Tomorrow on Diwali (October 19), Yogi Adityanath - the mahant (chief priest) of Gorakhnath math who doubles up as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh - will sound the BJP's poll bugle for the 2019 General Elections from Ayodhya.
This has troubling implications as Yogi, his entire cabinet and former BJP minister-turned-UP governor Ram Naik will descend on Ayodhya where a large-scale puja will be conducted. The BJP will also display its slightly strange fascination with Guinness World Records by lighting the largest number of diyas (oil lamps) as it tries again to breathe new life into the hoary Ram Mandir project.
Yogi, who was anointed CM by the duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, has displayed dubious priorities during his term. He had zero administrative experience besides running his Hindu vigilante army, the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), and has made the anti-Romeo squads, shutting down of abattoirs, "love jihad" and a subsidy for the Amarnath Yatra (in a tit-for-tat with the Haj subsidy) his main programmes in the state, which has the worst ratings in the Human Development Index and does not even have primitive level of "bijli, sadak, pani' (electricity, road, water)".
Image: Reuters file photo
The law and order in UP, though never good, seems to have collapsed spectacularly, especially in Gorakhpur, where Yogi has been an MP for 20 years, nearly 300 children died in August and 69 more succumbed to death in four days this month in the BRD hospital.
Surely, this would have given a jolt to any administration and caused those who anointed Yogi to question their wisdom? But not a bit in Yogi's case. Despite his dismal performance in UP, he has gone national emerging as the BJP's new "Hindutva icon" across India. He was put on display by Shah in Kerala, where he held forth on the dangers of "love jihad" and the terror threat posed by the influx of Rohingya refugees. Yogi is also the BJP's star campaigner in Gujarat nearly on a par with Modi, and is expected to make weekly trips there until the state goes to polls.
Yogi, who was once dismissed as "fringe", is now as "mainstream" as Hindi films. And another "firebrand" leader Sangeet Som has re-emerged who calls the Taj Mahal a blot. This is part of a careful Sangh strategy to speak in many voices and have many masks.
The streak of anti-intellectual violence has been ever present in the larger Sangh, and the BJP has been allowed to have full play during the Modi and Shah era of the BJP. This is why Som's hate-filled bigotry was justified by national Bjp spokesman GVL Narismha Rao with "the period of Islamic rule was barbaric to other religions".
The now regular dog whistles and minority baiting of the BJP come after the double blows of the ill-conceived demonetisation and GST that have nearly crippled the economy. Modi's campaign slogan of "achhe din" now mysteriously buried and never referred to sound like a black joke even as "vikas" (development) with the economy contracting to 2014 levels is not heard of.
So, clearly the Modi of the "Gujarat model" and "good governance" has to be repackaged. So if not "vikas purush" (development torchbearer) then back to the uber "Hindu Hriday Samrat" (emperor of Hindu hearts). For the Sangh, the prospect of uniting the Hindu Samaj takes precedence over any development, and Modi plus Yogi signify an increase in human resources.
With a mere 18 months to go for the General Elections, it's now pretty clear that the BJP has gone back to basics of Hindutva and minority baiting to win a majority again. Yogi's elevation was the first signal and the Ayodhya temple taking prime electoral focus is the second.
Don't be surprised if Modi or Shah drop by Ayodhya tomorrow to show support to Yogi. After all, they want lord Rama to get them 73 seats out of the total 80 again.