Whatever the veracity of elated reports in the Lutyens media and their cheerleaders on the widening rift between the leaders running the country and Uttar Pradesh’s tough-as-nails chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, the RSS-BJP ought to realize that the head priest of the Goraksh Peeth is made of purer and sterner stuff. He is no Khattar or Rawat who can be steamrolled into submission.
Five consecutive terms in the Lok Sabha should have convinced the party’s honchos that Yogi cannot be bamboozled into falling in line with any move to downsize his stature to that of an acolyte surviving on their munificence. He cannot be wished away, much less ousted.
The Modi-Shah duo was compelled to make Yogi CM because he is the only BJP leader with a grassroot connect, especially in the Purvanchal belt. A political lightweight like Manoj Sinha was on the verge of being sworn-in after the BJP’s electoral sweep in 2017. He was then MoS, Railways as well as Communications. Pressure from a sizeable section of newly elected legislators at the eleventh hour flipped the decision in Yogi’s favor.
Admittedly, the party’s resurgence in the state would scarcely have been possible without Narendra Modi at the helm in Delhi. But it was one of his contentious measures which played a key factor in the party’s victory in the assembly polls: demonetization.
Note bandi may have been damned by some economists, but many feel it was done with an eye on the U.P. poll. And, sure enough, it worked spectacularly well. The poor saw the move as a decisive step to make the corrupt rich cough out their black money and voted for him with their feet.
With state elections due early 2022, any attempt to unsettle the saffron robed CM can only be risked at the party’s own peril. Lessons from the Kalyan Singh saga in the 1990s ought not to be forgotten. It kept the BJP out of reckoning in U.P. for nearly two decades.
Missteps of the past, however, do not seem to have deterred a few busybodies in the central leadership from raising political temperatures in Lucknow. The big question: on whose orders?
Even if we discount reports that the meetings of party bosses convened in Delhi and Lucknow on June 3-4 were intended to eject or weaken Yogi, what cannot but arouse curiosity and concern is the precise purport of parachuting a career bureaucrat from Gujarat cadre into U.P. and promptly have him appointed a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC).
All the more since the guy in question, Arvind Sharma, happens to be an old confidant of the prime minister. Surely Sharma was not so smitten with the politics in Bharat’s largest state that he quit the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) to become a member of its legislature.
Even the politically naïve would have guessed that there was a larger aim behind the move. Among the swirling suspicions is that Sharma was sent to preside over the partition of the state with the creation of an independent Purvanchal for which there has been a long-standing demand. If allowed, it would automatically undercut Yogi’s political prospects. His home borough, Gorakhpur, falls within its geographical terrain.
Had Yogi not nipped the possibility in the bud, Sharma would certainly have been inducted in the state cabinet with key portfolios like Home or Finance to enable him to play his role as Delhi’s informer.
Getting Madhya Pradesh governor Anandiben Patel (an ex-Gujarat CM) to take joint charge of U.P. was part one of the “weaken Yogi” plan. Reports emanating from Raj Bhavan that “not all is well” under Yogiraj were largely aimed at keeping the CM on tenterhooks.
Complaints ranged from ivory-towering himself, alienating Brahmins who make up 10 per cent of state voters, ignoring the wishes of party MLAs, but above all, being a willing tool in the hands of a few handpicked bureaucrats. All familiar gripes not entirely unjustified depending on whom you ask.
Grumblings of disproportionate bureaucratic influence can be dismissed with a simple riposte: most CMs have no choice given the paucity of talent in their cabinet. Bureaucrats, whatever their shortcomings, know their jobs better than ministers for obvious reasons. Governments change, not they.
Much the same analogy, in fact, can be applied to the current dispensation in Delhi. Barring Nitin Gadkari, Piyush Goyal, and officer turned politician, S Jaishankar, there is none in the Union ministry who commands the attention of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The boss deals directly with the bureaucracy on crucial issues.
