By appointing Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Modi has made his third disruptive move after surgical strike and demonetisation. So immediate and deep has been the impact that it has annihilated in one stroke all codified cleavages, and redrawn India's ideological map. The Left, Right and Centrist Venn diagrams are now in disarray. The entire Indian political spectrum, as the current Mahant of Gorakhnath Temple took oath on Sunday, resembled a smoking battleground strewn with the debris of conflicting positions.
Leave alone the regressive Alt-Left which has greeted Adityanath's elevation with customary cries of Apocalypse, Adityanath's ascension has spooked centrists and the moderate Right alike, leaving those on the right of Right to justify why Modi's move makes immense political sense and is entirely in line with the logical progression of 'new BJP'.
Among the ideological Right, a rift has risen overnight, with one side interpreting Modi's choice as a "betrayal" and the other accusing it of falling into the elitist trap and disregarding the voice of people. I shall explain presently why this "voice of people" argument is misleading.
A large section of liberal Indians disgusted with the pseudo-secularism of India's political discourse and sickened with naked minorityism in the name of secularism, had seen in Modi-led BJP a refreshing perspective where Indians, regardless of their caste and community fault lines, were co-opted as active participants in the nation-building process.
As the prime minister went about his job putting in place the building blocks for a new India, they saw in Modi a strong, therapeutic leader determined to cleanse the country of Congress-led "appeasement culture" that had fatally afflicted Indian politics. The toilets that were built, bank accounts that were opened, gas connections that were installed, insurance schemes and easy loans that were disbursed did not discriminate between Hindus, Muslims or Christians. Modi did not need to wear a skull cap to project himself as "secular", his slogan for "sabka saath, sabka vikas" resonated enough.
When the opposition parties — and entrenched power brokers in media, academia and civil society — threw tired old cliches at Modi, he responded by asking people to fight poverty, not each other. Indians responded.
Bucking all trend, Modi's personal popularity that had soared during 2014 elections refused to come down. And in the 2017 Assembly elections, the closest that we have towards mid-term polls, BJP's resounding win showed that Modi has retained the trust of a large section of Indian polity, including minorities whose patience at being turned into a permanent veto power against BJP was getting thin.
The shift was palpable. It seemed as if Modi was trying to shift BJP from the Right to a centrist position, where it would be able to expand its core base and draw support from neutrals, floaters and ideological fence-sitters, and administer consensus-based growth and development. That was at least what the prime minister said in his post-UP victory speech last week.
Except that nobody foresaw the Yogi uppercut. Out of the ashes of faux secularism, arose the phoenix of hardline Hindutva that defined BJP of the 1990s. If this was the plan all along, Modi and BJP hid it well during the campaign.
BSP ran a blatantly communal canvassing and SP-Congress shelved their decade-old rivalry to attempt a consolidation of Muslim votes. Modi steered clear of identity politics — as he did in 2014 — and sought a larger consolidation based on hope and aspiration. When results came out, shell-shocked rivals blamed the EVMs.
MJ Akbar wrote in The Times of India: "Above all, they (Opposition) cannot understand how Muslims have voted for Narendra Modi. BJP won 104 constituencies with a substantial Muslim presence; it could not have done so without getting some Muslim votes."
It is now clear that many pundits miserably misread the verdict. Where they saw a mandate for greater inclusiveness, 'new BJP' under Modi saw the signal for unabashed Hindu consolidation. By choosing a rabid hardliner for the UP top job, Modi and Shah are moving towards a post-Ram Janmabhoomi Hindu integration, that they hope may override all caste creases in the most crucial state of Hindi heartland.
This is not a knee-jerk, reactionary step. It is a calculated decision aimed at reinforcing BJP's grip in a state where they have been out of power for 15 years. As a man on top of his game and in full command of the party's power structure, Modi is obviously well within his rights to strategise and chart BJP's path. But where it seems like a betrayal is that a volatile polariser like Yogi Adityanath was installed at helm after Modi fought and won the election on an exclusive development agenda. The primary question here is moral, not political.
Had the UP mandate been the result of a Hindutva agenda, Adityanath's appointment would have been interpreted as a natural, obvious step. But the referendum was on Modi and his vikas agenda, not the five-time Gorakhpur MP's politics. Hence, criticisms against him cannot be termed as a "disrespect of people's verdict". What this about-turn does is that it strips BJP and Modi of the moral hallow that it enjoyed in the post-Congress world of pseudo-secularism.
Modi-Yogi false equivalence
A final word on those bent on comparing Yogi Adityanath with Narendra Modi. The case being put forward is that the Mahant of Gorakhnath Temple is being maliciously misrepresented in media just as Modi was post Gujarat riots. This is a strawman argument because dissimilarities between Modi and Yogi far outnumber the similarities. Unlike Adityanath, who is a five-time MP with a proven track record of running for public office, Modi was a virtually untested leader who had never appeared before in an election. He was known for his organisational skills but never as a polarising figure.
Yogi's consistently inflammatory rhetoric — samples of which are strewn all over cyberspace — are in stark contrast with Modi's public utterances where he has never wavered from the straight and narrow. There is no doubt a similarity in the way media has targeted both, but in Yogi's case there appears to be a lot of justification for it.
It will be pertinent to remember that the entire liberal outrage industry against Modi is based on the 2002 riots, over which he has repeatedly been put on trial and has emerged unscathed from every scrutiny and every inquiry commission — including the one constituted by the highest court of the land.
Whereas in his own election affidavit in 2014, Yogi disclosed that "he faced criminal cases, including attempted murder, intimidation, promoting religious enmity, defiling a place of worship, rioting, and trespassing on burial places."
The media worldwide faces an acute crisis of credibility. Their critical stance against Yogi, therefore, is likely to generate further groundswell instead of censure. But to use that yardstick to draw a false comparison between Modi and Yogi Adityanath is problematic.
The noise apart, Yogi's appointment is the clearest sign that Modi doesn't waver when it comes to taking disruptive decisions — be it economic, military or political.
But a large section of his backers, not detractors, would see this move as a tragic let-down.
Updated Date: Mar 20, 2017 16:19 PM