Yogi Adityanath Reprimanded By Modi-Shah. Does It Matter?

Published: September 25, 2017 18:39 IST
45-year-old Yogi Adityanath was made Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister in March this year despite zero administrative experience. It's showing.

Today, union minister and senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari confirmed that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President, Amit Shah have spoken to Adityanath about the latest misstep on his watch - the police violence against women students at the BHU campus the day the PM was in his constituency of Varanasi. While Gadkari did not divulge what was said to Adityanath, sources say a line has been drawn and Shah has expressed displeasure at how UP is being run.

Significantly, the communication to Adityanath being divulged for public consumption makes clear the reprimand as well as a nuanced distancing by Modi and Shah. This follows on the heels of what has turned into a cruel joke of a loan waiver to distressed farmers, some of whom have got a reprieve of less than a rupee along with a picture of Modi and Adityanath. This has driven reams of bad press and posted a serious question mark about Adityanath's ability to govern and manage the perception of his government.

Modi was on a two-day show case trip to his constituency of Varanasi. On Saturday, women students of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) who had been protesting against a case of sexual assault on campus were hit with lathis by the UP police after they attempted to meet Vice Chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi. Visuals of the police lathicharge went viral and ensured it became the unintended main headline of Modi's visit. Instead of a carefully-choreographed series of images of Modi in his constituency, the lack of governance in UP again came to the fore.

For about 165 days, Yogi has been running India's largest and most ungovernable state. Nearly 600 young children have died in Gorakhpur and Bulandshahr hospitals in separate incidents over a period of six weeks: the much-hyped Lucknow metro was a crashing failure on its first day with passengers stuck inside for an hour after a technical problem; law and order has spiralled out of control with the oddly-named "Romeo squads" targeting consenting couples.

Prior to assuming office, Adityanath, a five-term parliamentarian, had run his Goraknath math (temple) and his private youth organization - the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HVY) - with an avowed aim of "protecting Hindus." The HYV had declared in 2015 that it wanted the cow to be given the status of "Rashtra Mata" (national mother). 

I spent more than a week researching this piece and spoke to a host of UP officials and politicians across the spectrum including the BJP, Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj party (BSP).

The one thing that emerged clearly was that the assumption of office has not changed Adityanath an iota. His priorities in governance remain exactly the same as they were on the campaign trail ahead of this year's election where he gave rabble-rousing speeches on "Love Jihad" and the imaginary "Hindu exodus from Kairana" after the Hindu-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar three years ago.

Sources within the BJP say that interesting tussle has emerged between Adityanath and his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya who was a contender for Chief Minister after the party won the state election. Maurya has been keeping Shah posted directly on UP developments. Shah made a three-day trip to Lucknow in July and stayed at Maurya's home, a fact not lost on BJP workers upset with the stridency of the HVY cadre after Adityanath took over. Shah also had meetings with UP ministers, party workers and the RSS without Adityanath present. Shah, according to sources, counselled Adityanath to focus on governance. He also asked Maurya and Adityanath to bury their differences and work together. After Shah's July trip, he has been speaking to Adityanath on the phone on a weekly basis, passing on the feedback he gets daily from booth-level upwards. Maurya also briefs him and gives him an account of the UP government.

Shah has asked Adityanath to be in regular touch with his two favourite union ministers, Dharmendra Pradhan and Piyush Goyal, to ensure that UP's chronic power problems are mitigated and that schemes to provide free or subsidized LPG connections to poor and rural households are being maintained - they were key to the BJP's huge victory in India's most-populous state earlier this year.

Party sources say that BJP MPs from UP recently met Shah and Modi and expressed disappointment with the Adityanath government during the last session of parliament. The RSS in its meeting on August 31 deliberately picked Vrindavan in UP as a venue to show off the BJP's stunning victory, but RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also counselled the UP government to "ensure law and order is maintained and no is allowed to think he is above the law". Sage counsel, points out a senior leader, but also an indirect jab at the vigilante HVY. In response to criticism of the HVY cadre running amok, Adityanath has currently frozen entry in to the organisation. It may be recalled that till date, in Gorakhpur, HVY cadre have no number plates on their cars, they are inscribed instead with "Yogi".