Again, there is no state where the aspirations of every caste, community and MLA from the treasury benches can be met in entirety. The brahmin versus thakur versus OBC versus Dalit tug-of-war is common to every region.
If representation is a factor, brahmins should have no complaints. There are six of them in the cabinet. Yogi took personal interest in their selection to allay the impression that he favored thakurs. Of the two deputy CMs, Dinesh Sharma, a professor at Lucknow University, was given the job despite his political irrelevance. Proximity to the Sangh remains his sole USP.
Truth to tell there has been no major brahmin leader in U.P. since Kamlapati Tripathi. The BJP’s recent decision to rope in Jitin Prasad, a Rahul Gandhi loyalist, may have been front paged by most newspapers, but it is doubtful if it will make much difference. Jitin’s father, Jitendra, was a leader of stature and credibility. No doormat of the clan, he had challenged Antonia Maino for the post of party president in 1999 but lost and died soon thereafter.
A good deal of Yogi’s political problems can be traced to the ambitions of his other deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya, who thinks he deserved the top job on the strength of his standing as an OBC leader of merit and a champion of hard Hindutva.
A trusted lieutenant of the late Ashok Singhal, head of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Maurya was state BJP president before being co-opted into the cabinet. Though he ticks all the right boxes, he has an image problem and cannot hold a candle to Yogi in stature. But that has not discouraged him from playing his games of one-upmanship.
Another snag is that Yogi is not a Sangh protege. His mentor and foster-father, Mahant Avaidyanath, was originally a member of the Hindu Mahasabha. Though Yogi has an easy relationship with Nagpur, he is still not seen as an insider. Hence, the wariness.
Critics are fond of beating Yogi with the “economy” stick. Charges of zero development and mismanaging Covid are flung with glee. Much of it can be safely ignored since much worse is said about Modi’s record. The reality is close to reverse. Yogi, in fact, has been the best CM of the backward state since the advent of casteist leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.
The Public Distribution System (PDS) has been overhauled with the introduction of electronic point of sale (ePoS). The identification of 25 lakh ghost ration cards saved the state exchequer a tidy Rs. 1,200 crore. Linking the ration cards of 14.5 crore beneficiaries spread over 80,000 ration shops with Aadhar did the trick.
More households have access to electricity for many more hours in the last few years under the Sabko Bijli, Paryapt Bijli and Nirbadh Bijli (electricity for everyone, sufficient and uninterrupted) scheme.
Similarly, Operation Kayakalp has breathed new life into the state’s moribund primary education infrastructure. Twenty-three basic facilities in the state’s 1.6 lakh schools were identified when Yogi came to power. Seven key needs like toilets, water, electricity, boundary wall, school entrance gate, and additional classrooms are in place, with the rest slated to be delivered by March 2022.
Most agree that Yogi’s greatest achievement is on the law-and-order front. More than 2,000 dreaded gangsters have either been eliminated in encounters or arrested in the last four years in a state hitherto synonymous with lawlessness. The depleted strength of the police force has been boosted with 1.5 lakh recruitments.
There is a good reason why liberals, jihadis, and communists fear Yogi. Chronic Modi-hater Ramchandra Guha said it best in a piece authored for the left-liberal Scroll this February: “…If he ever becomes prime minister, Adityanath is unlikely to care at all about what the world thinks of him or his country. His chief focus will be on consolidating his power in India, especially over those Indians dissimilar to him in their political, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs…”
One man’s poison is another’s drink. Yogi is the leader India needs to morph into Bharat. Modi would not have been PM without three straight victories as Gujarat CM. Yogi must retain power in 2022 to login his claim as his successor – or else be sidelined by enemies within the saffron brotherhood.
U.P. is clearly a more difficult state to retain. Given the complexities of the caste cum religious divide, the BJP must get 80-90 per cent of the Hindu vote, clearly a tall order. Hindus must realise they have a stark option: vote Yogi or return to the lawless, Muslim appeasing rule of the Samajwadi Party under a disaster named Akhilesh Yadav.
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