Yogi Adityanath may not be a monk who sold his Ferrari, but in picking him for the post of Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have certainly sold us a Hindutva dummy in the name of "vikas". There are no two ways of saying the obvious truth. Installing such a divisive and thuggish figure at the helm of India's most populous and volatile state is a terrible, terrible decision.
It at once calls into question BJP's highfalutin "development" agenda and raises doubts over the genuineness of the prime minister's assertion when he spoke passionately about a new inclusive India during his victory speech post the UP elections. Speaking to BJP leaders and workers in New Delhi, Modi had pledged that his government is "of those who voted for it, and also those who have not; of those who have walked along, and of those who have not", urging everyone to join in the making of a new India.
It is difficult to see how he plans to achieve this goal by giving the UP CM's chair to a bigoted Hindutva hardliner who has made a career out of inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric. This isn't just legitimising the loony Right, but also telling Muslims that they are unwelcome in a state where they form nearly 20 percent of the population.
The brazenness of the move is breathtaking. It tells us several things at once and each of these conclusions make Modi appear weak and ineffectual at best and a mastermind of cynical agenda at worst.
Attempt at Hindu consolidation
The 2017 UP mandate was path-breaking for BJP for several reasons. It was fought exclusively as a referendum on Modi and the thumping win reflected the fact that a young electorate feels hopeful of a better future under him. The scale and sweep of BJP's win also suggested that a number of Muslim youths and women had favoured the party, in an endorsement of its development agenda and socially progressive stance on issues such as triple talaq.
Handing the reins of Uttar Pradesh to the Mahant of Goraknath Mutt, the founder of Right-wing organisation Hindu Yuva Vahini, is an indication that BJP is going for broke in 2019 as far as consolidation of Hindu votes is concerned. It could be a reactionary move to counter opposition parties ganging up against BJP based on a calculation that polarisation will automatically hand BJP unbeatable numbers because the majority will be with it. If this is indeed the reason, then it makes Modi look insecure — as someone who has no faith in development and growth being the platform for an even larger consolidation.
Did Yogi muscle his way through?
A more likely explanation is that Modi was compelled to install the five-time Gorakhpur MP at helm of UP because he was by far BJP's tallest leader in the state and the party's organisational structure stood at risk being sabotaged if Yogi was ignored. It is being said that the 44-year-old who has several criminal cases against him — including rioting and attempt to murder — commands a large and devoted army of followers who could have jeopardised BJP's chances in 2019 having played a big role in the party's win this year.
Did the prime minister blink in the face of Yogi's show of strength? After all, he is said to be backed fiercely by a huge number of MLAs. The scenes of delirium on display on Saturday when his name was eventually disclosed did indicate that his loyal army would have settled for nothing less.
Did this groundswell tilt the balance in Yogi's favour compared to more low-key but accomplished performers like Manoj Sinha? If true, this also projects Modi as a weak leader. He had an overwhelming mandate to play around with and no amount of strong-arm tactics should matter. On the other hand, selecting the rabid Hindutva hardliner is a hugely risky proposition because any wrong moves from his part would take away from the prime minister's political capital.
Did mandate give rise to arrogance?
It is instructive that not once during the entire exhaustive campaign was Yogi's name projected as a prospective CM candidate. This, despite all opinion polls showing him to be BJP's most popular leader in state. It was perhaps an indication that BJP recognised that the Mahant's polarising image was in direct contradiction with its inclusive plank. If the BJP had to make him the CM, why did it not let him spearhead the campaign? And because it had not, making him chief minister now is an insult to the sweeping mandate and belies a brazenness that Modi had warned the party against during his speech. Was he not serious then?
Make the worst boy the class monitor?
The most charitable explanation, however, is that responsibility will change the mercurial leader and bestow upon him the principles of raj dharma. Yogi, for all his courting of controversies, enjoys a clean, graft-free image and is known to be strict against corruption. His being at the helm will also take care of the bewildering caste equations. Maybe Modi did not feel comfortable in ignoring the choice of party MLAs, but was also careful in appointing two deputy CMs to ensure that Yogi remains within the parameters of development agenda. Venkaiah Naidu was certainly at pains to reiterate that it will be the sole motto of UP government.
Whatever be the reason behind Modi and Shah's choice, there is not a shadow of doubt that this controversial decision could have been avoided in favour of a more inclusive candidate. BJP certainly didn't lack talent in its ranks. But, in one stroke, Modi has given legitimacy and a full-time job to conspiracy theorists among opposition and media. Expect mayhem.
Updated Date: Mar 19, 2017 09:06 AM