Will RSS Be Able to Defuse Brewing Modi vs Yogi Tensions in Uttar Pradesh?

Adityanath's future in the Bharatiya Janata Party may be decided at the ongoing RSS meeting.

Lucknow: A high-level meeting of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) is on in the national capital, and all eyes are set on its outcome. This meeting may determine not only the political destiny of Uttar Pradesh, but also that of chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

Ostensibly, the meeting is meant to discuss plans to prepare for the next state elections in March 2022. However, if insiders are to be believed, the meeting’s key agenda is the current crisis created on account of the ongoing stand-off between Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi .

Tempers have run high between the two leaders, essentially over the induction of a Modi nominee into the Adityanath cabinet. The chief minister is understood to have flatly refused to comply with the prime minister’s wishes to accommodate former Gujarat-cadre IAS officer Arvind Kumar Sharma as the deputy chief minister.

Adityanath had no problems when Sharma was air-dropped from Ahmedabad to Lucknow and nominated as member of the state legislative council (MLC) about five months ago. But when the proposal came to give him a prime slot in the cabinet, the chief minister became both wary of and averse to him. Sharma, Adityanath reportedly began to believe, had been sent to Lucknow to keep a check on him.

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Speculation was rife that Sharma would replace one of the two existing deputy chief ministers – Dinesh Sharma or Keshav Prasad Maurya. It was believed that Maurya could be moved to the post of president of the state party organisation, a charge he had held before the 2017 state elections too. A strong OBC leader, Maurya, who has always considered himself as a contender for the chief minister’s position, showed his reluctance. Eventually, he is said to have agreed to settle for the party chief’s position provided it was in addition to his existing charge as deputy chief minister.

That led the party bigwigs to suggest the two Sharmas replace each other. But it was Adityanath who allegedly put his foot down against the inclusion of the bureaucrat-turned-MLC in the deputy chief minister’s slot.

The exercise to bring Adityanath around was started by none other than UP governor Anandiben Patel, who cut short her trip to Bhopal (where she hold dual charge of Madhya Pradesh) and rushed back to the  Lucknow Raj Bhawan. She held a long closed-door meeting with the chief minister. Of course, the meeting was officially described as a “courtesy call”, but the fact remains that tension became visible in Lucknow’s corridors of power thereafter.

What followed was the sudden arrival of RSS national deputy chief Dattatreya Hosabale, who, besides meeting Adityanath, also undertook a prolonged exercise of drawing feedback from several members of the UP council of ministers as well as many MLAs. The grapevine has it that the bulk of those who met Hosabale conveyed their disenchantment with the chief minister. Some of them went to the extent of expressing their chagrin in black and white, and did not mince words in alleging “neglect” by Adityanath.

Some ministers, who had already raised their reservations against what they termed the “bureaucrat-driven”, faulty COVID-19 management, reiterated how people were allowed to die due to the shortage of oxygen and medicines, besides the non-availability of beds in hospitals. This is what led to the abandoned dead bodies in rivers or on river banks in many parts of the state, they believe.

Hosabale, who is second only to Mohan Bhagwat in the RSS hierarchy and is known for his proximity to Modi, returned to Delhi after spending three days in Lucknow. Then came the duo of BJP national general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh and the party’s UP in-charge Radha Mohan Singh to virtually repeat the same exercise as Hosabale.

The RSS’s Delhi meeting began on June 3, after the return of Santhosh and Singh from ground zero in Lucknow. Sure enough, everyone is absolutely tight-lipped about what is going on behind closed doors in the national capital. Senior organisation leaders are terming the deliberations as a “routine” pre-election affair. On the other hand, the buzz was largely about the party and RSS bigwigs taking a call on the future of Adityanath.

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His saffron robes and vitriolic utterances have made him the hot favourite as a huge Hindutva icon. He has remained the party’s star campaigner in all corners of the country – be it the electoral fields of Kerala, Gujarat, the Northeast or West Bengal, even if the effects of his campaigning appear to be underwhelming. It was for that reason that so much effort was being made to counsel and cajole him into fulfilling Modi’s wishes, who is no less a Hindutva torchbearer. Modi may not drape himelf in saffron, but his appeal as a Hindutva leader is formidable, particularly after his success with the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the dilution of Article 370 and other RSS bugbears like the criminalisation of instant triple talaq.

In fact, say analysts of the BJP-Sangh relationship, the tiff between Adityanath and Modi could have easily been avoided. If Adityanath had handled the Arvind Sharma situation more tactfully and without making so much noise, the whole issue would not have snowballed the way it did. Even his well-wishers feel he could have avoided making it a prestige issue, which was tantamount to challenging the authority of an all-powerful prime minister.

Insiders recall how a similar misadventure had been undertaken by the then UP chief minister Kalyan Singh. However, the gauntlet he threw at Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was prime minister at the time, cost him dearly. A stage came when Kalyan Singh’s survival instinct compelled him to even strike a deal with his arch political adversary, Mulayam Singh Yadav. And after living in political oblivion for a few years, he eventually had to beg for re-induction into the BJP, following which Modi favoured him with a gubernatorial position in Rajasthan, thereby also putting an end to his political career.

It goes without saying that Kalyan Singh in his day enjoyed far more political clout – and had more Hindutva appeal – than Adityanath does today. And who does not know the vast difference between the ways of Vajpayee and Modi in dealing with dissidence.

Time will tell what the future holds in store for Yogi Adityanath.