Yogi: The Rock Star
Sometime in 1996, The Times of India carried a full page advertorial headlined – Man India Waits For. This was during those churning years of economic liberalisation initiated by the duo of PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh and a cultural revolution led by the Ramjanambhoomi Movement heralded by the Sangh Parivar.
In the midst of all this, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the first time saw an opportunity for itself to play a lead role in government formation at the Centre. While Lal Krishna Advani was the spearhead of the cultural churn, it was decided to project Vajpayee as the political face, largely for the reason of him enjoying reputation of being a moderate leader within the party.
The arrangement, the party strategists thought, would help enter into a partnership with the non-Congress parties when it would come to government formation. To further embellish Vajpayee’s ‘liberal’ image, a media blitzkrieg was launched which included this full page advertorial in The Times of India.
There were two very interesting contents in the said article. One it said that Vajpayee, whose public sartorial image till then was being always dressed in white dhoti and kurta, wore jeans in the hours of leisure. The second information for the BJP-sympathisers, who till then have grown on stories of Vajpayee gorging onjalebis and kachoris, was that he also enjoyed Chinese food.
Even in the case of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the run-up to 2014 LokSabha polls, his images in a western suit and dark glasses made round. This was ostensibly done to project a ‘softer’ side of Modi’s tough persona. The two media exercises yielded results, with both Vajpayee and Modi forming non-Congress governments and running them successfully.
While Modi’s image managers have made efforts to ‘condition’ his image between a tough politician and a soft human being devoted to his mother and having great love for children, in the case of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, it’s been a totally different story altogether. If nothing else there has been just hardening and hardening of his image of a monk given to a Spartan way of life.
When Yogi emerged as the party’s choice for chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh in 2017, media was quick to compare him for Vin Diesel, an American artist and producer considered one of the world’s highest-grossing actors. However, this comparison was soon to be overtaken and overshadowed by the image of a reclusive monk in the role of a public persona. It’s probably this dichotomy which has not required Yogi’s media managers to float ‘untold’ stories about him.
Five years ago on a visit to Lucknow, soon after Yogi Adityanath had been sworn in for the first time, Raju, the veritable guide (remember RK Narayan’s ‘Guide’, later made into a magnum opus by DevAnand), my driver for two days had looked happy at the discipline having returned, or rather seen by him for the first time, on roads of Lucknow. “Pata nahin sab kahan chale gaye sahib (God knows Sir, where have all vanished),” he had said referring to the missing SUVs and motorcyclists on roads leading to Hazratganj, the city centre.
More importantly soon after Yogi took over, there prevailed complete confusion in the watering holes of the state capital on who was the go to man in the government to get the work done. In the previous government there were Shivpal and Ramgopal Yadavs, in Mayawati’s time there were certain bureaucrats, but in the past five years there has been no such go to man who could match the stature of those doing such jobs in the predecessor governments.
That the monk was going to change the grammar was little realised in the national Press,which trivialised the issue of naming a police drive after Romeo, the ‘self-less’ lover of Juliet in 16th century British playwright Shakespeare’s play with same name. They should have realised that such schemes come to acquire name in the local lingo, which have great effect, and also to an extent, public approbation.
The Chief Minister in a way led the media narrative with his own panache. After the initial push to the Romeo drive, he said he was against stalkers and not couples and as if to reiterate the point, visited victims of an acid attacks in the hospitals and ordered tough action on the perpetrators of such crimes.
His tough actions earned him the sobriquet of Bulldozer Baba, for demolishing the illegally acquired properties of the mafiosi. Yogi used this image to the hilt during the election campaigns hitting out at the previous Samajwadi Party government led by Akhilesh Yadav, often saying,“As if they have decided not to mend their ways. There is a huge difference in what they call themselves and what they do. Naam toh samajwadi, lekin kaam aatankwadi, soch pariwar wadi hai (Though they call themselves socialists, they act like terrorists and think like dynasts.)”
When asked by a mediaperson on why he uses bulldozer so often and that the Opposition claims that more than the bulldozer, UP needs a pen, Yogi had replied, “Bulldozer is the symbol of development for the people of the state. It is a brand now. A bulldozer can be used for the construction of roads and buildings and can also be used to demolish an illegal structures.”
The real estate sharks, who had enjoyed a free run during the previous regimes, found themselves orphaned. No wonder, under pressure to deliver promised homes to the buyers, they are now rushing to National Companies Law Tribunal (NCLT) claiming bankruptcy. In Noida and Greater Noida, the status of the majority of projects, which were launched between 2009 and 2014, is incomplete. The system under Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) became effective only post 2017, till then after extracting money for the promised units from the buyers and banks, developers made hay.
The fantastic victories scored by the BJP in constituencies falling under Noida and Ghaziabad underlined the fact that people trusted the initiatives of his government to reign in the builders and make them accountable. The next on Yogi’s agenda should be delivery of homes to those who have trusted him with their votes.
In the course of the past five years, cow protection and aggressive campaign for ‘Vaishnavite’ policies remained the order of the day. The Chief Minister being a vegetarian and a teetotaller, those in trade of meat and alcohol lost on powerful patrons, which they enjoyed in the previous governments. Their empires came crumbling down.
However, the CM being teetotaller did not influence Yogi Government’s excise policy as he did not initiate a Nitish Kumar (in the state of Bihar) like prohibition act, the pressure for which would have been tremendous from within the ideological family. However, excise policy of the UP government also doesn’t reflect the greed of Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi Government, which seeks to make the capital of India capital of Bacchus’ kingdom.
Uttar Pradesh, despite the assembly polls being held, became the first state to announce its excise policy for the year 2022-23. It has set an excise revenue target of Rs 40,000 crore, up from Rs 34,500 crore in the previous year. To achieve the target, one of the routes the UP government has taken is to increase the license fee across all categories. The increase ranges from 20% to a whopping 172%, depending upon the nature of license.
This sense of detachment with Lucifers (in Christian tradition the fallen angles who corrupt human beings), has strengthened the image of Yogi Adityanath as Philosopher King. First deliberated upon by Greek scholar Plato in ‘Republic’, a Philosopher King is a ruler in whom political skill is combined with philosophical knowledge.
It was this image which Yogi Adityanath cultivated scrumptiously, giving a clear message that the office of the head monk of Gorakhnath Math remained as important for him as the office of chief minister in Lucknow. This also helped conveying the message that though he was in the same age bracket as his rival Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, he preferred to be known for his hard-nosed mature handling than youthful enthusiasm touching margins of juvenility.
This was best reflected in the management of the vaccination programme and providing ration to those migrants who returned to their villages following the lockdowns in the metropolitan cities. While the reports of Covid-related deaths, especially during the second phase made headlines, it was the hand-holding done by the UP government in the following months which won the Chief Minister admiration of people across the caste divide.
This probably helped Yogi in becoming a better Rock Star in the people’s perception than his rivals both within and outside the party. From here the saffron-clad chief minister has only to build on his fine image, not with the help of western suits or claims to being ‘cool’ but sheer enhancement of people’s perception that he is hard-nosed philosopher who has people’s good at his heart.
By Sidharth Mishra
(The writer is an author and President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice)