Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, is now so vaunted within his party that it appears the BJP’s duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah is expanding into a trinity to include the saffron robe-wearing leader from Uttar Pradesh who is seeking re-election.
At the meeting yesterday of the BJP’s national executive – its senior decision-making body – Adityanath was originally scheduled to deliver virtually his presentation on preparations for the election, but, sources say, he was phoned by party President JP Nadda and invited to not just be present in person, but deliver the session’s political resolution. This is a huge privilege conferred at the gathering since the resolution, which outlines the BJP’s mission statement by outlining the schemes and plans that will shape the party’s governance, is watched closely by the BJP’s ideological mentor, the RSS. In 2017 and 2018, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, among the party’s veteran leaders from UP, delivered the resolution, an acknowledgement of his stature. Yogi Adityanath has now eclipsed Rajnath Singh entirely as the leader with real flex from UP as well as its top leader from the Thakurs, the caste that the Defence Minister also belongs to. Incumbent Chief Ministers of other poll-bound states including Uttarakhand and Goa which will vote along with UP shared their plans online.
The other leader asked to be present in person was Bhupender Yadav, the union Environment Minister, who flew back from the climate summit in Glasgow after being asked to address the press conference held after the national executive session.
So how did Yogi, who is sui generis as a leader and who does not come from the RSS school of swayamsevaks (cadre) and pracharaks (communicators), now enjoy the unreserved backing of the Sangh (perspective leaders like Sushma Swaraj who was not from the Sangh were accepted but could only go so far as leaders).
The foreground of the RSS’ total acceptance of Yogi is that he now a totemic figure for the Sangh cadre – prepared to up the ante in maximalist majoritarian politics. After all, in terms of optics, a saffron-wearing monk ruling the country’s most politically significant state, is a statement-making visual. The primacy that Yogi Adityanath was allowed yesterday proves that he has been able to put behind him, at least as far as the Sangh is concerned, the disastrous handling of the second wave which was marked by the grisly sight of bodies floating down the Ganga, a pointer to the breakdown of the primitive health system in UP. At the time, senior BJP leaders including a union minister, had publicly criticized the issue. This was when Dattatreya Hosabale, Sangh General Secretary and the RSS CEO, rushed to Lucknow and organised a lunch with the Chief Minister and his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya, to sort out their differences.
Hosabale spent four days in Lucknow collating feedback on Yogi Adityanath’s administration; the conclusion was that Adityanath alone could be counted on to deliver a decisive victory in the state. There was prevarication about a cabinet reshuffle as Yogi Adityanath resisted pressure from the central party leadership to include certain leaders; the cabinet was finally reshaped two months later, bearing Yogi Adityanath’s imprint.
Amit Shah’s recent public endorsement of Yogi Adityanath as the rerun Chief Ministerial face stems from this Sangh view. On October 29, Amit Shah said publicly in UP, “If you want Modi as the Prime Minister in 2024, you must vote for Yogi as Chief Minister.” This index-linking of Yogi and Modi’s prospects is significant. UP’s 80 parliamentary seats are key to deciding who becomes PM, but to bracket Yogi Adityanath with Narendra Modi is extraordinary.
What has impelled the change is that Yogi Adityanath has come a long way from the horrific handling of the second wave as the man with a plan. He has changed the conversation so much that even the Opposition in UP makes no mention of the Covid missteps, even in a desultory way. Yogi has ensured that the issues that he is comfortable with – Ram Mandir, Kabristans (burial grounds) and the lack of funding for them, and a grandiose warning of surgical strikes on the Taliban – are the issues to be debated in the UP elections.
Even the grotesque running over of four farmers by a minister’s car in October and the arrest of the minister’s son has been defused by Yogi Adityanath (four others were killed in retaliation violence including BJP workers and supporters). He initially used all his powers to prevent Opposition leaders like Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from being able to visit the families of the farmers who were killed. That may have been a PR disaster, but the Chief Minister rebounded by ensuring that special treatment being given to the minister’s arrested son was stopped.
More importantly, he used trusted aides from the Goraknath mutt or sect of which he is thehead priest to reach out to the protesting farmers via their leader, Rakesh Tikait. This measure was crucial in dialling down the tension; Tikait said funerals and compensation should not be politicised. In the farm belt of Western UP, where the BJP could have been stung badly by the long-running protests against three new farm laws, the sting has been taken out of the farmer agitation by deft politics. “Maharaj” (as Yogi is uniformly addressed) has taken the wind out of Teni Maharaj (the minister whose car ran over the farmers).
Leaving nothing to chance, the BJP is also seen as covertly working with Asaduddin Owaisi who is also contesting the UP elections. The UP grapevine has it that Owaisi is part of the “B Team” of the BJP, who is ready to polarize the electorate. In doing so, he will help consolidate the Hindu vote for the BJP and split the Muslim vote.
For the moment, Yogi Adityanath seems to have it all worked out.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.