Deciphering UP’s Five-Year Date With The Yogi
If the result of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) legislative assembly election on March 11, 2017 elicited a stunning surprise from the rival political parties and election experts alike, the selection of Adityanath Yogi as Chief Minister of the state a week later (18 March 2017) followed a spate of criticism after a numbing silence amongst the commentators. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) predictably put up a brave front in spite of the fact that despite a clamour for the Yogi in one section of the party, the names floated even remotely did not suggest him to be a possibility. Obviously, where the names of the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Minister of State Manoj Sinha, as also that of the UP party chief Keshav Prasad Maurya were floated and doing rounds with intense speculations, emergence of the Yogi as the joker in the pack stunned the expectant commentators, though it elicited exultations from amongst his supporters, there are numerous in the category.
How did Adityanath Yogi emerge the victor? There is not clarity on his ascent. One theory emerging from the party attributes it to the support he commands amongst the BJP Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA). According to this theory, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh was the pick of the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS). He was also keen to return to the state. However, the Modi-Shah combine was not prepared to give him, or any other leader anointed CM of UP for that matter, a free run. One condition put forward to him was that given criticality of the state in 2019 general election, the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) would work in close liaison with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Singh was not agreeable to this. Focus then turned to Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha and the state party chief Keshav Prasad Maurya. Sinha had Modi-Shah backing for being clean, educated, suave. Even though RSS did not quite favour him, he was emerging a favourite over Maurya, who comes from the backward community. The Yogi’s hat too was in the ring, even though he was not being backed either by the Modi-Shah combine (and the party), or the RSS.
In order to resolve the dilemma, and perhaps confident that handpicked candidates who have entered the UP Assembly would stick to the preference of the Modi-Shah High Command. According to party sources, 274 of the 312 MLAs voted for Adityanath Yogi, tying the hands of the High Command. However, at this stage a few conditions were set for the CM elect. First, he would refrain from his provocative and divisive rhetoric. Second, his CMO would function in direct liaison with the PMO. And, third, there would be two Deputy Chief Ministers to ‘aid’ him. He readily agreed and the stage was set for the first ascetic CM of UP.
There is a counter theory as well. According to this theory, the Yogi is after all the Modi-Shah pick. It is difficult to conclusively say, given the speculation narrated in the foregoing paragraphs, if the assertion is an image-saving exercise of the Modi-Shah camp. However, this too needs to be put on record. He along with Rajnath Singh, Manoj Sinha and the two deputy CMs was in the reckoning from the very beginning. Singh lost out due to his age (65), which was stated to be past his prime. Sinha was considered to suave and laid back for the crucial state from the perspective of the seventeenth general election in 2019. Adityanath emerged stronger in comparison to Maurya and Sharma, but Modi did not prefer him due to his divisive and strident Hindutva rhetoric. Shah, on the other hand, strongly supported his candidature and he convinced Modi with an assurance from the Yogi that he would shun his Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) style strident Hindutva, reign in his followers and follow Modi’s relatively more pluralistic politics. It was easier said than done, for he had opposed Modi in 2014 as he was closer to the VHP and did not like Modi trying out a tolerant pluralist image. Shah nonetheless succeeded in brokering peace as the Yogi was more than ready to accept a more acceptable Modi-like tolerant image and eschew his strident anti-Muslim stance. The PMO-CMO liaison and the appointment of two deputy CMs are not factored in this narrative. However, since both are a reality, one assumes that this narrative too willy nilly factors this in.
Enough has appeared in the media regarding UP’s political ascetic CM. Therefore, we would not repeat them in this analysis. However, the way he has emerged at a rather young age with a large following, a discussion on his persona is warranted. A thakur from Pauri Garhwal and holding a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, his turn to an ascetic life is something of a surprise, but perhaps it goes with his pro-Hindutva and anti-minority (mostly anti-Muslim) leanings. It was in 1992 soon after the Babari Masjid demolition that he got in touch with Mahant Avaidyanath of the Gorakhnath Math and gradually rose to emerge his prime disciple and the successor. He joined the Nath Sampraday of the Sanatani Hindus that transcends the caste divisions. Perhaps this has weighed in his favour as the party expects that his appeal in the future could cut across castes. He was returned from Gorakhpur to Lok Sabha at the age of 26 and since then he has won five consecutive elections. Second, the Math is a huge organisation that runs educational institutions and hospitals, which paradoxically do not discriminate on the basis of religion. Also, the Math employs local Muslims in its administrative system. Hence, there is a possibility of the Yogi attracting Muslim vote in the future in case he reins in his rhetoric.
Here, however, is the catch. Indeed, the local Muslims vouch for the Mahantji’s benevolence. But his speeches available on the YouTube clearly bring out his anti-Muslim mindset through rants against the community. In one of them, he clearly warned the administration against in being soft against the Muslims; he cautioned them against inviting violence from the Hindus, describing them as pro-Pakistan elements who should either go back to Pakistan or behave themselves, else be prepared for violence consequences (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_L8HS4NBBg; accessed on 28 March 2017). In another speech, he said that if tomorrow one Hindu is killed, we would not go to the police and register an FIR, but ensure that at least ten Muslims are killed. In the same speech, he castigated the Muslims for declining to recite Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Mataram. He described Hindus and Muslims as two different and contrasting cultures and a friction between them was expected and necessary. He called upon the Hindus to get united against any cultural onslaught. There are repeated references in his speech to Muslims to either return to or to be sent back to Pakistan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gL6GufgdzNs; accessed on 28 March 2017). There are several other such anti-Muslim and highly offensive rants of the Yogi in the public domain.
No wonder, soon after taking over as the CM, he clarified that his government would follow the party, and Modi, line of sabka saath, sabka vikas. No section of the state’s citizenry, no community or caste would be discriminated against by his government. He was equivocal about the Muslims that they particularly have nothing to fear. He also instructed the government officials not to discriminate anyone.
Of the several decisions, the CM has taken, two have stirred controversy – the closure of illegal abattoirs and the action against roadside Romeos. The second one has caused a storm as the over-zealous police have begun to question and sermonize all young couples, in several cases even siblings and consenting couples. The question whether an action against harassment of young ladies by misogynistic young men should be part of normal day-to-day policing rather than part of a diktat from the executive head of a state generating extra zeal amongst the cops to harass couples and young men indiscreetly.
The closure of ‘illegal’ abattoirs appears to legitimize a decision that unfortunately affects only one community. There would hardly be a disagreement amongst public on banning an illegal activity, but is meat trade in UP, even in India, only or the biggest illegal activity? Much of India’s food trade run through dhabas and road side vendors is without any certification and license, much of it is without the use of any kind of meat. Why then the meat trade alone was picked up? Could the CM not instead have instructed the concerned department with a deadline to streamline the meat trade with hygeneizing the trade. The help of the traders could have been sought and help of the government could have been offered to modernize the existing abattoirs in phases. The move would certainly have got the Yogi the support of the people he had reveled in ‘otherizing’ in his Yogic avatar sans democratic responsibility and governmental authority.
Indeed, the ascension of Adityanath Yogi to the chair of UP CM would remain a subject of discussion amongst the public, politicians and academics alike for some time to come. A lot of discussion would focus on whether he would rise above his vitriolic speeches, reflecting his exclusionary mindset, to emerge as an inclusionary leader and a good administrator. The answer lies in the future.
(The writer is Director [Honorary], Centre for Public Affairs, Noida, UP)
By Ajay K. Mehra