Widespread popularity of the ultranationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the capture of states one after another by the saffron outfit have taken every political commentator by surprise, leaving them scratching their heads.
The march of the Modi brigade sliced through the Opposition in four of the five states, where assembly elections were held recently. Of these, the election results in Uttar Pradesh stumped all political pundits as the BJP and its allies won 325 of the 403 seats. This was only the first surprise; there were many more in store!
Of the dozen names that did the rounds for the post of chief minister, handpicking the saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah was the second surprise. Remember, BJP contested the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in the name of Modi.
But, internal survey commissioned by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh showed that, among voters at large, Yogi Adityanath was just a point behind Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, in terms of acceptance as the CM candidate. However, Singh was unwilling to return to Uttar Pradesh.
This had made Yogi a strong contender, much before UP’s voters delivered a massive verdict for BJP.
Why did PM, BJP choose Yogi?
Yogi Adityanath is the biggest Hindu hardliner leader in Uttar Pradesh. His anointment ensures that the state’s Hindutva brigade will rally behind BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Majoritarianism will help the saffron party retain its current clout in the state in the 2019 General Elections.
Similarly, his elevation helps social engineering too. Yogi Adityanath, alias Ajay Singh, who is the Hindutva poster boy, addresses two large communities – upper caste Hindus, who are likely to be swayed by his background of being the Mahant (High Priest) of Gorakhpur Math, and at the same time, he belongs to the Thakur community, representing another big BJP vote bank.
So, both Modi and Shah knew well that Yogi cannot possibly deliver Modi’s development vows in the state. This is the reason why two deputy chief ministers – Dinesh Sharma and Keshav Prasad Maurya have been foisted on Adityanath to manage development work. Remember, there is no provision of deputy prime minister or deputy chief minister in the Indian Constitution.
Also, precisely for this reason, Uttar Pradesh is going to be directly monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office unlike other BJP-ruled states.
The Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s office, Nripendra Misra, IAS officer from Uttar Pradesh, will be the key contact between Modi and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. He will vet and veto appointments in the state and guide the implementation of development schemes.
A number of the former or serving members of the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, have been appointed chief ministers recently. For instance, Uttarakhand’s Trivendra Singh Rawat is a former RSS pracharak (preacher), so is Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis and Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar. But, none of them are rabble rousers like Yogi.
Will the Yogi deliver?
Law and order in the last five years, under Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, have deteriorated and Uttar Pradesh has become synonymous to loot, sexual assaults and lawlessness. Many of the perpetrators either belong to the ruling Samajwadi Party or are the kith and kin of legislators.
With the new government in place, the Samajwadi Party leader and outgoing Uttar Pradesh minister, Gayatri Prajapati was arrested in Lucknow last week. Prajapati has been accused of gang-raping a woman and attempting to molest her minor daughter. Following the Supreme Court’s directive, the Lucknow police had lodged an FIR against Prajapati and six others on February 18.
Therefore, it has already started yielding results.
Making headlines for the wrong reasons?
A leading national daily called the new chief minister the real Donald Trump of Uttar Pradesh. Several controversial cases involving Yogi are resurfacing in the media. For instance, he is the main accused in the 2007 Gorakhpur riots. Several criminal cases have been filed against him and he is the founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini that spearheads campaigns against religious conversion; an outfit that protects Hindus, works for cow-protection and organises anti-beef campaigns. He is even reported to have said that those who do not practice surya namaskar – a sun-worshipping yoga practice – should leave India. All this has left minorities a little uncomfortable.
But, to assuage the feelings of the minorities, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister has inducted cricketer-turned politician, Mohsin Raza, as the only Muslim in the 50-member council of ministers who were sworn in on a hectic Sunday afternoon. Now, it is to be seen whether the first class cricketer can bat well for the welfare and well-being of the minority community.
Is it fair to nitpick Yogi?
Is it fair to find faults with Yogi Adityanath for his controversial past? An estimate by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a non-partisan, non-governmental organisation, which works in the area of electoral and political reforms, set up in 1999, has estimated that of the total 143 MLAs with criminal cases in the new Assembly, 114 belong to BJP.
Let us also examine other tall leaders in the BJP. For instance, even Prime Minister Modi still faces the taint of the Gujarat riot of 2002. Yet, he became the prime minister in 2014 with a thumping majority and decimated the Congress, reducing them to a mere 44 seats.
After a quarter of a century, the Supreme Court has questioned the lower court order exonerating BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani and others in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case. The apex court observed that it was not correct and that the CBI should have filed a supplementary chargesheet against them. Advani was the deputy prime minister during the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, in charge of the Union Home Ministry, and was the hardliner face of the ruling party.
Atal Behari Vajpayee’s contribution in making it BJP’s India
NP Ullekh, in his latest book, The Untold Vajpayee: Politician and Paradox, dwells on how, despite his grand ‘secular’ statements in the Parliament, Vajpayee had often taken brief excursions into the hard-line camp. “In 1983, Vajpayee made an incendiary speech during the Assam elections, in which the presence of ‘Bangladeshi foreigners’ in the state was a big issue. Even the BJP had disowned Vajpayee’s speech, which possibly inspired the massacre of over 2,000 men and women, mostly Muslims, in Nellie, Assam. Vajpayee told the crowd in Assam that if such ‘intruders’ had come into Punjab, they would have been cut into pieces. The riot happened within hours,” Ullekh writes, quoting the CPI veteran, Indrajit Gupta, and a lead opinion piece from The Hindu.
It is fair to conclude that compared to Yogi, Modi is a liberal; compared to Modi, Advani is liberal, and compared to Advani, Vajpayee is liberal. So, the BJP, on the whole, is a party of liberals so to say.
Development or Hindutva?
Soon after taking over as the chief minister, Yogi read out the motto of his government. ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ or inclusive development and a corruption and crime-free state. Now, it is to be seen how far the CM can deliver on this promise. Or, will he focus on the controversial issues of building the Ram Temple in Ayodhya?
We cannot forget that Yogi was at the forefront of the Ram Mandir movement. Shiv Sena leader and ally of BJP, Sanjay Raut, commented that if the temple is not constructed now, it will never be constructed in the future. “It is high time to end the exile of Lord Ram and build the temple, which was promised decades ago.”
Wait and watch. The Indian polity is certainly headed for interesting times.