Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 52, Issue No. 12, 25 Mar, 2017
Modi and the Yogi
They are two sides of the same coin, committed to the same goals.
Why were people so shocked when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided that the most appropriate person to lead Uttar Pradesh (UP), after its victory in the recent elections, was the Hindutva firebrand Yogi Adityanath? Surely, given the stated aim of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that mentors the BJP to push India towards becoming a Hindu rashtra, appointing a man like Adityanath to head the country’s most populous state makes perfect sense. It declares in no uncertain terms that regardless of the public rhetoric about inclusiveness, there is no dilution in the party’s long-term aim. Therefore, if a hardline religious head of the Gorakhnath Math like Adityanath is able to consolidate further the Hindu vote before the next general elections in 2019, making the BJP’s victory a virtual certainty, then why not?
The problem lies not in the logic of the BJP’s choice but the fact that many people, including the majority in the media, had been seduced to believe that Narendra Modi had mellowed with power; that having been elected prime minister of the whole country, and not just chief minister of one state, he had prioritised “development” over a divisive Hindutva agenda. Those who fell for this disingenuous message were clearly delusional. For there is nothing that Modi has done in close to three years in office that establishes that his fundamental views have changed. If indeed he had concluded that both he and his party had to move somewhat to the centre to be acceptable to all Indians, he would have firmly controlled people like Adityanath who have been spewing hatred towards Muslims. Yet he has done nothing of the sort. His silence in the face of such vitriol confirms the obvious, that these so-called “fringe” elements are as integral to the party as is the peel to an apple. They derive their purpose, their power and their legitimacy from people like Modi and in turn help him and the party in achieving their political goals.
One could argue that while ignoring the more extreme elements is part of the BJP’s political strategy, getting one of them to head the largest state in the country might prove counterproductive. Could this five-time member of Parliament (MP), with his vicious anti-Muslim utterances and utterly divisive actions, conducted through his own goon squad, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, damage Modi’s cultivated image of being somewhat moderate? How can his inflammatory statements of the past gel with the lofty promises of sabka saath, sabka vikas made by Modi?
The disjuncture between the two is already evident. Within a day of taking office, Adityanath announced that one of his priorities was an action plan to close down “illegal” abattoirs, suspected without any evidence of processing beef. A day later, three meat shops were burnt in Hathras district, 15 “illegal” slaughterhouses were sealed in Ghaziabad and more were targeted in Kanpur, Meerut and Azamgarh. As most of these are Muslim-owned, the reason for making this such a high priority is patent. He also ordered the police to set up the so-called “anti-Romeo squads” ostensibly to prevent sexual harassment of young women on the streets. In fact, they are more likely to harass young Muslim men. The bigger challenge the Yogi faces is how to give momentum once again to build a Ram temple on the disputed ground where the Babri Masjid once stood. The case dragged on for years but has suddenly surfaced again with BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, who has not been a party to the case, petitioning the Supreme Court to speed up the long-pending dispute, and the Chief Justice suggesting an out-of-court settlement.
As for whether the choice of the Yogi as UP chief minister will dent Modi’s image, we have to ask if there is a contradiction between the promise of a Hindu rashtra and promises of development with a saffron tinge. How quickly people have forgotten Modi’s record in Gujarat where he projected his “Gujarat model” of development to deflect from the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom. His messaging then was as slick as it is today. And he succeeded in obscuring the reality that this kind of development led to selective gains for some crony capitalists while leaving out the poorest. It also marginalised Muslims in the state to an extent that they did not dare raise their voices. The Modi brand of development is no more than the bait to hook the electorate to the idea of a Hindu rashtra.
It was inevitable after its 2015 loss in the Delhi and Bihar elections that the BJP would have to re-strategise. This it did by maintaining the rhetoric of development that Modi had used to good effect in 2014 and simultaneously planting the seeds of hatred and suspicion towards Muslims to consolidate the Hindu vote. In UP, Adityanath was a useful campaigner for the latter. With UP in its pocket, the BJP is now confident that this jugalbandi of “development” and Hindutva can work. It can shed the pretence of being a party for all and go ahead to pursue its sectarian agenda. For that a Yogi in UP and a Modi in Delhi, both polarising figures in different ways, are the perfect fit.
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