Was making Adityanath UP chief minister PM Modi’s biggest political mistake?

The BJP has suffered a string of electoral defeats in the state since the Yogi took over.

 |  4-minute read |   04-06-2018
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The BJP has tasted defeat in Uttar Pradesh, again. The party’s loss in the Kairana Parliamentary and Noorpur Assembly by-elections comes barely months after the drubbing in the Gorakhpur and Phoolpur Vidhan Sabha by-polls. While the string of defeats raises questions on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it squarely puts in the dock UP’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath.

The UP CM is facing the heat on both the Hindutva as well as vikas fronts. Photo: PTIThe UP CM is facing the heat on both the Hindutva as well as vikas fronts. Photo: PTI

Before Adityanath’s swearing-in, the BJP had clinched victory after massive victory in Uttar Pradesh. The 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2017 Assembly elections had seen the party notch up handsome wins. However, the saffron castle seems to be developing cracks now.  

Uttar Pradesh forms the backbone of the BJP’s brute majority in the Parliament. Its impressive show in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha polls saw the party come back to power in the state after 14 years in style. This was possible mainly because of the Modi magic. The party had not declared a CM candidate before the polls, but after the convincing victory, Modi and Amit Shah decided to give the top post to Yogi Adityanath.

Disturbed caste arithmetic

The BJP’s sweep of the 2017 elections was made possible to a large degree thanks to OBC and Dalit votes. However, Adityanath has failed in maintaining the very caste coalition that propelled him to power.

The OBC and Dalit communities were not given adequate representation in the government. Moreover, members of Yogi’s own caste, the Thakurs, were involved in violent clashes with Dalits in Saharanpur. Yogi has also been accused of favouring the Thakurs, over which his own ministers have questioned him. The Opposition, meanwhile, has used these incidents to woo these castes away from the BJP.

‘Growth engine’ a non-starter

PM Modi himself is an MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi. The locals, thus, had naturally hoped that his constituency would see achche din soon, on the lines of the famed Gujarat model of progress. The PM too had announced that he would turn UP into a “growth engine” before 2019.

However, it has been more than a year since the BJP came to power in the state, and there is not much to show on the “progress” front. In fact, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Ydav has gone as far as to say that the Yogi can’t bring development to the state, and is more suited to conducting religious rituals.

Gorakhpur over Lucknow?

Adityanath, along with being the CM of UP, is also the head priest of the Gorakhnath temple, and has been the Gorakhpur MP for five terms. Even now, he seems incapable of pulling himself out of Gorakhpur, and makes trips to the city every month. The Opposition, thus, has been accusing him of attending more to his mahant duties than to the CM’s.  

Fading saffron

For years, Adityanath has been a proud face of hardline Hindutva. After becoming the CM, he has tried to soften his image somewhat, which has not gone down well with his core supporters. His new slogan is “kisi se bhedbhaav nahin aur kisi kee manuhaar nahin (no discrimination, no adulation)”.

Adityanath sweeping the Taj Mahal did not go down well with the fans of his Tejo Mahalaya theory. Photo: ANIAdityanath sweeping the Taj Mahal did not go down well with the fans of his Tejo Mahalaya theory. Photo: ANI

He is suddenly sweeping the Taj Mahal (which he once insisted was Tejo Mahalaya), talking of visiting mosques, trying to “modernise” madarsas. His erstwhile ardent supporters see this as a departure from the agenda of Hindutva.

Silence on Ram mandir

A grand Ram temple in Ayodhya has always been on the BJP manifesto. But now that the party is in power in both the Centre and the state, it has gone relatively silent on the mandir issue. Adityanath in the Opposition had been a vocal votary of the Ram temple. But as CM, he is talking of sorting out the issue through dialogue and in the courtroom.

Failed Kairana experiment

The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) winning in Kairana and the SP in Noorpur has strengthened the idea of a “grand opposition alliance” to take on the BJP. Despite trying hard, the saffron party was unable to polarise votes along communal lines in these by-polls.

Fielding Tabassum Hasan, a Muslim candidate in the Kairana by-poll had been an ambitious experiment by the RLD, which paid off. Fielding Tabassum Hasan, a Muslim candidate, in the Kairana by-poll had been an ambitious experiment by the RLD, which paid off.

The social equation of Kairana is the same as much of western UP. It is this area which, after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, saw a vertical split of Hindu-Muslim votes and benefitted the BJP immensely in the 2014 and the 2017 elections.

In fact, in 2014, the RLD had failed to win even a single seat in western UP, considered its stronghold. Party president Ajit Singh himself had lost the election from Bhagpat, in Kairana’s neighbourhood.

In such a scenario, fielding a Muslim woman candidate in the Kairana by-poll had been an ambitious experiment by the RLD, which it managed to pull off thanks to Opposition unity. With this one stroke, the Opposition proved it had managed to stem the communal polarisation of votes in the area.

It has been more than a year since the poster-boy of hardline Hindutva took over India’s most populous state, and the BJP has suffered nothing but electoral reverses since. The party has lost the seats represented by its chief minister (Adityanath’s Gorakhpur) and deputy chief minister (Keshav Prasad Maurya’s Phulpur), and now the communally sensitive Kairana.

This, at a time when the 2019 General Elections are not too far away, is a major reason for alarm. Can we say the Adityanath “masterstroke” has in fact proven to be a lost gamble?

Also read: Why Kairana by-poll will set the stage for 2019 general elections



Kubool Ahmad Kubool Ahmad @imkubool

Journalist, Aaj Tak

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