The BJP’s retrograde turn in Uttar Pradesh
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“There have been 450 riot cases in west UP (Uttar Pradesh) in two-and-a-half years of Samajwadi Party rule because the population of a particular community is rising manifold. Why are there no riots in eastern UP? You can easily understand. In places where there are 10-20% minority population, stray communal incidents take place. Where there are 20-35% of them, serious communal riots take place and where they are more than 35%, there is no place for non-Muslims.” This is not the conclusion of an academic work on riots in the state of Uttar Pradesh. These are the words of Yogi Adityanath, now the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. This is not his only incendiary statement; take this statement he delivered in an old speech: “If they (read Muslims) convert one Hindu girl, we will convert 100 Muslim girls. If they kill one Hindu, then 100 we too will…” The crowd completed the sentence.
Adityanath’s absurdities extend beyond Hindu-Muslim communal politics. For instance, in an essay on his website, he says: “If men acquire women-like qualities, they become gods but when women acquire men-like qualities, they become demons.”
Even though Adityanath’s selection as the chief minister of India’s most populous state comes as a surprise, a few signals can be discerned in hindsight. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gave no ticket to any Muslim candidate in the fight for the 403-member assembly in a state where Muslims account for around 19% of the population. Adityanath was one among the star campaigners of the party. But those signals could have been explained without necessarily seeing them as a build-up towards the elevation of Adityanath. It is widely perceived, even outside the BJP ranks, that a Muslim candidate on a BJP ticket doesn’t really make a winning proposition. And Adityanath has genuine appeal in Gorakhpur and nearby districts which the party would have liked to exploit.
But more importantly, the victory speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi a day after the election results were announced was statesman-like. Comparing the success of his party to a tree laden with fruits (of victory), he said that it was the responsibility of the BJP to bow down in humility. In a bid to move past the rancour of electioneering, Modi said: “The government in a democracy is formed with a majority but is run with consensus. The government of the BJP belongs to those who voted for it as well as to those who did not vote for it.” It looked as if the BJP would steadfastly focus on developing Uttar Pradesh, one of the most backward states in India. It can still do so, but the selection of Adityanath is certainly not a good start.
It is not just the criminal cases against him—it is never easy to separate the politically motivated cases from the genuine ones when it comes to politicians. But the divisive rhetoric that Adityanath employs with complete abandon sets him apart. Adityanath’s vision is antithetical to the idea of a constitutional republic and also of a Hindu civilizational state that he claims to protect. This newspaper had noted after the election results that the BJP needs to embrace a broadness of vision if it wants to dominate the politics of a country like India. The choice of Adityanath shows that the party has yet again failed to do that and its transformation into a party on the modern Indian right remains incomplete.
There has been an attempt by some commentators to showcase Adityanath’s selection as the choice of elected legislators of the state. This is disingenuous—the newly elected legislators were all in the dark till the last moment. The responsibility for this decision rests squarely with Modi and party president Amit Shah. Having selected Adityanath, the BJP will find it difficult to put his supporters—which include the majoritarian Hindu Yuva Vahini—on a leash. Given his voluble support among a section of the majority community, the central leadership of the party will find it difficult to hold Adityanath accountable.
There are arguments in defence of this selection. Some BJP supporters argue that Modi will ensure that Adityanath delivers on governance and UP’s development. But this goes against the grain of devolution that Modi so eloquently talks about. He should have instead selected a chief minister who need not be goaded from the central leadership to curb his base instincts and pursue development-oriented policies. Some also say that there are two deputy chief ministers—Keshav Prasad Maurya and Dinesh Sharma—who will keep Adityanath in check. This, however, is the worst possible idea of governance—where you have to select a chief minister to satisfy zealots and then select two deputies to keep him in check. The reality is that the two deputies have been brought in to keep the caste equations among the support base intact.
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While Uttar Pradesh was already backward, BJP’s Ram Mandir politics of the 1990s certainly contributed in keeping the state a laggard for another 25 years. The BJP polled more votes in UP this time than it did during the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. A substantial chunk of these extra votes came in the hope of quick economic mobility and moving out of the rut that the state is trapped in. Those voters have been left befuddled if not entirely betrayed.
Since assuming power, Adityanath has made all the right noises on developing Uttar Pradesh and improving the law and order situation in the state. One can only hope that Adityanath changes into a vikaas purush, however difficult that may be to imagine.
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