Wag the dog: On Yogi Adityanath as UP CM
With Yogi Adityanath as U.P. Chief Minister, the BJP has front-staged the hardline fringe
When the tail wags the dog, the dog risks losing control of it altogether. The national leadership of the BJP may or may not have been guided by the wishes of a vociferous section of its cadre base in nominating Hindutva firebrand Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. But in so doing it has ceded considerable power to a faction within its organisational structure that is both fiercely autonomous and frequently defiant. After politically exploiting his divisive rhetoric, and allowing him to share State-level campaign space with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP would have found it difficult to refuse Mr. Adityanath a prominent role in post-election U.P. But to make him the Chief Minister is to risk the fringe taking hold of the centre. In doing so, the BJP has willy nilly shifted the discourse from development, which Mr. Modi often projected in the election campaign. Indeed, his choice is bound to signal in the public mind a front-staging of issues such as cow protection, ‘love jihad’, and forced religious conversion, all of which assume a character of aggressive minority baiting. As the head of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organisation implicated in several cases of rioting, the new Chief Minister does not exactly inspire confidence about law and order, an area of major failing for the Samajwadi Party government that was voted out. Indeed, his assuming office sends all the wrong signals to the law enforcement machinery of the State. When the BJP projected only Mr. Modi during the campaign and went into the election without a chief ministerial candidate, it was taking care not to upset the different streams within its support base. But the tact and sense that was evident at that stage seems to have been lost in the messy triumphalism after the victory.
By opting for two Deputy Chief Ministers, Keshav Prasad Maurya, the party’s State president who is from the backward classes, and Dinesh Sharma, the Mayor of Lucknow who is a Brahmin, the BJP is perhaps hoping to not only get the caste representation right in the Cabinet but also rein in Mr. Adityanath. But going by experience, a person of Mr. Adityanath’s standing and persuasion is unlikely to let himself be outflanked in government. Mr. Modi, and his alter ego, the party president Amit Shah, may believe they will be able to make Mr. Adityanath behave more responsibly now that he is no longer in opposition but at the helm. But they could well be mistaken. If anything, it is Mr. Adityanath who has so far bent the party to his will by protecting the identity and independence of the HYV and setting his own agenda. Despite his past association with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Mr. Adityanath is not beholden to the Sangh Parivar for his popularity and clout in eastern U.P. As it turned out, it was he who rode the Modi wave to serve his personal ambition and push his pet projects. To make the Hindutva hardliner mend his ways is about as easy as straightening a dog’s tail.