Adityanath and the BJP have always had a somewhat strained relationship. Both chose to bury the hatchet and focus on winning the election. Says a senior UP leader from BJP, "Yogi's exposure has only been to eastern UP where he holds sway. To come to grips with the vastness of UP is also no easy task. He realises that and is trying to be on a fast learning curve, but it's not easy."

Adityanath has always been a fiery, controversial leader given to Muslim-baiting and this is reflected in the somewhat misplaced priorities of his government. They include electronically tagging all madrasas across UP, ensuring by videography that the national anthem was sung on Independence Day by them in a strange patriotism test. The afore-mentioned "anti-Romeo squads" which came in for censure from courts, the shutting down of abattoirs across UP (again criticised by the courts), increasing funds for the Kailash Yatra in a tit-for-tat with the Haj subsidy - these have been some highlights of his new administration. In May, Adityanath's government denied permission to try him for the 2007 Gorakhpur riots case for which he was earlier briefly jailed; he is charged with attempt to murder, rioting, carrying deadly weapons, promoting enmity within two religious groups.

UP has the worst human development indices in India, a collapsing law and order situation, awful roads, intermittent electrical supply (some villages still go without electricity for days), an often undrinkable water supply and now, growing farm distress. Rather than trying to tackle these daunting challenges, Adityanath's focus is elsewhere. "I had gone to brief the Chief Minister on the loan waiver for farmers one of the BJP's key campaign issues. He seemed pretty disinterested and gave me a Rudraksha Mala (religious beads) which he said was blessed. It was kind of him, but  I still don't know how we will tackle UP's overwhelming farmer distress," a bemused IAS official told me.

Interestingly, Adityanath's religious preoccupations don't seem to have done him any harm with the UP voters. "There is no anger or disappointment with Yogi. He is perceived as a young leader who should be given a chance. See, there is no connection between performance and votes. Voters may be angry with us in UP and Gujarat but they will still vote for us as they have no alternative," said a BJP leader who asked not to be named.

Even Adityanath's rivals concede this point - that while there may be some disappointment with the much-promised governance not exactly reflecting in Adityanath's administration, there is, as yet, no public anger or frustration. The upper castes are still solidly with the BJP, and Modi and Shah have through choices like Ram Nath Kovind as President indicated their commitment to backward castes and the non-Jatav Dalits, who were crucial to the BJP winning Uttar Pradesh.

A leader from the Samajwadi Party which lost power to the BJP said  "We have paid for our fondness for our Yadav clan. Shivpal ensured that they got in to all the police jobs and other local jobs which made the other castes angry. This ensured that they turned to the BJP and Shah. It will be difficult to ensure the same level of OBC consolidation again." He was referring to his party's blatant favouritism of the Yadav caste which is its main support group.

Meanwhile, Dalit icon Mayawati, who has been deserted by all her top lieutenants except for S C Mishra, has been largely quiescent. The BHU incident forced her out of her torpor and she linked it with the injustice to Rohith Vemula, the Dalit student who committed suicide at a Hyderabad university.

The Congress, with just seven MLAs, is worse off than even the regional Apna Dal which got eight seats.

So, essentially,  Adityanath at this juncture faces virtually no opposition except from within the BJP itself. And the BJP is following its own agenda. Another consignment of bricks have been sent to Ayodhya for the Ram Mandir. And sources say that big announcements will be made about the temple to coincide with the Gujarat elections due before the end of this year.

In which case, Adityanath's administrative report card will not matter. What will matter is his polarising abilities to ensure that the BJP repeats its tally of 73 out of 80 seats.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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