There are two ways to view Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) stunning decision to appoint Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and back him with two deputy chief ministers – including Keshav Prasad Maurya, whose political grooming was in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal.
The first is to read the decision as signal to people that the BJP and the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo backed by the Sangh Parivar in its entirety, have interpreted the verdict as endorsement of majoritarian politics and not just a majority mandate.
Despite the sidelining of the Yogi in the early stages of the campaign and Hindu Yuva Vahini – his social outfit – fielding candidates, his appointment is perhaps the bluntest message that could be delivered to supporters and detractors alike. The singular construal of this decision is that construction of the Ram temple is now inevitable, subject to the BJP drawing a legislative plan and timeline.
‘A Tiger Never Changes Its Stripes’?
Reading the development on these lines, one cannot escape the conclusion that it is part of a diabolical plan to maximise Hindu consolidation in favour of the party. Diehard critics of Modi would also conclude that the appointment is just another instance of the idiom ‘a tiger never changes its stripes’.
The Yogi being stationed in Lucknow indicates that the Prime Minister, after successfully forging Hindu consolidation in favour of the party, decided not to rest his oars and has chosen to continue this process ahead of 2019 in hopes of maximising gains.
The second view is more rounded and begins with the presumption that the decision-making process within the Sangh Parivar is not linear and not all decisions are taken singlehandedly by the Modi-Shah duo. Without entering into details on reports that RSS pressured Modi into appointing the Yogi in place of Manoj Sinha, who was reportedly his first choice, the decision has to be viewed as a complete matrix, and its impact requires assessment.
Why Yogi, Why Now?
Quite clearly, when first indications of the decision began trickling in on television channels in the afternoon of Saturday, 18 March, the entire cadre of the Sangh Parivar was caught by surprise. Modi after all, despite resorting to language aimed to further communal polarisation, had steered clear of Yogis, Sadhvis and Swamis (Maharaj too) for more than two years. Why, then, did he opt for Adityanath, clearly the most vituperative face of the aggressive Hindu lobby within the BJP?
Firstly, with identity politics a major factor in the state and given BJP’s success in forging a correct caste formula, the caste identity of the chief minister was important. On this aspect, Adityanath fits the bill because he is originally a Rajput, the caste which turned out for the BJP. With Maurya from the non-dominant (read non-Yadav) section of OBCs, and Dinesh Sharma a Brahmin, the BJP has given representation at the top to major castes that backed it. The only other significant caste block that lost out, is the non-Jatav or Most Backward Dalits. But, this is not the first time that the scheduled castes have been denied top posts!
Adityanath’s appointment has generated another round of euphoria in the Sangh Parivar cadre, the second after the runaway mandate. This is indicative of its primary agenda, because the Yogi is a Hindutva icon and not known as an advocate for development. This marks a moment of realisation for Modi – while his power comes significantly due to tactics that polarise and remains the popular draw, his place in history will be judged by the quality of governance. His challenge will now be to interlay development in Hindutva, making it government policy without jeopardising law and order and violating the constitutional framework.
The decision to appoint two deputy chief ministers, who take their orders from Modi more directly, can thus be interpreted as a system of checks and balances being created to ensure that his development agenda doesn’t get completely hijacked by the temple backers.
Ram Mandir in Sharp Focus
Modi has consistently replaced the focus on the temple with a wider Hindutva or nationalistic platform. However, the BJP will examine legislative ways to find a solution to the Ayodhya imbroglio to ensure that the Ram temple can be built. This is not an easy exercise because the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 stipulates that the religious character of any place of worship must be maintained as on 15 August 1947. The idols were installed in the disputed shrine in December 1949, it must be recalled.
Till then, measures that placate those seeking delivery of Hindutva-centric promises – ban on triple talaq, closure of illegal slaughter houses and mechanised abattoirs, investigations on mass migration etc – are expected to be a thrust area of the new state government.
Adityanath’s acceptance by the party leadership ensures complete unity in the Sangh Parivar. His appointment can also be considered similar to the ploy used in schools, when rowdiest students are charged with maintaining discipline. Because he is no gullible child who can be assuaged with a few candies, Modi will perforce have to act the proverbial Commissar to Adityanath’s Yogi.
From ‘Pro-Muslim’ to ‘Anti-Hindu’
The new chief minister’s appointment also enables the party leadership to effect subtle alteration of its principal political argument. So far, the BJP accused opponents and critics of appeasing religious minorities, mainly Muslims. In the coming months, one can expect a shift and anyone who disagrees with its Hindutva-based policies, programmes and interventions are likely to be painted anti-Hindu. BJP leaders and cadre will campaign: “We are not anti-Muslim but pro-Hindu”. Similarly, critics will not be depicted as pro-Muslim but as anti-Hindu. This tactic will mainly affect the social position of those Hindus who don’t support the BJP.
Adityanath’s appointment provides an opportunity for critics to contend that Modi was insincere in promising to make his government more inclusive. In his victory speech, he pledged ruling by consensus, and said that his government belonged to supporters as well as detractors. After appointing the Yogi, this will become a distant goal for Modi. But he has surely forged consensus within his political Parivar.
The views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.