The Gorakhpur strongman and Hindu hardliner's selection shows that communal concerns trump development.
The Modi-Shah duo’s decision to install five-term Gorakhpur MP Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh blows a hole through the argument that it was vikas or development and not communal concerns that won the Bharatiya Janata Party the state.
Even for those who were willing to take the party at face value when it claimed that its decision to not field a single Muslim candidate in the state polls was not linked to inclusive governance, the elevation of Adityanath, a Hindutva hardliner and known rabble-rouser, is galling.
Every jibe that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah took at Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav or Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati during the Uttar Pradesh election campaign applies equally, if not more, to Adityanath.
When Akhilesh Yadav, fighting to come to power for the second time as chief minister, coined the slogan “kaam bolta hai”, Modi’s counterpunch was: “kaam nahi, kaarnaama bolta hai” – it’s not the work but your misdeeds that speak. But Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister can match all his predecessors karnaama for kaarnama.
The evidence of Adityanath’s unvarnished hatred towards Muslims is far too copious to be linked here. But here’s a sample where he exhorts his supporters to kill a 100 Muslims if one Hindu is killed by the other side.
Adityanath was also present on stage at an event organised by his private militia, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, where a speaker at said that dead Muslim women should be dug out of their graves and raped.
Adityanath is no garden-variety Hindutva rabble rouser. What makes him potent is the ability to deliver what he says. The Gorakphur strongman’s Hindu Yuva Vahini is one more in the long list of so-called Indian cultural organisations that contribute to our rich tapestry through alleged rioting, burning of trains and intimidation. Adityanath himself faces several cases of rioting, attempt to murder and intimidation. His assets include a rifle and a revolver. His website describes him as the hero of Hindu re-awakening, the symbol of cultural nationalism, and a Hindutva and development visionary.
Winning at all costs
Barring the setbacks in the Bihar and Delhi Assembly elections in 2015, the combination of Modi’s mass appeal and Shah’s organisational genius is believed to have turned the BJP into an election-winning machine. Jubilant party supporters claim that electoral victory is all that matters in a democracy. That kind of cynicism may have a place in the world of tribal sporting affinities, but should it apply to the more serious affairs of a wider world? Football managers like Jose Mourinho of Manchester United famously encourage “anti-football” which entails playing an ugly brand of the sport and constantly testing the limits of law in the quest for trophies. Such coaches are usually regarded as having the winning mentality.
Even after a thumping electoral win in Uttar Pradesh that gave the BJP 312 of 403 seats, near four-fifths majority, Adityanath’s anointment is a signal that the party is putting a premium on winning future elections in the state based on cynical arithmetic rather than performance in office.
Irrespective of performance, Adityanath can be used as the mascot for consolidating the united spectrum of Hindu votes or USHV – a term that has caught the fancy of BJP supporting amateur psephologists on Twitter – especially in the face of complete opposition unity. Since we live in the golden age of alphabet soups, USHV is good old religious polarisation in a fancy new acronym.
It is undeniable that Modi enjoys such spectacular personal credibility that even a high-risk gamble such demonetisation with tawdry execution paid off handsomely. Several surveys show that people are willing to undergo minor inconveniences because of the faith in Modi’s intent to root out corruption. Despite such approval, dizzying for any politician, why do Modi and Shah need an Adityanath-shaped insurance cover for which there the perceptional premium could end being greater than the electoral sum assured?
The extremely ambitious and driven Adityanath is not a shrinking violet who would quietly take orders from the high command and run the state government under the godhead of Modi. On multiple occasions, the popular “Yogi”, as he is termed, has threatened to rebel against the BJP.
The veneer of vikas
A Thakur with roots in Garhwal, Ajay Singh Bisht took the name Adityanath upon entering the monastic fold. He and his guru Avedyanath have lorded Gorakhpur and the adjoining areas since Independence. The Gorakshnath peeth, whose temporal head Adityanath is, has been a driving force in the Ramjanmabhoomi movement for the construction of a temple dedicated to Lord Rama at his purported birthplace in Ayodhya.
In the the lands where Adityanath’s writ runs large, a popular slogan goes: “Gorakhpur mean rehna hai too Yogi Yogi kahna hai.” If you want to stay in Gorakhpur, you have to chant “yogi, yogi”. Now, Gorakhpur can be replaced by the whole of Uttar Pradesh.
Ironically, the Nath sect (also known as the kanphatas for the earring worn by its adherents) of Shaivite tradition that Adityanath claims to head is a pillar of Yogic philosophy, the cornerstone of which is universal empathy. The sect, founded by 10th-century mystic Matsyendranath, counts even the Sai Baba of Shirdi as a member. The school has produced The Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā, one of the three Sanskrit classics on Yoga. Adityanath, of course, is known for proudly keeping the maala (rosary beads) in one hand and bhaala (spear) in other.
In 2016, Praveen Patil a pollster who runs 5forty3 and is a vocal supporter of Modi, analysed the electoral prospects in Uttar Pradesh and tipped Adityanath to be the BJP’s face in the state. In his SWOT analysis of Adityanath, Patil noted:
“Adityanath enthuses the base like no other among the current crop of leaders in UP, there is no doubt about it. Furthermore, Yogi’s ascendancy will create similar political conditions as that of Modi’s ascendancy of 2013 vis-à-vis BJP’s reverse osmotic relationship with the intelligentsia. The fact is that whenever the intelligentsia, especially of the Lutyens variety, gets angry at BJP and starts a campaign of vilification against its leaders, it creates a much stronger opposite reaction from the party workers and supporters. Yogi Adityanath is bound to create some very angry editorial and TV studio creatures in Delhi which in turn would bring the best out of BJP-Sangh karyakarta brigade.”
Patil further said that in Uttar Pradesh’s electoral landscape a deep reverse Hindu vote polarisation was the only effective counter measure to overcome the tactically antagonistic Muslim vote-bank. “With the Mahant of Goraknath Math at the helm of affairs in the BJP and his Hindu Yuva Vahini working parallel with the BJP and the Sangh, it is indeed the best possible recipe for reverse polarisation,” he said.
The heat and dust of elections in Uttar Pradesh has settled down, but Project Polarisation 2.0 mounted on the scaffolding of development, with Adityanath steering the rath may have just begun.
This article was first published on Scroll.in