Is Uttar Pradesh The Indian State With The Shortest Memory?
As Uttar Pradesh readies for assembly elections early next year, the odds favour the return of India’s most divisive chief minister Yogi Adityanath. His haters’-hall-of-fame quotes arguably make him India’s most cited chief minister too.
Like the time he was quoted in the 2020 U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom report, which highlighted “India’s sharp downward turn in 2019” and listed us as “a country of particular concern”. The report reminded us that Adityanath, the only chief minister to feature, “pledged revenge” against anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors and stated they should be “fed bullets not biryani”.
Alliterative skills apart, Adityanath is only the third U.P. chief minister to complete a full term. His win, if it happens, will make him the first of those three to be elected for a second term. It will also confirm beyond doubt that U.P.’s voters have the shortest memory among all of us.
It was only in April that Adityanath announced there was no shortage of beds, oxygen, or Remdesivir to treat Covid-19, even as horrifying images of U.P.’s burning pyres were seared in memories across the country, people pleaded publicly for help, and hospitals held up their hands in despair.
A new letter signed by 210 healthcare professionals, researchers, and professors says that a “purportedly scientific study” by Manindra Agrawal, a faculty member at IIT Kanpur, praising U.P.’s handling of the pandemic is deeply flawed, adding that “on reviewing the reportage from Uttar Pradesh during the second wave, it becomes abundantly clear that the response of the U.P. government to the pandemic was woefully insufficient”.
“The impact of these failures on many lakhs of working people has been staggering, and we are yet to fully appreciate the damage that has been done,” the letter adds.
Will voters forget this terrifying time as they cast their ballot?
Loss of memory has often been associated with trauma. If Adityanath wins, it might be worth examining whether the daily trauma of living in U.P. is responsible for this malaise among the state’s voters. I know I’m grasping at straws but the only other explanation for an Adityanath win is that even in the midst of mass trauma, governance is not a quality needed to run the country’s most challenging state. Moneyed political parties can continue to effectively manage caste equations and voters are perfectly content with a daily diet of hate and conspiracy theories.
Adityanath specialises in these. Opposition parties are using farmers to fuel unrest in the country because they are unhappy with the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, he said shovelling some blame on “communism” too.
By far his favourite conspiracy is that of ‘love jihad’. In its election manifesto released five years ago, the BJP promised anti-Romeo squads to stop the spread of interfaith relationships. Adityanath over-delivered when, in November 2020, U.P. passed the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, commonly known as the ‘love-jihad’ law, and freely used it to harass and jail Muslim men.
It remains to be seen what the BJP’s new manifesto for U.P. will hold. Even as I write this, the Mathura district administration has imposed prohibitory orders after the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha announced it will install an idol of Lord Krishna at his “actual birthplace”, which it claims is in a mosque. It’s an eerily familiar playbook.
Columnist Mukul Kesavan sums up the appeal of Adityanath: “…he is Hindutva’s mascot and the state he rules in his saffron image is the future envisaged for India by the BJP. Even more than the Gujarat Model, Yogi’s U.P. is the BJP’s shop window. For nearly five years now, he has been the showrunner for the BJP’s version of the Hunger Games, playing to packed houses on WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram.”
Aakar Patel’s just-out book, The Price Of the Modi Years is as much an indictment of Adityanath as it is of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It underlines the injustices playing out in U.P., which could easily be replicated in your state in the years to come.
Some highlights from Adityanath’s term that make it to Patel’s book are:
— In 2020, more than half the arrests under the National Security Act in Uttar Pradesh were for cow slaughter cases. U.P. also used this draconian law to jail and book members of the Tablighi Jamat – a back-to-roots Islamic movement that stays away from politics.
— As per the ‘love jihad’ law, “Even if a woman said she was changing her faith willingly, it was up to the husband to prove his innocence in the matter,” Patel writes. The author’s footnotes are littered with dystopian headlines such as: ‘U.P. Hindu woman heckled, Muslim husband arrested’; ’Firozabad: Woman denies “love jihad” charge, mob chases man’s family members’; ‘Lucknow: Families give consent but cops stop interfaith wedding, cite anti-conversion ordinance’; ‘‘Love jihad’ rumour: Wedding stopped in U.P., Muslim couple kept overnight at police station’.
— The Uttar Pradesh Police arrested Muslims even purely for social contact. In one case, an 18-year-old Muslim boy was arrested in December 2020 for meeting his former classmate over pizza and jailed for six months though his companion protested that he had done nothing wrong.
— Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damage to Public and Private Property Act, 2020 was enacted after the anti-CAA protests. It gave the state government the power to set up tribunals to decide damages to any public or private property due to riots, hartals, bandhs, protests, or public processions. The tribunal can order attachment of their properties. Orders are final and cannot be appealed.
— Muslims who have visited temples in an act of harmony have instead been arrested for spreading communal hatred (the Khudai Khidmatgar case). Journalists and activists who travelled to UP to offer solidarity with the family of a Dalit gangrape victim have spent months in jail (the Siddique Kappan case).
— Many journalists critical of Adityanath’s functioning now face criminal cases.
— 96% of sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticising politicians and governments over the last decade were registered after 2014, with 149 accused of making ‘critical’ and/or ‘derogatory’ remarks against Modi, and 144 against Adityanath, as originally reported by Article-14.
“No riots, farmer suicides after BJP came to power in U.P.,” Adityanath said recently. “Women can drive a scooty wearing jewellery even at midnight in U.P.,” his like-minded colleague and Union Home Minister Amit Shah said.
If U.P.’s voters believe these statements they deserve to win the prize of the Indian state with the shortest memory. If they vote for Adityanath despite remembering, we will all take another big step in erasing our memories and reality of the India that once was.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.