Development has been a constant leitmotif in the electoral campaigns of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since it won at the Centre in 2014. But after the appointment of the controversial rabble-rouser, Yogi Adityanath, as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, that narrative has increasingly faced scrutiny. Can a figure known for his polarizing politics and statements deliver development and governance?
A Mint analysis of Adityanath’s performance as a member of parliament (MP) and the state of various development indicators in Gorakhpur district shows that the new chief minister, who faces several criminal charges, can claim some success on this count. Data obtained from non-partisan think tank PRS Legislative Research shows that although Adityanath’s attendance in Parliament was below the average MP attendance at the national level and for UP, he has been much more active than other MPs, asking 284 questions as opposed to the national average of 180. He has also introduced more private members’ bills: 3 as opposed to the national average of 1.4. These figures are for the 16th Lok Sabha.
In India, MPs are also entitled to undertake discretionary spending to the tune of Rs15 crore (since 16th Lok Sabha) for development work in their constituencies. Although the figure is much less compared to what is spent routinely by state governments (average state government expenditure per district in UP was Rs4,830 crore for 2016-17, according to budget estimates), it does play a role in the development of an area. Here too, Adityanath’s utilization of MP Local Area Development Funds has been higher than that of the expenditure incurred by the average UP MP during the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha. These numbers suggest that Adityanath’s interest in legislative processes and developmental activities might be much more than what it is perceived to be.
An analysis of district-level indicators of Gorakhpur, which Adityanath has served as an MP since 1998, also seems to bolster his credential as a development-friendly politician. To be sure, Gorakhpur’s progress on various indicators captured in the decadal censuses cannot be fully attributed to Adityanath. BJP has not had more than 40% MLAs in assembly segments under the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency in the 2002, 2007 and 2012 assembly elections. Nonetheless, the data suggests that at the very least, Adityanath has not come in the way of Gorakhpur’s economic progress.
To evaluate Gorakhpur’s progress, the analysis considers the comparative gains made by other districts in the state as well as in the rest of the country. Given that UP is a big state with sharp intra-state differences, the analysis also considers data on asset ownership and amenities for Purvanchal, the region to which Gorakhpur belongs.
The census data for 2011 shows that Gorakhpur is ahead of not just Purvanchal and UP but also the rest of the country when it comes to ownership of household assets such as television, bicycle and motor bike. The proportion of households without any asset (including radio, television, computer, telephone, bicycle, motor bike and car)—a proxy for poverty—is also lower in Gorakhpur than the proportion in the state and the country.
Since Adityanath became an MP in 1998, comparing change in these figures between 2001 and 2011 census can give an idea of the progress in the district. Here too, Gorakhpur fares better than Purvanchal and UP.
The data from the latest round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2015-16 also shows that Gorakhpur fares better than UP when it comes to key developmental indicators. Gorakhpur’s sex ratio is more favourable compared to the national average even though its female literacy rate is marginally lower than the national average.
Gorakhpur’s record suggests that the politics of polarization and the politics of development may not always be mutually exclusive.