Sometime in the year 2015, a video surfaced on social media where the Hindutva hardliner and BJP leader Adityanath – who is also the caretaker of the famous Gorakhnath Mutt in Gorakhpur – sat silently on stage as a supporter gave a call to dig up the graves of Muslim women and rape them. While this dastardly call was widely criticised, the speaker, a member of the Hindu Yuva Vahini – a militant Hindutva organisation founded by Adityanath – declared that when the Yogi came to power, Muslims would be stripped of the right to vote and treated as “second-class citizens”.
Two years later, Adityanath has indeed come to power – in Uttar Pradesh, if not India – and the state and country are waiting with bated breath to see exactly what this will mean.
On Saturday, the BJP’s newly elected legislators met in Lucknow and unanimously chose the Yogi as the next chief minister of the India’s most populous state.
With him at the helm, the party also nominated BJP’s state unit president Keshav Prasad Maurya and Lucknow’s mayor and national vice-president of the party Dinesh Sharma as deputy chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh. According to party sources, Adityanath’s assistants will take over as leaders-in-charge of eastern and western UP respectively.
The nomination of a polarising figure like Adityanath, known for his frequent hate speeches against Muslims, marks a clear departure from the BJP’s stated agenda of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikaas’ – the slogan it has used to declare it stands for all citizens. Ever since Narendra Modi rose to power at the centre, an undefined vision of “development” had remained at the forefront of the saffron party’s campaign. The party fought the UP’s election with this vision although its campaign was anchored by subtle and not-so-subtle communal overtones, especially against Muslims.
With a massive mandate on its side and the renewed political confidence that goes with it, the BJP’s message to the people of UP is loud and clear – the creation of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ was and is the party’s eventual political goal. And that the idea of development it intends to advance will remain focused on the Hindu majority.
Leg up for upper castes
Political analysts in Lucknow are of the opinion that the BJP, in attempting to create a three-faced leadership structure, has tried to balance the anxieties of various supportive caste groups even as it has subsumed caste identities within the broad Hindutva identity by nominating Adityanath, the 44-year-old, six-time MP from Gorakhpur who will now have to resign his parliamentary seat and get elected to the state legislature.
The argument they make is that Adityanath represented Thakurs, who, with more than 60 elected MLAs, have the greatest ever political representation in the state. At the same time, Sharma and Keshav Prasad will become the face of Brahmins (around 12% of UP’s population) and Mauryas (the biggest non-Yadav OBC block in the state) – without whose support the BJP could not have managed such an overwhelming victory.
These identity-driven representations are crucial in a state like UP. What, however, is a definitive break from the state’s recent political past is the nomination of two “forward” caste members as leaders of the state government. It was often assumed that states like UP and Bihar, which became the torchbearer of caste-based assertive movements in north India, were unlikely to have a “forward” caste CM .
The BJP has, thus, made a strong statement by turning this perception upside down by handing the state back to someone whom the traditional feudal class see as one of their own.
Adityanath will also be the first prominent leader of the party to become chief minister of a state after Modi took over at the centre. In states like Jharkhand and Haryana, which went to the polls after 2014 election, the party had chosen non-controversial and relatively lesser-known political figures to represent the state. Raghubar Das (CM of Jharkhand) and Manohar Lal Khattar (CM of Haryana) and even Vijay Rupani who replaced Anandiben Patel as the CM of Gujarat were perceived as good administrators rather than impressive leaders with a base of their own.
Adityanath, with practically no administrative experience, is seen as the fiercest campaigner for Hindutva in the BJP’s national line-up. Although he was one of the party’s star campaigners in the run-up to polls, he attended only a few rallies, each of his appearances not lasting more than 10 minutes. This had led to the suspicion that he was being sidelined. However, the tables have turned clearly, leading to speculation that BJP’s parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was instrumental in getting him the state’s top job.
In all his speeches during the election campaign, Adityanath made only two points. One, that both the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party cared only for Muslims. And two, that Hindus should unitedly press the ‘lotus’ button in the polling booth in order to stop this “Muslim appeasement” . While he went on a verbal rampage against Muslims, his supporters kept pushing his name for CM. “UP mein agar rahna hoga, toh Yogi Yogi kahna hoga (If you want to stay in UP, you will have to say Yogi Yogi)” went the most commonly raised slogan in Adityanath’s rallies. After the BJP’s victory, when all its leaders were claiming that the vote was a mandate towards the development of UP, Adityanath was the only one to stick his neck out and say that the BJP’s win symbolises the rejection of the politics of “Muslim appeasement.”
What impact the appointment of the Hindutva footsoldier would have on UP’s politics and social fabric remains to be seen. But what is apparent at present is that for the first time after the BJP came to power in 2014 under the leadership of Modi, the party has elevated a leader who represents Hindutva militancy. Adityanath’s nomination as chief minister definitively indicates that the BJP does not see its twin agenda of development and Hindutva as mutually exclusive.
The latest turn of events in UP also suggests that political debates in the state are likely to take place within the binaries set by Hindu nationalists – the centre-right represented by Modi and the far right, represented by Adityanath. What this would inevitably mean is that concerns of inclusive development – which parties like the SP and BSP raised even if their high-handedness and corruption robbed the ‘social justice’ agenda of actual substance – will be further pushed into background.
For both the BJP and Adityanath, the elevation of the militant Yogi is mutually beneficial. The BJP, because of its tactical posturing as a development-oriented party in the last few years, has lost ground to far right parties like Shiv Sena and other fringe Hindutva groups. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena and BJP, despite being allies, constantly debate between themselves.
As for Adityanath, most of his close aides like Sunil Singh have left his vigilante Hindu Yuva Vahini after his victory in the 2014 elections and floated their own fronts. The divisions were so deep that Sunil Singh and many of his supporters contested the recent election on Shiv Sena tickets. Adityanath’s elevation as CM will help him consolidate his position as the sole Hindutva crusader in UP and keep his personal flock in Poorvanchal firmly together.
From equating Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan with Pakistani terrorist Hafeez Sayyed and asking Muslims and Christians to come into the fold of Hinduism (ghar wapasi) to calling Mother Teresa a Christian conspirator and raising the bogey of “Love Jihad” against Muslims, Adityanath has done it all. He has also carried his rhetoric into parliament. During a discussion on communal violence in the Lok Sabha, in August 2014 Adityanath, who has always appealed to the Hindus to carry arms, had declared that “Hindus, when threatened, must be prepared to organise themselves and fight back.”
The BJP’s decision to nominate such a divisive political figure raises troubling questions. Are we witnessing something new in Indian politics? Or is it a mere continuation of what started in 2014 with the nomination of Modi, an equally polarising figure, as PM. These questions will be discussed and debated in the days to come. On Saturday, however, the only political message that reflected from BJP’s stable was that the core of its agenda remains Hindutva – with other issues like development only a poor cover for it.