Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the streets of UP reverberated with a slogan: Mile Mulayam, Kanshi Ram, hawa ho gaye Jai Sri Ram (Mulayam and Kanshi Ram coming together has made Sri Ram irrelevant).
Winter had just set in Lucknow, but the political atmosphere was charged up. BJP had suffered a shocking defeat in the 1993 mid-term Assembly elections. Kalyan Singh, heading the BJP’s battle in UP, had been sacked as the chief minister after the demolition of the Babri Mosque in December 1992.
BJP too had a slogan: Ram Lala hum aaenge, mandir waheen banaaenge (Ram Lala we will be back, will build the temple there itself). Neither Kalyan Singh nor his boss and mentor in Delhi, LK Advani, had thought Ram Lala’s followers’ march to Ayodhya would be thwarted by “Maulana” Mulayam and Kanshi Ram, who too was riding a wave of Dalit assertion on the back of the slogan, "Tilak, taraju aur talwar, inko maro joote chaar" (Brahmin, Baniya and Thakur, thrash them with shoes).
The seats that the BJP lost were held by CM Adityanath and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya. Photo: PTI/File
Cut to 2018. Heirs to Mulayam and Kanshi Ram – Ahkilesh and Mayawati – came together, at least for the by-elections to Gorakhpur and Phulpur, to beat the BJP. The bua-bhatija (aunt-nephew) combine managed to stop the Hindutva wave that had swept UP just a year ago in its tracks.
Few thought the BJP would lose Gorakhpur, the bastion of Yogi Adityanath, UP chief minister and mahant of the venerable Gorakhnath Peeth. Not many believed Yogi’s deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya would fail to help the party win Phulpur, the Lok Sabha seat he had vacated.
But the RSS had other ideas. And the BJP’s top bosses, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, too had a different plan for Yogi.
That Modi and Shah didn’t campaign in Gorakhpur and Phulpur despite the national spotlight on the two by-elections, indicates they were keen on maintaining a distance from Yogi. And they wanted to send an unambiguous message to the mahant.
Yogi has been walking a tightrope in UP since he took over as the chief minister. He was faced with an unenviable task – on the one hand, of carrying out the RSS agenda, and on the other, keeping a low profile and working as a disciplined soldier of Modi and Shah.
Yogi can’t do either. He doesn’t belong to the RSS and can’t submit to the Sangh’s diktats. Modi and Shah would like to control him as they keep other party chief ministers under their thumb. They expect total loyalty. Yogi can’t keep a low profile. He has been a rabble-rouser, who is committed to Hindutva, but in his own way and style.
He hasn’t risen from the ranks within the BJP and has been winning the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat on his own steam since 1989. He is a product of the Gorakhnath sect, which has its own following and appeal among a huge band of followers.
Yogi has a temperament, an attitude unlike the other handpicked chief ministers of BJP-ruled states, such as ML Khattar of Haryana and Raghubar Das of Jharkhand.
Modi and Shah were aware that losses in Lok Sabha seats won in 2014 by the incumbent chief minister and the deputy chief minister would demoralise the party workers and energise the Opposition. But the two couldn’t care less.
As a result of his subterranean tensions with the central leadership and the state BJP, Yogi now stands isolated in Lucknow. His government is in disarray. There is visible lack of co-ordination between the chief minister and BJP workers. The state party chief Mahendra Nath Pandey and general secretary Sunil Bansal have been working at cross-purposes with the CM.
Then there is the RSS factor. A team of senior RSS leaders led by joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosbole recently visited Lucknow to take stock of the ground situation in UP in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The RSS had been aware of the disarray setting in Lucknow.
The meeting was held at the chief minister’s residence. Yogi and Maurya represented the government, and the meeting was attended by state BJP president and senior party leaders Pandey and Sunil Bansal, along with other important RSS leaders.
Hosbole, considered close to Modi, is reported to have voiced his dissatisfaction over several issues. He didn’t mince words and expressed his displeasure over complaints of corruption and the performance of the bureaucracy.
The RSS leaders were upset that the benefits of the government schemes were not reaching the poor and downtrodden, Dalits and other sections of the society which had given the BJP an unprecedented mandate.
Hosbole asked Yogi to control the bureaucracy, which he felt had become unbridled. He also asked Yogi and Maurya to bury their differences and ensure better co-ordination in the running of the government.
The bureaucracy under the Yogi government is like a headless chicken. The chief minister doesn’t have control over senior officers, who know that Yogi and Modi do not see eye to eye on many issues. The bureaucracy is also taking advantage of the differences between Yogi and Maurya, the lack of co-ordination between the party and the government, and the communication gap between Yogi and the central leadership.
Hosbole is reported to have warned Yogi and other key people in the party and the government to pull up their socks for the 2019 elections.
Did Modi, Shah and RSS want to cut Yogi to size and send a message to him to fall in line? Did Modi deliberately keep away from campaigning in Gorakhpur? Whatever may be the truth, the perception in Lucknow is that the BJP government under Yogi is a divided house, with the prime minister and the chief minister not on the same page.