A Muslim in Yogi Adityanath's cabinet has everyone surprised
Mohsin Raza comes as a surprise for all as the BJP had not cared to field even a single Muslim candidate in the recent state election.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been springing surprise after surprise in Uttar Pradesh - first when he led the BJP to a historic win of 325 seats in the 403-member Assembly, followed by handpicking the saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath as chief minister, and now the most unexpected induction of Mohsin Raza as the only Muslim in the 50-member council of ministers who were sworn-in on a hectic Sunday afternoon.
Raza's name did come as a huge surprise for all as the BJP had not cared to field even a single Muslim candidate in the recent state election, for which it drew much flak. As if to offset that and to send the message of "inclusiveness", Raza was hand-picked as the new government's Muslim face.
What was also significant was the appointment of two deputy chief ministers - Keshav Prasad Maurya and Dinesh Sharma. This is the second time in the history of the country's most populous and therefore electorally most crucial state there is a deputy chief minister. The other occasion when UP saw a deputy chief minister was during the Janata Party regime, with BJP leader Ram Prakash Gupta as deputy.
Among the others were 23 cabinet ministers, nine ministers of state with independent charge and 15 ministers of state. Care was taken to maintain the gender balance by including half a dozen women in the council.
Even prominent Muslims of Lucknow see this as a gesture of goodwill. "There is no denying that Yogi Adityanath's name did arouse a lot of tension in Muslim minds as he was known largely for inciting communal passions through his provocative utterances; but the message he has sent by inducting a Muslim into his cabinet is bound to ease tension to a large extent," said Jafar Mir Abdullah, who comes from the line of the erstwhile Nawabs of Awadh.
He added, hopefully: "Yogiji will continue to be like this and live up to PM Narendra Modi's slogan of sabka saath, sabka vikas, and will not revert to his previous image of being a rabble-rouser."
According to him, "Awadh is widely known for its secular Ganga-Jamuni culture, and surely it is for the leader of the state to carry the tradition forward."
Maulana Khalid Rashid, the well-known Imam of Lucknow's Eidgah and head of Firangi Mahal, one of Lucknow's oldest Islamic seminaries, also confessed that the Yogi's elevation as chief minister came as a shock.The ceremony drew nearly the entire Union Cabinet. Photo: PTI
"It did not go with the prime minister's much hyped development narrative. Known for provocative speeches and extreme fundamentalist views, one could not imagine that he would be Modi's choice for the top job in UP. But I must admit the appointment of a Muslim in the cabinet is a good gesture. Whether it is meant for handling the state's minority affairs department or is a genuinely inclusive gesture, only time will tell," he said.
What has also gone well with everyone was his first message on the UP chief minister's Twitter handle: "The new government is committed to creating jobs and employment for the youth of Uttar Pradesh."
"This clearly beats the common impression in the minds of most people that Yogi would only take to contentious issues like the Ayodhya temple or harp on things like 'love jihad', 'ghar wapsi' or the like for which he was widely known," pointed out Fasih Ahmed, a retired Army colonel who had openly voted for the BJP because he felt "Modi was the nation's best bet today".
The swearing-in ceremony was also unique in many ways. Apart from the fact that the sprawling Kanshi Ram Smriti Upvan - the gigantic space for the annual Lucknow Festival with an estimated 3,00,000 capacity - was selected as the venue for an open-to-all ceremony, the high-profile function was attended by Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah as well as former deputy prime minister and now BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani. Significantly, none of the newly inducted ministers cared to go to him or greet him after taking oath.
According to official estimates, about 1,00,000 people converged at the open ground. The entire venue initially reverberated with cries of "Jai Shri Ram", which was later taken over by chants of "Modi-Modi" and "Yogi-Yogi".
Significanty, chief ministers of ally-ruled states also flew down to join the ceremony. What added colour to the occasion was the arrival of outgoing chief minister Akhilesh Yadav as well as his father and former UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who were seen exchanging pleasantries at the venue.
This was a departure from the tradition laid down essentially by former BSP chief minister Mayawati, who refused to attend the swearing-in ceremony of her successor Mulayam, and who paid her in the same coin when he exchanged places with her later. Former UP chief minister ND Tiwari, 92, also attended the ceremony.
According to official sources, Yogi Adityanath had made it a point to make personal calls to all former UP chief ministers, including Mayawati, to invite them for the swearing-in.
The ceremony drew nearly the entire Union cabinet. However, the minister of state for railways and telecommunication Manoj Sinha was conspicuous by his absence. Political observers were attributing his absence to him being caught up because he was among the front-runners for the UP CM's position until Saturday afternoon, before Yogi Adityanath's came was announced.