There is not a shadow of doubt that Yogi Adityanath, no stranger to controversies, will get more than his fair share of media coverage now that he has become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Already, sly jokes abound in social media about how entire TV studios might be relocated to Lucknow from Delhi at least till 2019. On a more serious note, this could actually be a good thing.
Old (chiefly English) media's sudden, heightened obsession with Yogi Adityanath could be a sign of its getting trapped in own myth-making. Having cast the five-time Gorakhpur MP as a stereotypical rabid, Muslim-hating, venomous hardliner the media now may feel obligated to justify its stand. Or, as argued recently by an editor, the media sees a moral compulsion in taking over as the de facto Opposition to fill the void left by BJP's political rivals in UP.
Be that as it may, the intense inspection may actually work in the new BJP chief minister's favour in more ways than one. To begin with, the renewed scrutiny has already thrown up some interesting contradictions in the 'saffron-clad bigot' narrative. It now appears that the mascot of muscular Hindutva may not be the sum total of his invectives.
Yogi Adityanath's constituency, Gorakhpur, in eastern UP, has a fair number of Muslims. The fact that he got elected five consecutive times to the Lower House — even when BJP was a marginal player in the state — would indicate that there is more to him than just the speeches. In national media, however, he remained a unidimensional, fringe figure whose headline-making ability was directly proportional to the ridiculousness of his statements.
To be fair to the media, his hate speeches contributed to this dehumanisation. There are simply too many examples of extremely inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric that cannot be ignored in even the most neutral assessment. If this presented an inherent conflict, it is the media's failure that it failed to get behind the headlines.
Adityanath's elevation to the chief minister's chair, however, has forced a reassessment. The caricatured portrayals still abound but we are also witnessing a counter-churn — an effort to humanise the figure. His invectives are getting contextualised, his image is gaining dimensions hitherto unknown and reasons behind his electoral victories are now coming to light. If the earlier portrayals were caricatures, too much of course correction comes with its own set of problems.
Between these conflicting currents, it will be prudent to focus on what CM Adityanath says, does and whether he remains true to campaign promises. Placed bang in the middle of political upheaval and tectonic ideological shifts, Adityanath's policies and implementations of those policies will determine the future course of his party's and even Indian politics. At his farewell address to the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the math-graduate-turned-ascetic vowed to end anarchy and lawlessness in UP. He said his state will become corruption free, safe for women and he will create enough opportunities for youth to stop emigration. He also promised to implement the 'Gorakhpur model' where he claimed not a single riot has taken place in the last five years whereas UP at large has witnessed 403 incidents of communal violence.
In a rather loaded statement, he told the House, "Aap dekhte rahiye... Wahan par bahut kuch band hone jaa raha hai (You keep watching... A lot is going to stop there)." Early reports indicate that the CM means business. He is moving fast to translate words into actions and keep his campaign promises. There is a breathless move afoot to close illegal and mechanised slaughterhouses that were part of BJP's election manifesto. The party believes that banning such abattoirs will boost the state's struggling dairy industry. The CM on Wednesday also ordered an immediate ban on smuggling of cows, vowing "zero tolerance".
The chief minister has also cracked down on 'VIP culture' and has banned all ministers from using red beacons atop vehicles. An India Today report quotes a car accessory owner as saying that during SP regime, "at least 10 people used to install hooter, siren and SP's flag every week." Another campaign promise has already been set in motion. Anti-Romeo squads have spread out in different parts of the state to make the state "safer for women" though there is always a danger of this lapsing into moral policing and vigilantism.
UP top cop Javeed Ahmed told NDTV that "the idea is to reclaim public spaces and make them safe for women" and said Adityanath had asked him on Monday to come up with a plan to improve law and order. The actions mark an admirable attempt to restore rule of law and bring back accountability and responsibility in administration. Yogi's austerity will serve as a good benchmark for his Cabinet and bureaucrats to follow. His main challenge will lie, however, in controlling the disruptive forces that may use a change of guard to foment trouble. Reports have already emerged that three mutton shops in Hathras have been set ablaze by "unidentified persons" against whom FIRs have been lodged.
It won't be long before more fat is fed to the stereotype of a Hindu hardliner that he has already been cast into. Voices in media have already emerged about how closing down of illegal abattoirs will affect the livelihood of those dependent on it. Little notice has been taken of the fact in 2015, the National Green Tribunal had banned all illegal slaughterhouses in UP and directed the state pollution control board and other local authorities to ensure regulation of meat shops.
This clash of narratives that I referred to earlier may end up benefiting Yogi Adityanath. His actions will be put under a magnifier and any failing, real or perceived, will be multiplied manifold. In many cases, we have seen media-driven narratives achieving the exact opposite electoral result. The key for Adityanath will be to ensure rule of law and development for all. The rest will take care of itself.
Updated Date: Mar 22, 2017 17:01 PM