Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath's affirmation that if he cannot prevent namaz from being offered on the streets on the occasion of Eid, he had no moral and administrative right to prevent celebration of Krishna Janmashtami in police stations, are not words of an administrator but of a political grandstander.
While his assertion, part of a series of incendiary assertions delivered at a function organised by Prerna Jansanchar Evam Shodh Sansthan (Prerna Mass Communication and Research Institution), was applauded by an obviously sympathetic audience, Adityanath forgot that a police station is government property whereas, roads are for public usage.
Instances of crowds spilling into streets while offering prayers in mosques because space inside is limited have to be differentiated from occasions when festivals are organised inside police stations or other government offices. The latter is a clear violation of the secular spirit that the state is constitutionally bound to uphold.
Making public the intent to celebrate Krishna Janmasthami in police stations was almost like cocking a snook against minorities as well as those in the majority community who do not support Adityanath or his party. The chief minister had ordered the police to ensure that this festival was organised on a "traditional and grand way". Adityanath's majoritarian bias becomes self-evident in the absence of similar missives prior to festivals of minority communities.
To summarise, besides justifying his communiqué to Director General of Police (DGP), Sulkhan Singh, on Sunday, directing jubilant Krishna Janmashtami celebrations in police stations, Adityanath made several other points. These included his explanation on why he allowed the recently concluded kanwar yatras to be organised with full gusto and not under restrictions that district officials were inclined to impose in the wake of the social violence in Saharanpur. The restrictions that were previously proposed by administrative and police officials included a ban on microphones, DJs and loud music systems during the processions.
Violence in Saharanpur district was triggered in May when a group of upper caste Rajput youth accompanied by boisterous music played on speakers mounted on handcarts crossed a Dalit locality and members of this community saw this as an affront to them. Despite this background barely weeks before the kanwar yatras, Adityanath explained why he disagreed with his officers and allowed the yatras to continue with full celebrations.
"I asked if this was a kanwar yatra or a shav yatra (funeral procession). If they don’t play music and drums, if they do not play the damru and do not play the chimtas, don’t dance and sing, don’t use the mic, how will it be a kanwar yatra. I thus declared that there shall be no restrictions in Uttar Pradesh."
The assertion of religious identity is more important to Adityanath than social harmony. He also played the old card of juxtaposing loud music during kanwar processions with loudspeakers used from mosques to sound the azan or the muezzin's call for prayers. He ignored the fact that temples and gurudwaras have been long playing devotional music and chantings of mantras during festivals.
While such provocations from people seeking to ingratiate themselves with the ruling regime are understandable, though not desirable — maybe even from politicians in the middle of a no-holds-barred election campaign — such assertions from a sitting chief minister indicate that he has not yet moved from running a crusade to governing the state.
There is also the issue of Adityanath endorsing the makeover of a personal spiritual journey carrying holy water from Ganga in Haridwar to one's village temple, into a public display of majoritarian hegemony. One must keep in mind, especially the chief minister, that communal violence has often been triggered during processions to celebrate festivals of one community.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh too was established by upper caste Hindus in 1925 in Nagpur in the aftermath of Hindu-Muslim clashes after protests over loud music during Hindu processions passing through a Muslim-majority colony.
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister has obviously not toned down the aggressive stance that he adopted while campaigning for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election. The frequent provocations from him are indicative of the intention to keep social polarisation simmering. At a time when his political and spiritual hometown is in the grip of a severe public health crisis, resorting to majoritarian posturing indicates that the real issues are being brushed aside and a false set of concerns are being flagged.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi puts his finger on Adityanath in preference over other claimants to the chief ministerial position, he reversed his policy (till then) of appointing political lightweights for the top administrative job in the states that BJP won since 2014. Adityanath was seen in March solely as a rabble-rouser with little capacity to win over anyone, save the already converted.
After he assumed office, I had argued in an article in Firstpost that he had been presented with an opportune moment to reinvent himself and that he could take a leaf out of Narendra Modi's page and go beyond the Hindutva bandwagon.
In many ways, Adityanath's situation was similar to Modi's after he secured a massive majority in the first Assembly polls after the 2002 Gujarat riots. Modi had realised the limitations of aggressive Hindutva and embarked on repositioning himself as a vikas purush.
While Modi eschewed belligerence after his victory in 2002, Adityanath is not demonstrating himself as a leader who knows the ground he stands on. He has belied the hope he generated. Despite obvious social polarisation that factored the BJP's sweep in Uttar Pradesh, people who voted for the party also believed in Modi's words that the state desperately needed good governance and that he would provide this.
Instead of working towards fulfilling people's expectations, Adityanath is still following the politics of appeasement. Despite his obvious use as a campaigner, Modi will also expect his nominees to pay greater attention to their primary duty. Adityanath can continue pursuing the path he is following at his own peril.
Updated Date: Aug 17, 2017 17:09 PM