With Modi in Crisis, Project Adityanath Goes National

With only 18 months to go for the general elections, the BJP seems to have decided to abandon the vikas plank and go back to full-throated Hindutva and minority baiting.

PM Modi, CM Yogi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Credit: narendramodi.in, PTI

Sixty-nine children have died over four days in the BRD medical college in Gorakhpur, the constituency from where Adityanath, the mahant of the Goraknath math, who doubles up as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has been an MP for 20 years. Nineteen children died in the last 24 hours. The death of 60 children in the second week of August caused a national uproar.

As questions loom over Adityanath’s abilities, he and BJP president Amit Shah have been on a mission to expand the party’s political space in Kerala.

Adityanath is being pitched as the new Hindutva icon pan-India by the Sangh, and after his travels in Kerala, he is headed to campaign for the BJP in poll-bound Gujarat. Adityanath will also be used extensively in Himachal Pradesh, which goes to the polls in November.

The BJP is using his Dusshera pictures extensively in their campaign in Gujarat. Whenever Adityanath does find time from his hectic religious and travel schedule, he announces schemes such as constructing a gigantic statue of Ram in Ayodhya. Adityanath will spend Diwali in Ayodhya – bringing the BJP back to basics on the Ram Mandir issue. This rejig comes as the realisation sinks in that the ‘vikas’ and ‘good governance’ planks used by Narendra Modi to win the 2014 elections are looking wobbly with economic growth collapsing. 

Growing agrarian distress, stagnant investment similar to 2014 levels, near zero growth in new jobs for the army of young people joining the workforce, well reasoned attacks by former ministers such as Yashwant Sinha and the report by The Wire of the incredible good fortune of Shah’s son Jay have made Modi and Shah nervous.

This has two important implications.

The first is what we have witnessed in the incredible overreaction to The Wire investigation. In what amounted to overkill, railway minister Piyush Goyal came out and held a press conference to defend “private citizen” Jay and announce Shah junior’s intention to sue The Wire. This was a redux to similar moments when the BJP had attacked Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra for similar good fortune and the Congress party had defended him. The parallel made senior BJP leaders, hitherto quiescent, uncomfortable. The alacrity with which the government allowed a senior law official to represent Shah junior also raised eyebrows.

The second is that the BJP, with only 18 months to go for the general elections, has decided to abandon the anaemic vikas plank and go back to full-throated Hindutva and minority baiting.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, the newly sworn-in chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath and ministers after the oath ceremony in Lucknow on Sunday. Credit: PTI/Nand Kumar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, the newly sworn-in chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath and ministers after the oath ceremony in Lucknow on Sunday. Credit: PTI/Nand Kumar

This is what could explain the emergence of Adityanath as the new election mascot – alongside Modi – and the complete focus on a 24/7 campaign. The BJP has doubled Modi’s planned campaign trips to Gujarat, where he will now blitzkrieg the state nearly four times a month, up from the planned two. As the BJP’s prospects, once seen as certain, seem to be in the balance, Adityanath has also been pressed in to service.

Adityanath, after his suggestion that UP’s “excellent health services” could serve as a model for Kerala, which seems like a black joke, went back to his pet themes in Kerala of “love jihad” and how the Rohingyas pose a terror threat to India.

In Adityanath’s six-month-run, UP has seen the administration guided by the strange priorities of anti-Romeo squads, a Kailash subsidy and video surveillance of madrasas to ensure that they sing ‘Vande Mataram’. A senior Central leader of the BJP says:

“What you don’t understand is that Yogi has not let administration bog him down and continues his own agenda – he has endeared himself to the faithful. The Sangh doesn’t care about administration, it cares about the unity of the Hindu Samaj and while it was earlier uncomfortable with Yogi and his vigilante army, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, it has now embraced him wholeheartedly.”

So as Project Adityanath goes national, the BJP is now comfortable making mainstream what it earlier used to dismiss as the “fringe”. After all, can anything be more politically relevant than the chief minister of a state that has 80 Lok Sabha seats? The BJP, post the Muzzafarnagar riots in 2014, had managed to get an unprecedented 73 seats from UP. With Adityanath upping the communal ante, it’s hoping for a similar harvest.

Shah, under a cloud himself, has sent an SOS message to the RSS, asking for cadres to come to the aid of the BJP in all poll-bound states. Shah has put the BJP into a corner by his bombastic public utterances, where he said that the BJP would win 150 plus seats – mission 150 in Gujarat – as a thanksgiving and tribute to Modi. Even if the BJP wins Gujarat, Shah’s boasts will still embarrass them.

Meanwhile, the RSS-backed unions and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) are also on the war path with the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, planning a public rally on November 17 at the Ramlila Maidan. This will be followed by a farmers demonstration in Delhi on November 25. The SJM plans a protest on October 29.

This is part of a plan to take the heat off Modi by ensuring the steam blows off with in-house managed protest, something the Sangh has mastered with its multiple organisations and faces.

So is Modi in crisis? Yes, when it comes to the delivery of his tall promises and the much-heralded “acche din” and the economy. Not when it comes to the Sangh and his faithful.

Swati Chaturvedi is a journalist and author based in Delhi. She tweets at @bainjal.