Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has an opportune moment to reinvent himself and not just by photoshopping his picture to bear closer resemblance with The Fast and the Furious star, Vin Diesel.
Call it surprise selection, judicious decision or an expected move given the mandate, such occasions come only rarely. It will be a test of calibre if he is able to put his current image in the past and sculpt a new figure – that of a circumspect statesman in the making. He can shape up as a leader whose words inspire people and not just provoke. He needs to go beyond being a Hindu prodigy, an uncompromising Hindutva votary and benevolent protector of followers.
The Yogi’s situation now has striking parallels to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s, in 2002-2003 after he single-handedly led the BJP to victory in assembly elections. Almost fifteen years ago, despite leading the BJP to a two-third majority with a vote share of a fraction less than 50 percent, Modi remained a vilified politician.
Adityanath too is being weighed in terms of his past – legal cases pending against him, Private Members' Bills he tabled in Parliament, provocative statements either during elections or in the general run of politics. If criticism is for these reasons, his appointment too is being hailed by supporters for the same factors.
The challenge is to ensure that their exuberance doesn’t trip the regime. The Yogi must prevent like Modi did, vigilante groups from taking the law into their hands. Instances of vigilante groups attacking meat shops and police enthusiasm to please the new political boss in town can be seen as predictable given the momentous mandate. But such fervour will soon evaporate as livelihood concerns soon begin dogging people.
Back in 2002, Modi was quick to latch on to this reality. He may not have required it, but for researchers, a Centre for Studies in Developing Societies (CSDS) post-poll survey provided an empirical data on people’s expectations from the government. It demonstrated that majority of the voters prioritised development and didn’t wish to remain trapped in the 2002 narrative.
He thereby quickly moved to restore the confidence of industry, focussed on development-based governance and embarked on an image makeover. This was not possible overnight but over time, he transformed the image of Hindu Hriday Samrat into Vikas Purush. The Gujarat Model also became an idea in the making from that day.
Swaraj Abhiyan leader, Yogendra Yadav, unwavering critic for more than a decade and a half, had stated that Modi’s considered strategy to eschew aggression after victory was “perhaps the reaction of an astute politician who knows the ground he stands on.” It is this leaf that Adityanath has to pick up from Modi’s book of strategies. His speech in Lok Sabha on Tuesday while intervening in the debate on the Finance Bill provided an indication that this is his intent.
Adityanath’s advantage is that Uttar Pradesh was not witness to communal rioting in the run-up to the elections. The campaign, though polarising, did not match the strident pitch of the Gujarat electioneering in 2002. As a result, the new chief minister has little that will hold him back from pursuing a pro-development agenda.
Criticism of the new chief minister is consequent to his intentional positioning as hardline Hindutva mascot. In addition, Yogi also often acted like a loose cannon. It needs to be recalled that he set up candidates against the party in 2002, 2007 and initially, this time too. No action was taken ever because Adityanath retained huge support in and around Gorakhpur.
Moreover, the Math and the Nath sampradaya he heads have historical linkages with the Hindu nationalistic and Ayodhya movements. After becoming chief minister, tables have been turned and he will now be dependent on the Sangh Parivar’s infrastructure and support base.
To make certain that he doesn’t remain stuck with limited support, he must recall how Modi’s charisma spread beyond Hindutva ranks, how the prime minister secured the support of a section of liberals. In simple terms, Modi's support emerges from being a Hindutva and a development leader. In contrast, Adityanath so far still draws his popularity from being a hardline Hindutva leader.
It would be tempting to view that the mandate is solely because of the party’s Hindutva-centric promises. While the chief minister’s appointment generated a wave of Hindu elation but he would be served well if he keeps in mind that waves are transitory.
Adityanath will enhance his chances of going beyond drumbeater for strident Hindutva by believing that the verdict is equally due to the belief of people in Modi – that he will enable them to realise aspirations and take Uttar Pradesh to new developmental heights. Eventually, Adityanath’s transformation will further entrench the BJP in the state and possibly be good for people.
The writer is a Delhi-based writer and journalist. He authored Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984. Twitter handle: @NilanjanUdwin
Updated Date: Mar 24, 2017 17:37 PM