have undertaken in the last five years.

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You reportedly said in Ghazipur that anyone pointing a finger at a BJP karyakarta will not be spared?
The gatbandhan candidate contesting against me is the brother of a gangster. Many anti-social elements associated with him are roaming in Ghazipur and threatening our party workers. I never meant that I would take them on directly. What I meant was that under our government, no such criminal activity will be spared; the administration will take swift action.

Your comment on Congress’s ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ tirade.
No narrative can be built on lies. (Congress president) Rahul Gandhi is repeating this out of frustration but the people are saying the opposite: ‘Chowkidar pure hai uski jeet sure hai (Chowkidar is pure and he is sure to win)’. We will make a place for ourselves on the basis of our work. They can stick to their lies.

Won’t anti-incumbency hurt BJP?
The party has taken cognizance and has changed the seats of many sitting MPs; some have been dropped as well. People have a lot expectations and the party is doing everything to meet them.

How many seats will the BJP win in UP?
It is difficult to predict a number but we have got a sign of what is about to happen. Rahulji was forced to contest from Kerala, not on the back of his party but of the Muslim League. Based on our performance, we will be on a stronger wicket. Our number should improve from 2014 (when BJP won 71 of 80 seats).

The Opposition says BJP is using Pulwama for political gains.
The BJP won’t do it now or in the future. We did not invite Pakistan to attack us; when they did, a befitting reply was necessary. Those who are demeaning the armed forces by demanding proof of the attack are playing dirty political games. The Congress has also belittled the armed forces of the country by promising a review of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

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Priyanka Gandhi is in-charge of eastern UP. There are talks that she might contest against Modi in Varanasi. Is she a factor in these elections?
I am happy that the Congress has given her the responsibility. But the party has no presence in eastern UP. If she starts working now, she might be able to achieve something in 2024. We will welcome her party’s decision to contest from Varanasi. But now there is no vacancy for Priyanka or the Congress in eastern UP.

The BJP’s UP ally Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) has issued a separate list of candidates.
(SBSP chief ) Om Prakash Rajbhar is still a cabinet minister in UP. We will try to ensure that he stays with the BJP. We have time and we are sure the matter will be sorted out very soon.

Another BJP ally, the Apna Dal, was earlier said to be in talks with other parties. Its faction led by Anupriya Patel’s mother Krishna has been roped in by the Congress.
Just like last time, the Apna Dal led by Anupriya Patel has been allotted two seats. Anupriya is fighting from Mirzapur, and Pakauri Lal Kol from adjoining Robertsganj. Krishna’s contest on a Congress ticket will be inconsequential. OBC votes will not get split as backward and most backward classes have voted and will vote to make Modiji the PM.



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